A "house altar" (c.
1350 BC) depicting Akhenaten, Nefertiti and three of their daughters. Note Nefertiti wears a crown similar to that depicted on the bust.
Nefertiti (meaning "the beautiful one has come forth") was the 14th-century BC Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. Akhenaten initiated a new monotheistic form of worship called Atenism dedicated to the Sun disc Aten. Little is known about Nefertiti. Theories suggest she could have been an Egyptian royal by birth, a foreign princess or the daughter of a high government official named Ay, who became pharaoh after Tutankhamun. She may have been the co-regent of Egypt with Akhenaten, who ruled from 1352 BC to 1336 BC. Nefertiti bore six daughters to Akhenaten, one of whom, Ankhesenpaaten (renamed Ankhesenamun after the suppression of the Aten cult), married Tutankhamun, Nefertiti's stepson. Nefertiti was thought to have disappeared in the twelfth year of Akhenaten's reign, though whether this is due to her death or because she took a new name is not known. She may also have later become a pharaoh in her own right, ruling alone for a short time after her husband's death. However, it is now known that she was still alive in the sixteenth year of her husband's reign from a limestone quarry inscription found at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis. Dayr Abū Ḥinnis is located "on the eastern side of the Nile, about ten kilometres north of Amarna."
The bust of Nefertiti is believed to have been crafted about 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose. The bust does not have any inscriptions, but can be certainly identified as Nefertiti by the characteristic crown, which she wears in other surviving (and clearly labelled) depictions, for example the 'house altar'.
The Nefertiti bust was found on 6 December 1912 at Amarna by the German Oriental Company (Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft – DOG), led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt. It was found in what had been the sculptor Thutmose's workshop, along with other unfinished busts of Nefertiti. Borchardt's diary provides the main written account of the find; he remarks, "Suddenly we had in our hands the most alive Egyptian artwork. You cannot describe it with words. You must see it."
A 1924 document found in the archives of the German Oriental Company recalls a 20 January 1913 meeting between Ludwig Borchardt and a senior Egyptian official to discuss the division of the archeological finds of 1912 between Germany and Egypt. According to the secretary of the German Oriental Company (who was the author of the document and who was present at the meeting), Borchardt "wanted to save the bust for us". Borchardt is suspected of having concealed the bust's real value, although he denied doing so.
While Philipp Vandenberg describes the coup as "adventurous and beyond comparison", Time magazine lists it among the "Top 10 Plundered Artifacts". Borchardt showed the Egyptian official a photograph of the bust "that didn't show Nefertiti in her best light". The bust was wrapped up in a box when Egypt's chief antiques inspector Gustave Lefebvre came for inspection. The document reveals that Borchardt claimed the bust was made of gypsum to mislead the inspector. The German Oriental Company blames the negligence of the inspector and points out that the bust was at the top of the exchange list and says the deal was done fairly.