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Nefertiti's return

December 21, 2009

Egypt's chief antiquities official says he will make a formal request for the bust of Nefertiti to be returned from Germany. This is part of a larger effort by Egypt to reclaim its ancient treasures.

The bust is currently on display in Berlin's Neues museumImage: AP

Egypt's chief antiquities official Zahi Hawass says he will make a formal request for the return of the bust of Queen Nefertiti from Berlin's Neues museum. In a statement released Sunday, Hawass said he was presented with documents by the head of the Berlin Neues Museum, where the bust is currently on display, which supported his claim that the statue is in Germany illegally.

German archeologist acted “unethically”

According to Hawass, the documents confirmed that the German archeologist Ludwig Borchardt produced fraudulent papers to secure the 3,300 year old bust for Berlin in 1913. Borchardt, who discovered the bust, tried to pass off the artefact as a less significant find in order to take it out of Egypt.

“These materials confirm Egypt's contention that Borchardt did act unethically, with intent to deceive,” the statement said. “The limestone head of the queen is listed on the protocol as a painted plaster bust of a princess.”

The statement went on to say that Friederike Seyfried, a museum director who oversees the section where the bust is on display, would assist in negotiations between Hawass and German officials.

However, in a statement released December 18 by the museum's operators, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, it was said that, while Seyfried would meet with Hawass in Cairo soon, she would not discuss Nefertiti's return, since the documents showed the Prussian state acquired the bust lawfully and Egypt had no legal claim for its return.

New campaign for return of artefacts

Despite the claims of the foundation, Hawass says he is optimistic about the bust's return. “I always ask for artefacts to come and it always happens” he told Reuters. The push for Nefertiti's return is part of a larger effort for Egypt to reclaim its ancient artefacts.

Visitors to Berlin Museum
The bust has attracted millions of visitors since it was sent to Germany in 1913Image: AP

Hawass previously retrieved wall fragments of a 3,200 year old tomb from the French Louvre, and is also currently working on having the Rosetta Stone returned from the British Museum.

The bust of Nefertiti was discovered in Egypt in 1912 at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived capital of the kingdom under Nefertiti's husband, Pharaoh Akhenaten. It was shipped to Germany the following year, and has since attracted millions of visitors from around the world.

Editor: Michael Lawton

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