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Egypt requests that disputed artefacts are returned as temporary loans

Egypt’s request for the restitution of many artefacts [1] have now progressed to suggestions that they would also be willing to re-acquire the pieces as loans.

National Geographic News [2]

Egypt Asks for Loans of Artifacts Held Abroad
John Roach
for National Geographic News
April 30, 2007

Egypt will request temporary loans of some of its most cherished artifacts currently on display at museums abroad, antiquities officials announced on Sunday.

The requested items include the famous bust of Nefertiti currently at the Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany, and the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum in London.

Most of the items are meant for display at the 2011 opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which is being built near the pyramids at Giza (see a map of Egypt).

Nefertiti’s bust is requested for display at the Atun Museum, which is set to open in the Nile Delta city of Meniya in 2010, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities announced in a statement.

All five of the artifacts are on a list of unique items that Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s antiquities council, has said should be returned permanently to their homeland.

Diplomatic Move

The recent statement called the requests a “diplomatic move.”

Earlier this month a dispute escalated between Egypt and Germany over a previous request for the temporary return of the bust of Nefertiti.

Germany’s Minister of State for Culture said the 3,400-year-old limestone bust is too fragile to travel the 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) to Cairo.

Hawass told National Geographic News “it will be a scientific war” if Germany refuses to loan the iconic artwork.

(Hawass is an Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

The antiquities chief also said he would organize a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums if the request is denied.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Ministry of Culture says it will mail official letters to France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States this week to request the temporary loans.

Hannah Boulton, a spokesperson for the British Museum, said that the museum will wait for the letter before commenting in detail and that museum policy is to consider any request.

She added, however, that any such loan would only be temporary.

“Obviously a precondition of the loan from the museum’s collections is the recognition that the ownership is rested within the British Museum,” she said.

Repeated calls to Hawass went unanswered by press time. Messages left with the Altes Museum and with two other institutions being asked for loans—the Louvre in Paris, France, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts—also went unreturned.

Top Five

Hawass, who champions the repatriation of Egyptian artifacts, has previously called for the permanent return to Egypt of all five items on the list for temporary loans.

(Read “Egypt’s Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts” [October 24, 2006].)

The requested items include:

  • Nefertiti’s bust at the Altes Museum. The painted limestone likeness of the Egyptian queen has been in Germany since 1913, a year after German archaeologists discovered it at a site 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Cairo.
  • The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. The writing in three languages on the 1,600-pound (726-kilogram) slab of rock was essential to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  • The Zodiac ceiling from the Dendera Temple at the Louvre in Paris. Archaeologists consider the zodiac an Egyptian representation of the astrological calendar.
  • The statue of Hemiunu, an architect of the Great Pyramid, at the Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany.
  • The statue of Ankhaf, builder of the Chephren Pyramid, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.