Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Repatriation: More re Nefertiti bust


Egypt has firmly continued to reiterate that the bust of Nefertiti was taken out of the country illegally, and has officially requested that it be returned, according to the head of the High Council for Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, after a meeting in Cairo with Friederike Seyfried, director of the Egyptian Museum within the Berlin's New Museum. The bust, which dates back to about 3,400 years ago, was discovered in 1912 in southern Egypt by the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt, and Egypt has been asking for its restitution since the 1930s. According Hawass, the German archaeologist managed to bring the statue to Germany by claiming that it was a plaster bust and not the one in limestone of the queen. He said that ''this confirms that the statue left Egypt in a non-ethical manner, and that Germany used deception and fraud in that period.'' Berlin instead claims that the purchase was legal, and the museum's director has presented a document which allegedly provides proof.

Earth Times

Egypt has not made a formal request for Germany to return the bust of Queen Nefertiti, the director Berlin's Egyptian Museum said on Monday, defending the museum's right to the famous artefact. Museum director Friederike Seyfried said the 3,500-year-old limestone sculpture was not the subject of a Sunday meeting in Cairo with Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass.

Hawass was quoted by Egyptian media Monday as saying "the Nefertiti bust was smuggled out of Egypt by a German archaeologist, through deception and obfuscation," adding that he would use official channels to demand its return.

In response to the reports, Seyfried stated that documents seen by Hawass, detailing the 1912 excavation during which the Nefertiti bust was discovered, clearly demonstrated that Nefertiti was rightfully in Berlin.

"The German position is clear and unequivocal. The acquisition of the bust by the Prussian state was lawful," Seyfried said.

The discussion in Cairo, she added, had revolved around future cooperation, including shared exhibitions and an exchange programme for conservators.

(Zahi Hawass)

A meeting was held today at the offices of the Supreme Council of Antiquities between Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA, and Dr. Friederike Seyfried, Director of the Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin, to discuss the Bust of Nefertiti.

Dr. Seyfried presented Dr. Hawass with copies of all of the key documentation held by the Berlin Museum concerning this iconic piece. This includes the protocol of January 20, 1913, written by Gustave Lefevre, the official who signed the division of finds on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, as well as excerpts from the diary of Ludwig Borchardt, the excavator of the piece. These materials confirm Egypt’s contention that Borchardt did act unethically, with intent to deceive: the limestone head of the queen is listed on the protocol as a painted plaster bust of a princess. Borchardt knew, as his diary shows, that this was the queen herself; he also knew that the head was of limestone covered with plaster and painted, not simply of plaster, as this was clearly visible through inspection of the piece itself. It seems that there was an agreement between Borchardt and Lefevre that all the plaster pieces (which included an important group of plaster masks of the royal family at Amarna) would go to Berlin, and this appears to have been one way that Borchardt misled Lefevre to ensure that the bust would also go to Berlin.

As director of the Berlin Musem, Dr. Seyfried does not have the authority to approve the return of the head to Egypt, but will act as liaison between Dr. Hawass and the relevant German officials, Dr. Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Bernd Neumann, Minister of State for Culture.

Based on the information currently in the possession of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Hawass will call a meeting of the National Committee for the Return of Stolen Artifacts this week, which will then make a formal request for the return of the Bust of Nefertiti.

New York Times (Julie Bloom)

Egypt has found new evidence to support its demand for the return of Queen Nefertiti’s bust, right, from Berlin, Bloomberg News reported. According to the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo the diary of the archaeologist who discovered the 3,500-year-old bust shows that he misled authorities when it was transferred abroad. In an e-mail statement the council said the diary of Ludwig Borchardt, who found the bust in 1912, showed he knew the head was of Queen Nefertiti but instead reported it as a “painted plaster bust of a princess.” The statement said, “These materials confirm Egypt’s contention that Borchardt did act unethically with the intent to deceive.”

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