Nefertiti: The Fight over an Iconic Egyptian Artifact Continues

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Egypt in the News

Nefertiti_berlinDr. Zahi Hawass has vowed to fight for the repatriation of the bust of Nefertiti, but as he prepares to pounce, the Germans brace for the battle.  Like a couple of prize fighters circling the ring, the champion of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and Dietrich Wildung, director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, have been sizing each other up for this October title fight.


When I interviewed Dr. Zahi Hawass on August 7, 2009, for Heritage Key  I asked him about the famous bust of Nefertiti.  Previous statements had indicated that the Egyptian position was that the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt had used “unethical tactics” to acquire the statue.  At that time Hawass stated that the evidence was being collected and that he would reveal it when he wrote a letter to the museum in Berlin demanding her return to Egypt.

But Germany, who has had possession of the bust since shortly after her discovery by Borchardt in 1913, and where she has been on display since 1923, considers the queen to be a part of their own “cultural heritage.”  In an article that appeared in the August 20-26, 2009, online issue of Al-Ahram, Queen of Egypt’s heart, Wildung made it clear that Germany had no plans to relinquish the artifact.

“We could never be certain that she would arrive in good health,” Wildung told Al-Ahram.  “The bust, which is made of limestone and thick layers of plaster, is very sensitive to vibration, shock, and any change of temperature, and is too fragile to travel.”

But travel she has.  According to ABC News, Nefertiti Bust Moved to New Berlin Home [story no longer available], the bust of Nefertiti was moved on Sunday, September 4th, “with the greatest care” from the Altes Museum to the recently restored Neues Museum, where she will go on public display on October 17, 2009.  Granted, the Neues is just next door to the Altes, but it does raise the question of why an equal amount of care could not be exercised for a trip to Cairo.

A depiction of the Neues Museum circa 1862.  It was destroyed during WWII but has been recently restored and will reopen October 17, 2009.  From a lithograph by Eduard Gaertner.

A depiction of the Neues Museum circa 1862. It was destroyed during WWII but has been recently restored and will reopen October 17, 2009. From a lithograph by Eduard Gaertner.

According to an article appearing last week in Ria Novosti, Egyptian archaeologists to search for Cleopatra tomb, Hawass is supposed to send his letter demanding Nefertiti back this week.  Given that she has just settled into her new “permanent home,” and that Hawass will be retiring from his position with the Supreme Council of Antiquities in less than a year, one is tempted to see his efforts with the bust of Nefertiti as purely symbolic.  Dr. Hawass, no doubt, would protest that notion, and in his defense, Hawass is credited for having repatriated over six thousand artifacts for Egypt in the last seven years.

I promised back on September 25th with our October Checklist that this was going to be an exciting month!  Keep checking in with Em Hotep! for the latest.


Photographs “Nefertiti berlin.jpg” by Zserghei, “Neues Museum Aegyptischer Hof.jpg” by ONAR are provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of those files under the conditions that you appropriately attribute them, and that you distribute them only under a license identical to this one. Official license 

ALL OTHER photographs and text are copyright by Keith Payne, 2009, all rights reserved.

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 5th, 2009 at 12:18 pm and is filed under Egypt in the News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 comments so far


i have to say that i do hope the Germans and any other people that have Egyptian artifacts return them to their rightful home of Egypt as that is where they belong,Howard Carter and Napoleon should have left well alone-apart from the fact that us in the rest of the world would have never been privy to such splendour and i’m glad that i’m one of those people as i myself feel very drawn to Egypt-it was great seeing Rameses going home and the ceremony for him was stupendous-i would so love to be an Egyptologist..yours Lynne x

November 2nd, 2009 at 9:44 pm

what would be great would be to see Nefertiti with her other eye painted in-then she would be even more beautiful..Lynne x

November 2nd, 2009 at 9:48 pm

can somebody tell Dr Hawass please that in his latest ‘Valley of the Kings’ finds that we saw on ‘Heritage Key’ site that the one that he says is of a drawing of a ‘fat woman’ that the drawing actually has a trunk(for a nose)-as in an Elephant’s trunk-was there Elephants in Egypt?yes then that was why that was drawn-thanks..Lynne x ps i think Dr Hawass(so handsome) is brilliant btw and Dr Ikram(so pretty),take care

November 2nd, 2009 at 10:25 pm

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