Ankhkheperure-Merit-Neferkheperure/Waenre/Aten Neferneferuaten (Ancient Egyptian: nfr-nfrw-jtn)[citation needed] was a name used to refer to a female king who reigned toward the end of the Amarna Period during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Her gender is confirmed by feminine traces occasionally found in the name and by the epithet Akhet-en-hyes ("Effective for her husband"), incorporated into one version of her nomen (birth name) cartouche. She is distinguished from the king Smenkhkare who used the same throne name, Ankhkheperure, by the presence of epithets in both cartouches. She is suggested to have been either Smenkhkare's wife, Meritaten or, his predecessor's widow, Nefertiti. If this person is Nefertiti ruling as sole king, it has been theorized by Egyptologist and archaeologist Zahi Hawass that her reign was marked by the fall of Amarna and relocation of the capital back to the traditional city of Thebes.

General chronology

There is no broad consensus as to the succession order of Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten. The period from the 13th year of Akhenaten's reign to the ascension of Tutankhaten is very murky. The reigns of Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten were very brief and left little monumental or inscriptional evidence to draw a clear picture of political events. Adding to this, Neferneferuaten shares her prenomen (throne name) with Smenkhkare, and her nomen (birth name) with Nefertiti/Neferneferuaten Nefertiti making identification very difficult at times. With little dated evidence to fix their reigns with any certainty, the order depends on how the evidence is interpreted. Many encyclopedic sources and atlases will show Smenkhkare succeeding Akhenaten on the basis of a research tradition dating back to 1845, and some still conflate Smenkhkare with Neferneferuaten. The lack of unique names continues to cause problems in books and papers written before the early 1980s: an object might be characterized as bearing the name of Smenkhkare, when, if in fact the name being translated is "Ankhkheperure", it could be related to one of two people. Advocates for Smenkhkare as the direct successor of Akhenaten make the case that since she is attested as Great Royal Wife, what we would associate with queen, just before the start of Akhenaten's final regnal year, then Smenkhkare is more likely to be Akhenaten's direct successor.

Prior to 2014, Neferneferuaten was sometimes thought to have ruled between Akhenaten and Smenkhkare as illustrated in a 2011 Metropolitan Museum of Art symposium on Horemheb, the general chronology of the late Eighteenth Dynasty is:

King Approx years
Akhenaten 17 years
Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten 2 years
Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare 2 years
Tutankhaten/Tutankhamun 9 years
Ay 4 years
Horemheb 14 years

Aidan Dodson proposes that Smenkhkare did not have an independent reign and thus, Neferneferuaten must have come after him, the result being that Smenkhkare's reign is entirely that of a coregent, ending about a year later, in Year 14 or 15 of Akhenaten's reign, with little firm evidence to argue against it. Gabolde cites the Smenkhkare wine docket to support the idea that Smenkhkare must have succeeded Akhenaten. Finally, Allen has used the wine docket and strong association of Neferneferuaten with Akhenaten in her epithets and on stelae to speculate that both may have succeeded Akhenaten, with one as a rival king. An Allen-Dodson hybrid could see Tutankhamun succeeding Akhenaten directly as rival to Neferneferuaten. There are almost as many theories and putative chronologies as there are Egyptologists interested in the period.

The 2014 publication of an inscription for Nefertiti as Great Royal Wife in Regnal Year 16 of Akhenaten makes it clear Nefertiti was still alive and still Great Royal Wife in Akhenaten's second last year, which could be seen as supporting her candidacy as the female king Neferneferuaten and the direct successor to Akhenaten. In this situation, Akhenaten had chosen Smenkhkare as his successor in his Year 12 but Smenkhkare predeceased Akhenaten, which forced Akhenaten to elevate Nefetiti to the throne as Neferneferuaten to secure his legacy. Nozomu Kawai writes: can be suggested that Akhenaten appointed Nefertiti as his coregent after the demise of his male coregent, Smenkhkare. Smenkhkare's widowed queen, Meritaten, seems to have kept her title as his great royal wife. Simultaneously, Neferneferuaten obtained another epithet, Axt-n-H(j)=s, "One Who is Beneficial for Her Husband", which Gabolde used to prove this king's female identity beyond doubt... However, it is worth noting that this coregency does not seem to have lasted a long time. After Akhenaten's death, Neferneferuaten continued in power as sole ruler for approximately three years. During her sole reign, Neferneferuaten also obtained new epithets. She replaced the name of Akhenaten with references to the Aten in her prenomen and nomen. The epithet of her prenomen was then mry-Itn, "Beloved of Aten", while the epithet of her nomen became HoA-mAat, "Ruler of Truth".

The fact that most of Tutankhamun's funerary equipment was originally made or inscribed for the female king Neferneferuaten strongly suggests that Tutankhamun, in fact, directly succeeded Neferneferuaten on the throne after the female king died. This rather suggests this revised Eighteenth Dynasty chronology table below is closer to the truth since it agrees with the historical facts.

King Approx years
Akhenaten 17 years
Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare (coregent) 2 years
Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten 2 years
Tutankhaten/Tutankhamun 9 years
Ay 4 years
Horemheb 14 years

Regardless of the order of succession, Neferneferuaten's successor seems to have denied her a king's burial based on items originally inscribed with her name, but used for the burial of Tutankhamun. In the reign of Horemheb, the reigns of the Amarna Period kings from Akhenaten to Ay were expunged from history as these kings' total regnal years were assigned to Horemheb. The result is that 3,300 years later, scholars would have to piece together events and even resurrect the players bit by bit with the evidence sometimes limited to palimpsest.


Manetho was an Egyptian priest who lived in the third century BC during the time of the Ptolemies, a thousand years after the Amarna Period of the Eighteenth Dynasty when this woman would have been king. He wrote during a Hellenistic period in Ancient Egypt when it was being ruled by a Greek dynasty rather than a native dynasty. His lost work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt), now known only in fragmentary form from later writers quoting his work, is the sole ancient record available. Because of the deliberate suppression of histories of the Amarna kings by succeeding rulers following them which was unknown to him, the sources Manetho used for his history were not accurate about the Amarna Period.

Manetho's Epitome, a summary of his work, describes the late Eighteenth Dynasty succession as Orus or "Amenophis for 30 years 10 months." After Orus, who is most likely Amenhotep III, comes "his daughter Acencheres for 12 years 1 month then her brother Rathotis for 9 years". According to Marc Gabolde, Acencheres is Ankhkheperure with a transcription error converting 2 years, 1 month into the 12 years, 1 month reported (Africanus and Eusebius cite 32 and 16 years for this person). Akhenaten is not even mentioned in the most accurate 18th dynasty king list of Manetho's Epitome of Aegyptiaca compiled by Josephus in Contra Apionem. Most agree that Rathotis refers to Tutankhamun; therefore, the succession order also supports Acencheres as Ankhkheperure. Inexplicably, Manetho states that Rathotis is followed by "his son Acencheres for 12 years 5 months, his son Acencheres II for 12 years 3 months", which demonstrates the limits to which Manetho may be relied upon for accuracy about the Amarna Period.

Key evidence

Inscription from the Carter 001k artifact, a box from Tutankhamun's tomb attesting King Neferneferuaten

Unlike Smenkhkare, there are no known named depictions of Neferneferuaten; she is only securely attested in inscriptions. Of particular interest is the lid of a box (Carter 001k) inscribed with the following:

King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands, Neferkheperure-Waenre

Son of Re, Living in Truth, Lord of Crowns, Akhenaten, Great in his duration
King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Ankhkheperure Mery-Neferkheperre
Son of Re, Lord of Crowns, Neferneferuaten Mery-Waenre

Great Royal Spouse, Meritaten, May she Live Forever

The most definitive inscription attesting to Neferneferuaten is a long hieratic inscription or graffito in the tomb of Pairi (TT139) written by a scribe named Pawah:

Regnal year 3, third month of Inundation, day 10. The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands Ankhkheperure Beloved of Aten, the Son of Re Neferneferuaten Beloved of Waenre. Giving worship to Amun, kissing the ground to Wenennefer by the lay priest, scribe of the divine offerings of Amun in the Mansion [temple] of Ankhkheperure in Thebes, Pawah, born to Yotefseneb. He says:
"My wish is to see you, O lord of persea trees! May your throat take the north wind, that you may give satiety without eating and drunkenness without drinking. My wish is to look at you, that my heart might rejoice, O Amun, protector of the poor man: you are the father of the one who has no mother and the husband of the widow. Pleasant is the utterance of your name: it is like the taste of life... [etc.]
"Come back to us, O lord of continuity. You were here before anything had come into being, and you will be here when they are gone. As you caused me to see the darkness that is yours to give, make light for me so that I can see you...
"O Amun, O great lord who can be found by seeking him, may you drive off fear! Set rejoicing in people's heart(s). Joyful is the one who sees you, O Amun: he is in festival every day!"
For the Ka of the lay priest and scribe of the temple of Amun in the Mansion of Ankhkheperure, Pawah, born to Yotefseneb: "For your Ka! Spend a nice day amongst your townsmen." His brother, the outline draftsman Batchay of the Mansion of Ankhkheperure.

Nicholas Reeves sees this graffito as a sign of a "new phase" of the Amarna revolution, with Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten "taking a decidedly softer line" toward the Amun priesthood. Therefore, Neferneferuaten might have been the Amarna-era ruler who first reached an accommodation with the Amun priests and reinstated the cult of Amun—rather than Tutankhamun as previously thought—since her own mortuary temple was located in Thebes, the religious capital of the Amun priesthood and Amun priests were now working within it. However, Egypt's political administration was still situated at Amarna rather than Thebes under Neferneferuaten's reign.

Two crowned kings are depicted on Berlin Stele 17813, a female king (left) is caressing Akhenaten, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Neues Museum, Berlin

There are several stele depicting two kings—with each wearing a different traditional king's crown—in various familiar, almost intimate scenes. All of them are unfinished or uninscribed and some are defaced. These include:

  • An unfinished stele (#17813, Berlin) depicts two royal figures in a familiar, if not intimate, pose. One figure wears the double crown, while the other wears a headpiece which is similar to that from the familiar Nefertiti bust, but is the Khepresh or "blue crown" worn by a king. Aidan Dodson cites this stele to support the idea that Nefertiti may have acted as coregent, as indicated by the crown, but not entitled to full pharaonic honors such as the double cartouche.
A female king (right), usually identified as Nefertiti, wearing the blue crown, while affectionately pouring water for Akhenaten, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Altes Museum, Berlin
  • Berlin 25574 depicts what clearly seems to be Akhenaten and Nefertiti wearing her flat top headpiece. They are accompanied by four empty cartouches—enough for two kings, one of which seems to have been squeezed in. Reeves sees this as an important item in the case for Nefertiti. When the stele was started, she was great royal wife and thus portrayed with the flat top headpiece. She was elevated to coregent shortly afterward and a fourth cartouche was squeezed in to accommodate two kings.
  • Flinders Petrie discovered seven limestone fragments of a private stele in 1891, now in the Petrie Museum, U.C.410 sometimes called the Coregency Stela. One side bears the double cartouche of Akhenaten alongside that of Ankhkheperure mery-Waenre Neferneferuaten Akhet-en-hyes ("effective for her husband"), which had been carved over the single cartouche of Nefertiti.

The clues may point to a female coregent, but the unique situation of succeeding kings using identical throne names may have resulted in a great deal of confusion.

A number of items in Tutankhamun's tomb (KV62) were originally inscribed for Neferneferuaten. Among them Carter 261p(1), a stunning gold pectoral depicting the goddess Nut. Other items include the stone sarcophagus, mummy wrappings, royal figurines; canopic items (chest, coffinettes, and jar stoppers), various bracelets and even shabti figures. Some items are believed to have been at least originally intended for a woman based on the style even when a name cannot be restored. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves has suggested that even the famous gold mask may have originally been intended for Neferneferuaten since her royal name in a cartouche, Ankhkheperure, was found partly erased, on Tutankhamun's funerary mask.

Female king

The prenomen (left column) and nomen (right column) forms for Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten

For some time the accepted interpretation of the evidence was that Smenkhkare served as coregent with Akhenaten beginning about year 15 using the throne name Ankhkheperure. At some point, perhaps to start his sole reign, he changed his name to Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. An alternative view held that Nefertiti was King Neferneferuaten; in some versions she is also masquerading as a male using the name Smenkhkare.

Things remained in this state of interpretation until the early 1970s when English Egyptologist John Harris noted in a series of papers, the existence of versions of the first cartouche that seemed to include feminine indicators. These were linked with a few items including a statuette found in Tutankhamun's tomb depicting a king whose appearance was particularly feminine, even for Amarna art that seems to favor androgyny.

In 1988, James P. Allen proposed that it was possible to separate Smenkhkare from Neferneferuaten. He pointed out the name 'Ankhkheperure' was rendered differently depending on whether it was associated with Smenkhkare or Neferneferuaten. When coupled with Neferneferuaten, the prenomen included an epithet referring to Akhenaten (such as 'desired of Wa en Re'). There were no occasions where the 'long' version of the prenomen (Ankhkheperure plus epithet) occurred alongside the nomen 'Smenkhkare', nor was the 'short' prenomen (without epithet) ever found associated with the nomen 'Neferneferuaten'. Additionally, a feminine 't' glyph is often present in the prenomen, nomen, or epithets. Later, the French Egyptologist Marc Gabolde noted that several items from the tomb of Tutankhamun, originally inscribed for Neferneferuaten and initially thought to read "...desired of Akhenaten", when translated correctly, were inscribed as Akhet-en-hyes or "effective for her husband". His reading was later confirmed by James Allen.

The use of epithets (or lack of them) to identify the king referenced in an inscription eventually became widely accepted among scholars and regularly cited in their work although a case for exempting a particular inscription or instance will occasionally be argued to support a larger hypothesis.

Possible sole reign

Allen later showed that Neferneferuaten's epithets were of three types or sets. They were usually in the form of "desired of ...", but were occasionally replaced by "effective for her husband". In a few cases, the names can be followed by 'justified' using feminine attributes. The term 'justified' (maet kheru) is a common indicator that the person referenced is dead; a similar reference associated with Hatshepsut in the tomb of Penyati is taken to indicate she had recently died. Finally, a few of Neferneferuaten's cartouches bear unique epithets not associated with Akhenaten at all. These include "desired of the Aten" and "The Ruler". Allen concluded that the strong affiliation with Akhenaten in the epithets and the number of them made it likely that Neferneferuaten had been his coregent and therefore, preceded Smenkhkare. The "effective..." epithets, then represent a period during which Akhenaten was incapacitated, but may also date from a time after Akhenaten's death. Finally, the less common 'Akhenaten-less' versions represented a period of sole reign for Neferneferuaten.

Allen offers a possible explanation for the use of the same throne name by two successive kings. He suggested that the almost constant references to Akhenaten may be proclamations of legitimacy on the part of Neferneferuaten, with the epithets functioning to assert her as Akhenaten's chosen successor or coregent. This implies there may have been resistance to the choice of Neferneferuaten, resistance was anticipated. This appears to be supported by her funerary items being usurped to deny her a king's burial. He suggests that adoption of the throne name Ankhkheperure by Smenkhkare was "to emphasize the legitimacy of Smenkh-ka-re's claim against that of Akhenaton's "chosen" (/mr/) coregent". That is, a division in the royal house put Smenkhkare on the throne as a rival king to Neferneferuaten. This was offered as a simple and logical reading of the evidence to explain the nature of the epithets, the use of identical prenomens by successive kings and that she was denied a royal burial. With no dated evidence of rival or contemporaneous kings although, it remains conjecture.

However, since Smenkhkare disappears from the political scene late in Akhenaten's reign and Neferneferuaten instead appears, the most likely explanation is that Smenkhkare--who is attested in an unfinished durbar scene from the Tomb of Meryre II (TA2) at Amarna dated to Year 12 of Akhenaten--must have died perhaps 1 or 2 years after since this relief scene was never finished by the craftsman. Athena Van der Perre observes that:

After the death of Semenkhkare, the royal family had to face the problem of succession again. Akhenaten was left with two royal wives (Nefertiti and Meritaten) and one possible future successor, who was still too young to reign (Tutankhaten). At some point after Semenkhkare's disappearance, Akhenaten must have decided that there was only one person capable of reigning and tutoring Tutankhaten after his death. The new regent would use the name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. The reign of "king" Neferneferuaten is actually better documented than that of Semenkhkare. Several attestations were found, revealing some interesting facts about this king's reign. The name is attested in Amarna, Thebes and Tell el-Borg. Mud jar sealings referring to the "(wine of the) estate of Neferneferuaten, beloved of Waenra," were also discovered in Saqqara. Nefertiti, who already played an important role in Amarna, and already bore the name Neferneferuaten, is in my view the most likely candidate for this function....After her husband's death, Nefertiti would reign the country herself..

The Egyptologists, Rolf Krauss and Nozomu Kawai both assign the female king Neferneferuaten an independent reign of between 2 and 3 years between Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.

Athena Van Der Perre writes:

The attestations of the name confirm the reign of Neferneferuaten, which, if this was Nefertiti, could not have started until after the 1st month of the 16th year of Akhenaten, as has been shown in the quarry inscription at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis. So far, no evidence has been found about the queen's demise. The most likely possibility is that she died after reigning at least 3 years. After her death, Tutankhaten―now a boy approximately 8 years old―would start his own reign. With no queen-mother left to guide him, the actual power came into the hands of a small group of high officials at the court.

Identity of Neferneferuaten

By the late twentieth century, there was "'a fair degree of consensus'" that Neferneferuaten was a female king and Smenkhkare a separate male king, particularly among specialists of the period. Many Egyptologists believe she also served as coregent on the basis of the stela and epithets, although a sole reign seems very likely, given that the Pairi inscription is dated using her regnal years. Opinion is more divided on the placement and nature of the reign of Smenkhkare in relation to her.

Most Egyptologists see the two names to indicate two separate individuals and consider this as the simplest and more likely view. Most name changes in the Amarna period involved people incorporating -Aten into their name or removing an increasingly offensive -Amun element.

The focus now shifts to the identity of Neferneferuaten, with each candidate having its own advocate(s), a debate that may never be settled to the satisfaction of all.


Nefertiti depicted in familiar scene of a king smiting Egypt's enemy

Even among Egyptologists who advocate for the identification of Nefertiti as Neferneferuaten, the exact nature of her reign can vary. Nefertiti was an early candidate for King Neferneferuaten, first proposed in 1973 by J. R. Harris. The apparent use of a portion of her name made her an obvious candidate even before Neferneferuaten's gender was firmly established. Remains of painted plaster bearing the kingly names of Neferneferuaten found in the Northern Palace, long believed to be the residence of Nefertiti, supports the association of Nefertiti as the king. Nefertiti was in the forefront during her husband's reign and even depicted engaging in kingly activities such as smiting the enemies of Egypt. The core premise is that her prominence and power in the Amarna Period was almost unprecedented for a great royal wife, which makes her the most likely and most able female to succeed Akhenaten.

Until 2012, Nefertiti's last dated depiction was from Year 12 of Akhenaten's reign, suggesting that she died shortly after. However, she is now known to have still been alive in the second to last year of Akhenaten's reign and still bearing the title of Great Royal Wife, based on an ink inscription dated explicitly to 'Year 16 III Akhet day 15' in a limestone quarry at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis. This inscription would argue against a coregency of more than about a year, if at all, as the inscription attests to Nefertiti's position as Akhenaten's great royal wife just before the start of his final year.

This affects theories proposed by some Egyptologists, such as Aidan Dodson, who see Neferneferuaten as both a coregent of Akhenaten, a sole ruler, and regent or coregent of Tutankhamun. Despite her highest attested year being Year 3, he suggests she counted her regnal years only after Akhenaten's death, a view put forth by Murnane to account for the lack of double dates in the New Kingdom, even when a coregency is known to exist. Dodson then speculates that she may later have shared Tutankhamun's regnal dating, in effect deferring senior status at least nominally to him. He proposes that Neferneferuaten helped guide the reformation in the early years of Tutankhaten and conjectures that the return to the dominence of the Amun priesthood is the result of her 'rapid adjustment to political reality'. To support the Nefertiti-Tutankhamun coregency, he cites jar handles bearing her cartouche and others bearing those of Tutankhaten from Northern Sinai. This is not a view shared by the excavators, who note that sealings and small objects such as bezel rings from many Eighteenth Dynasty royals including Akhenaten, Ay, Queen Tiye, and Horemheb were found, and that "linking Tutankhamun and Neferneferuaten politically, based on the discovery of their names on amphorae at Tell el-Borg, is unwarranted." Gabolde likewise considered a coregency or regency unlikely.

Van der Perre considers it likely Nefertiti assumed the royal office using the name Neferneferuaten, adopting the throne name briefly used by Smenkhkare in combination with her own name, but that the chance of a co-regency period is slim. References to Akhenaten that were added to her names as epithets, confirm her legitimacy. The epithets changed over time: initially conferring legitimacy, then linking to the deified deceased king, before finally changing to 'Beloved of Aten' and 'the ruler' late in her reign. Furthermore, it has been suggested that Smenkhkare may also be Neferneferuaten, a view still held by a few such as Nicholas Reeves and until 2004 by Dodson.

The Coregency Stela (UC 410), mentioned earlier, might resolve the question if it were not so badly damaged. The name Neferneferuaten replaced Nefertiti's name on it. How the image of Nefertiti was changed to match the new inscription could settle matters if her image was not missing. If her entire image was replaced it would mean Nefertiti was replaced by someone else called King Neferneferuaten and perhaps that she died. If just a new crown was added to her image, it would argue quite strongly that Nefertiti adopted a new name and title. As it is, the scene seems to be another of the royal family including at least Meritaten. Replacing the name Nefertiti with the name King Neferneferuaten in a depiction of the royal family, still seems to favor Nefertiti as the new king.

The primary argument against Nefertiti had been that she likely died sometime after Year 12, which was the last known dated depiction of her until 2012. However, an inscription discovered in 2012 showed that she was still alive in Year 16 of her husband's reign. Evidence put forward to suggest she predeceased Akhenaten includes pieces of an ushabti indicating her title at death was Great Royal Wife; wine dockets from her estate declining and ceasing after Year 13; Meritaten's title as Great Royal Wife alongside Akhenaten's name on items from Tutankhamun's tomb indicating she likely replaced Nefertiti in that role; the floor of the tomb intended for her shows signs of cuts being started for the final placement of her sarcophagus. A single ushabti for Nefertiti seems scant evidence for her death, given there are about 200 shabti for Akhenaten. It is possible the two pieces belonged instead to two separate shabtis, one of Nefertiti and the other of Meritaten. Alternately, it may have been a votive placed in the burial of a family member such as Meketaten, at a time before she was elevated.


Meritaten as a candidate for the identity of Neferneferuaten seems to be the most fluid, taking many forms depending on the views of the Egyptologist. She had been put forth by Rolf Krauss in 1973 to explain the feminine traces in the prenomen and epithets of Ankhkheprure and to conform to Manetho's description of a Akenkheres as a daughter of Oros. He speculated Meritaten might have ruled with the feminine prenomen 'Ankh-et-kheperure' after Akhenaten's death and before Smenkhkare's accession. In his argument, Smenkhkare then takes the masculine form of her prenomen upon gaining the throne through marriage. Although few Egyptologists endorsed the whole hypothesis, many did accept Meritaten at times as the probable or possible candidate for a female Ankhkheprure ruling for a time after Smenkhkare's death and perhaps, as regent to Tutankhaten.

The primary argument against Meritaten, either as Krauss's pro tempore Ankh-et-kheprure before marriage to Smenkhkare or as Akhenaten's coregent King Neferneferuaten, is that she is well attested as wife and great royal wife to Smenkhkare. For her to have later ruled as king means necessarily, and perhaps incredibly for her subjects, that she stepped down from King to the role of King's Wife. This view places Smenkhkare after Neferneferuaten, which requires the Meryre depiction to be drawn 5–6 years after the 'Durbar' depiction it is alongside, and several years after work on tombs had stopped.

The counter to this argument comes from Marc Gabolde, who offers political necessity as the reason for Meritaten's demotion. He sees the inscribed box (Carter 001k tomb naming her alongside Akhenaten and Neferneferuaten) as depicting Meritaten in simultaneous roles using the name Neferneferuaten as coregent and using her birth name in the role of royal wife to Akhenaten. He has also proposed that the Meryre drawing was executed in advance of an anticipated coronation that ended up not taking place due to his death. Most recently, Gabolde has proposed that Meritaten was raised to coregent of Akhenaten during the final years of his reign and that she succeeds him as interregnum regent using the name Ankhkheprure. He also identifies her as the subject of the Dakhamunzu affair, with the Hittite prince Zannanza ascending the throne as Smenkhkare. As there is no evidence as to when or where he died nor that he was murdered, Gabolde believes that he completed the trip and died only after becoming king. The proposal continues that, after his death, she adopts full pharoanic prerogatives to continue to rule as King Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. Since Tutankamun was alive and of royal lineage, Gabolde aegues that Meritaten's actions almost certainly must be taken as intending to prevent his ascension to king. The Smenkhkare-Zannanza version garners little support among Egyptologists. With the presence of Tutankhamun, Miller points out Meritaten "would presumably have needed the backing of some powerful supporter(s) to carry out such a scheme as the tahamunzu episode, one is left with the question of why this supporter would have chosen to throw his weight behind such a daring scheme".

Since Nefertiti has been confirmed to be living as late as Year 16 of Akhenaten's reign however, the Meritaten theory becomes less likely because she would no longer be the most senior living person to be at court using either the name Neferneferuaten nor be identified as "Effective for her husband" as the epithet of a ruling female pharaoh. Secondly, both Aidan Dodson and the late Bill Murnane have stressed their opinions that the female ruler Neferneferuaten and Meritaten cannot be the same person. As Dodson writes:

...the next issue is clearly her [i.e., Neferneferuaten's] origins. Cases have been made for her being the former Nefertiti (Harris, Samson and others), Meryetaten (Krauss 1978; Gabolde 1998) and most recently Neferneferuaten-tasherit, [the] fourth daughter of Akheneten (Allen 2006). Of these, Meryetaten's candidature seems fatally undermined by the existence of the KV62 box fragment JE61500, which gives the names and titles of Akhenaten, Neferneferuaten and Meryetaten as clearly separate individuals.


In 2009, James Allen proposed a new reading of events, suggesting that Neferneferuaten was Akhenaten and Nefertiti's fourth daughter, Neferneferuaten-tasherit. Tasherit meaning the lesser. The evidence presented in favour of this identification was solely based on her name.

The primary element in the nomen of a pharaoh always corresponds to the name he (or she) bore before coming to the throne; from the Eighteenth Dynasty onward, epithets were usually added to this name in the pharaoh's cartouche, but Akhenaten provides the only example of a complete and consistent change of the nomen's primary element, and even he used his birth name, Amenhotep, at his accession. The evidence of this tradition argues that the coregent bore the name Neferneferuaten before her coronation, and since it now seems clear that the coregent was not Nefertiti, she must have been the only other woman known by that name: Akhenaten's fourth daughter, Neferneferuaten Jr.

Allen explains the 'tasherit' portion of her name may have been dropped, either because it would be unseemly to have a King using 'the lesser' in their name, or it may have already been dropped when Nefertiti died. This theory is the only one that does not rely on someone changing their name in some awkward fashion to assume the role of Neferneferuaten. Akhenaten's choice of her as coregent remains a mystery. She is a less attractive candidate now that the Year 16 graffito for Nefertiti has been verified.

Neferneferuaten-tasherit's age is the first objection often raised to this argument. She is thought to have been about ten at the time of Akhenaten's death, but Allen suggests that some daughters may have been older than generally calculated based on their first depicted appearance. Their first appearance may have been on the occasion of being weaned, at age three; Neferneferuaten-tasherit may have been as old as 13 by the end of Akhenaten's reign. The later use of the "effective..." epithets may indicate that she too, was eventually old enough to act as wife to her father, supporting the older age. However, a younger age need not disqualify her, since Tutankhaten ascended the throne at a similar age, but yet a ten-year-old female seems unlikely to many researchers.

  • However, in a newer 2016 article, James Allen has now repudiated his previous opinion that Neferneferuaten-tasherit was the female pharaoh Neferneferuaten; he now agrees that this female king was indeed Nefertiti himself with the publication of the Year 16 date showing that Nefertiti was still alive in Akhenaten's second last year of rule.

Reuse of Neferneferuaten's funerary equipment for Tutankhamun's burial

The faces of the canopic jars of Tutankhamun have distinctively female features, rather than the traditional images of the dead king; many scholars argue they originally were created for a female king and repurposed for Tutankhamun.

According to Nicholas Reeves, almost 80% of Tutankhamun's burial equipment was derived from Neferneferuaten's original funerary goods, including the famous gold mask, middle coffin, canopic coffinettes, several of the gilded shrine panels, the shabti-figures, the boxes and chests, the royal jewelry, etc., and adapted for use after his unexpected early death. In 2015, Reeves published evidence showing that an earlier cartouche on Tutankhamun's famous gold mask reads, "Ankheperure mery-Neferkheperure" or (Ankheperure beloved of Akhenaten); therefore, the mask originally was made for Nefertiti, Akhenaten's great royal wife, who used the royal name Ankheperure when she assumed the throne after her husband's death.

This development implies that either Neferneferuaten was deposed in a struggle for power, possibly deprived of a royal burial as a king—or that she was buried with a different set of king's funerary equipment—possibly Akhenaten's own funerary equipment—by Tutankhamun's officials since Tutankhamun succeeded her as king, and that possibly following Tutankhamun's death, officials under his successor, Ay, did not folow traditional burial practices for the burial that, as successor, he had to oversee. That Ay refused to follow many traditions is well documented. One researcher notes that Tutankhamun's tomb follows a traditional architectural design feature that suggests to him that the tomb had been built for a female king, and that with other evidence supports that the tomb was adapted for a burial of Tutankhamun along with the reuse of her artifacts. The traditional feature he considers as significant when discussing possible reuse is that tombs for male kings have a left turn from the entrance that leads to the burial chamber, those of female kings turn to the right. As these issues continue to be researched, interpretations also are evolving.


There is also little that can be said with certainty about the life and reign of Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. Most Egyptologists accept that she was a woman and likely, an individual apart from the male king Smenkhkare. Many specialists in the period believe the epigraphic evidence strongly indicates that she acted for a time as Akhenaten's coregent. Whether she reigned before or after Smenkhkare depends on the underlying theory as to her identity.

Based on the Pairi or Pawah inscription dated to her third regnal year, it appears she enjoyed a sole reign. How much of her reign was as coregent and how much as sole ruler, is a matter of debate and speculation. The same tomb inscription mentions an Amun temple in Thebes, perhaps a mortuary complex, which would seem to indicate that the Amun proscription had abated and the traditional religion was being restored toward the end of her reign. Since much of her funeral equipment was used in Tutankhamen's burial, it seems fairly certain she was denied a pharaonic burial by her successor. The reasons for this remain speculation, as does a regency with Tutankhaten.

With so much evidence expunged, first by Neferneferuaten's successor, then the entire Amarna Period by Horemheb, and later in earnest by the kings of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the exact details of events may never be known. The highly equivocal nature of the evidence often renders it suggestive of some interpretation, while falling short of proving it. The various steles, for instance, strongly suggest a female coregent, but offer nothing conclusive as to her identity.

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