- Other Issues
- December 7, 2009
- 5 minutes read
Egypt, Germany to duke it out over Nefertiti bust
CAIRO: It has become the neverending story of Egypt’s Zahi Hawass to get Germany to return the famous Nefertiti bust. He has made threat upon threat against Berlin, demanding they give back what is rightfully Egypt’s. The threats have been met with laughter and skirting. Germany has no intention of returning their prized possession, taken from Egypt’s sands in the early part of last century.
Either way the diplomacy falls, the two sides will hold talks this month in order to see what will be done about the statue. Hawass believes the 3,400-year-old treasure was illegally taken from Egypt and should be returned.
Speaking to Reuters, the embattled Hawass – whose outbursts recently have put in under fire – said he will meet with the head of the Egyptian Papyrus Collection at Berlin’s Neues Museum, where the bust is currently on display. The two are expected to meet on December 20, but most observers are doubtful anything will happen.
One Belgian archaeologist said the bust and the Rosetta Stone, currently at the British Museum, will never be returned to Egypt, at least not in the foreseeable future. “It is because Egypt is not equipped to take it and at the same time, these are the prize possessions of the two museums, so I don’t think it will happen. Threats are not going to get Germany to change their mind,” he said, asking that his name not be revealed due to the tension with Hawass’ Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has often barred foreign scholars from the country after disagreements.
But, if the statue was in fact stolen and this can be proved, the archaeologist says, “things could be different because Germany won’t be able to argue against Egypt. And the council could ban Germans from being in Egypt to look at sites, which would be really bad. We shall see,” the Belgian added.
“The only thing we are going to discuss is whether the director has any legal papers to show that the bust of Nefertiti left Egypt legally,” Hawass said. “All evidence that I collected until now shows the bust of Nefertiti left Egypt illegally.”
Hawass added that Egypt would be willing to strike a deal with Germany that would see other Egyptian artifacts going to Berlin in exchange for the bust.
Hawass believes the bust was illegally removed from Egyptian soil and plans to prove the right of Egypt to restore the statue to the country.
Hawass said, in remarks on the sidelines of celebrations for the opening of the Howard Carter commemorative hall in Luxor, last month, that in addition to preparing for the Berlin Museum’s visit, he will dispatch an archaeological committee to the Louvre Museum by the end of this month to recover the five paintings after the approval of France to return them to Egypt after proving they were taken illegally from the country.
The crisis between Germany and Egypt over the head of Queen Nefertiti was sparked again after Germany’s Der Spiegel and The Times of England revealed a secret document indicating that German archaeologist, Ludwig Borchardt deceived the Egyptians in the early twentieth century over the historical fact of the statue of Nefertiti, and then transported it illegally to Germany.
The reports include the actual document – available in the archives of the Eastern German Institute in Berlin – and also includes information that Borchardt, who was among the scientific mission specializing in the exploration of antiquities in Egypt, deceived the Egyptian authorities about the historical value of the real statue of Nefertiti and consequently transferred it from Egypt to the German capital in 1913.
According to German papers, the contents of the classified document, which is dated to 1924, contains information that there was a meeting held between a senior Egyptian official and the German archaeologist, who found the statue of Nefertiti in 1912 in Tel el-Amarna, the capital city of Pharaoh Akhenaton, Nefertiti’s husband, where the Secretary General of the East German Association participated in the meeting.
They then announced that a number of pieces that were found during excavations were the rightful property of both nations, equally. But, instead of sharing the artifacts, the German archaeologist removed and took the statue and other pieces from the dig back to Germany following the meeting.
The document says that Borchardt wanted to keep the statue of Nefertiti and not to share it with the Egyptian side, and for this purpose he provided the Egyptian side a photo that does not show the statue well. The document released by the German newspaper noted that Borchardt misled the Egyptian inspectors by telling them that the statue of Nefertiti was made of gypsum, while it is actually made from limestone.
After the disclosure of such information, Hawass said that Egypt will do its best to restore the statue of Nefertiti from Germany, “if the credibility of this document is proven.”
Egypt had demanded in the 1930s that Germany return the statue. It was the first time Egypt had made the demand. Germany refused. In recent years recovering the statue of Nefertiti has been at the top of Hawass’ list of artifacts outside Egypt that should be returned.