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Germany refuses Nefertiti Bust return request

In a move that will surprise few people, Germany has once again rebuffed requests for the return of the Bust of Nefertiti [1] from Berlin’s Neues Museum.

Yahoo News [2]

Germany Denies Egypt’s Request for the Return of 3,300-Year Old Bust of Queen Nefertiti
Vanessa Evans Vanessa Evans – Tue Jan 25, 5:26 pm ET

The latest round in the debate between Egypt and Germany over the rightful ownership of one of Egypt’s most prized antiquities hit another snag on Monday when Germany again refused to turn a bust of Nefertiti over into Egyptian hands. Currently housed in Berlin’s Neues Museum, where it has been for decades, the 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti is at the top of a list of artifacts that Egypt would like returned to their home soil.

Germany, for its part, is maintaining it acquired the bust through legal channels and it belongs to them. It further maintains the artifact is too fragile to travel, so even a temporary loan back to Egypt would not be possible.

The request for the artifact is part of the ongoing campaign by Zahi Hawass, the antiquities chief for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, which under Hawass’ leadership has sent requests to nations around the globe for the return of more than 5,000 artifacts which the Council claims rightfully belong back in Egypt. The bust of Nefertiti, the Council counter-claims, was actually stolen in 1913 using illegal documents.

Hawass began his quest in 2002 and has been very successful at working with museums around the world to return artifacts that were genuinely stolen back to the Egyptian people. He is building two museums to house the returned artifacts, the more notable of which, the Grand Museum, is being built alongside the Great Pyramids of Giza. It is scheduled to be finished next year.

Egypt first requested the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Germany in the 1940s but was quickly denied. Hawass’ campaign to collect the antiquities of Egypt has reignited the debate between the two nations over the artifact. He has claimed to have made several formal requests for the piece, including one in 2007 and 2009. He also has requested that the Rosetta Stone be returned from the British Museum, as well as other high-profile pieces from the Louvre in Paris and other prominent museums.

So far the Neues Museum is standing firm — both in their assertion that the bust was acquired legally, and in their refusal to give the bust of Queen Nefertiti back to Egypt. Hawass has promised a fight over the desired antiquities, but may not in actual fact have much legal recourse.

Reuters [3]

German foundation refuses to return Nefertiti bust
BERLIN/CAIRO | Mon Jan 24, 2011 9:41pm GMT

BERLIN/CAIRO (Reuters) – A German foundation rejected Monday an Egyptian request to return the 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, a sculpture which draws over one million viewers annually to a Berlin museum.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) sent the request to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs the Neues Museum in the German capital where the bust is kept.

“The foundation’s position on the return of Nefertiti remains unchanged,” foundation president Professor Hermann Parzinger said in a statement. “She is and remains the ambassador of Egypt in Berlin.”

Egypt’s antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, appealed to the foundation seeking the return of the bust, famed for its almond-shaped eyes and swan-like neck. However, the foundation said it did not consider the letter an official state request as it had not been signed by Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust about 275 km south of Cairo in 1912, and it was taken to Germany the following year.

Hawass, who sent a similar letter in 2009, has said in the past that documents presented by the Neues Museum confirmed Borchardt tried to pass the bust off as a less significant find to secure it for Berlin. The museum has said it was acquired lawfully and Egypt had no legal claim to it.

The SCA, which Hawass heads, said in an email that its request had been approved by both Prime Minister Nazif and the Egyptian ministry of culture.

“This request is a natural consequence of Egypt’s long-standing policy of seeking the restitution of all archaeological and historical artefacts that have been taken illicitly out of the country,” it said.

Hawass has campaigned to repatriate several pharaonic treasures in recent years, including the Rosetta Stone now in the British Museum.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey in Berlin and Patrick Werr in Cairo; writing by Brian Rohan; editing by David Stamp)