As the director of the Egyptian section of the Neues Museum in Berlin prepares to meet next month with Egyptian officials regarding the future of the bust of Nefertiti, both sides are beginning to hint at what evidence they may offer to support their respective positions.
In a recent Em Hotep! article (Nefertiti, the Life and Death of King Tut, and KV64: The October Checklist) we noted that Dr. Zahi Hawass had promised to reveal his evidence that German archeologist Ludwig Borchardt had used “unethical tactics” to acquire the famous bust of Nefertiti for his home country. In particular, the evidence was to be made public in October when he wrote a letter to Berlin demanding the artifact’s return. It now seems that the evidence is being withheld for the upcoming Nefertiti Summit.
According to a November 4, 2009, article from France 24, Germany and Egypt plan talks over Nefertiti statue, the German and Egyptian panels both intend to present their facts at the December 8th meeting. The article quotes Hawass as stating:
“Our side will highlight documents showing the statue left in an illegal way, including ones that prove that in the allocation of antiquities discovered by a German team, (nothing) indicated the presence of a statue in the German share.”
There is actually nothing new about that particular revelation. In a late August article that appeared on Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, Queen of Egypt’s Heart, Jill Kamil explained:
“According to the excavation regulations of the Antiquities Service, which was under French control until the 1952 Revolution, objects sans pareil (i.e. without equal, or unique) would be retained in Egypt as part of the national collection, and the excavator was entitled to half of whatever remained provided that the result of his work was published within two years. The excavation was well documented by Borchardt but no mention was made of the painted bust of Nefertiti, which was taken out of the country in unclear circumstances.”
Dr. Hawass does reveal one fascinating tidbit—Borchardt may have smuggled the iconic statue out of Germany under a coating of clay. Exactly how, and why, this particular fact came to be documented will be interesting to see.
Germany is expected to provide evidence that the bust was acquired legally and above the board. This evidence will also have to be particularly compelling, as the bust of Nefertiti seems to pass the sans pareil test pretty easily. It would seem that in order for the Germans to be able to lay claim to such an artifact “through legal channels” somebody fairly high up in the Egyptian Antiquities Service must have signed off on the exchange. Given that the Antiquities Service was under French management at the time, it is unlikely the Egyptians will be satisfied with Germany’s evidentiary documentation regardless of whose signature is attached.
The Nefertiti Summit seems to indicate Dr. Hawass has renewed his resolve to repatriate the bust of Nefertiti. In a recent interview with Spiegel Online International Hawass seemed to have softened his stance, being open to a possible future trade of other artifacts in exchange for the bust, or even borrowing it on the condition it would be returned to the Neues Museum (source). Given Berlin’s position that the bust is too fragile to move, rationalizing moving it twice for a loan seems contradictory. Hopefully the issue will be put to rest one way or another on December 8th.
- Nefertiti, the Life and Death of King Tut, and KV64: The October Checklist
- Nefertiti: The Fight over an Iconic Egyptian Artifact Continues
- The Year of Nefertiti: Will Zahi Hawass’ Final Year at the SCA be a Last Dance with a Queen?
Copyright by Keith Payne, 2009. All rights reserved.