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Egypt Demands Return of Nefertiti Bust From Germany

The bust of Queen Nefertiti
The bust of Queen Nefertiti is displayed at the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany. Source: State Museums of Berlin via Bloomberg

Egypt has officially asked that Germany hand over a 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti from Berlin’s Neues Museum as part of the North African country’s efforts to return disputed artifacts.

Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, sent a letter requesting the return of the statue to Herman Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, the Egyptian Culture Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Along with the Rosetta Stone, which is housed in the British Museum, Nefertiti’s bust is one of several high-profile antiquities that Egypt is trying to recover from abroad in order to raise the profile of its tourist industry. Tourism accounts for 13 percent of jobs and is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency, bringing in $10.8 billion in 2009, according to the Tourism Ministry.

Egypt maintains that the diary of the archaeologist who discovered the bust shows he misled authorities when it was transferred abroad. The council says that Ludwig Borchardt, who found the head in 1912, knew that the limestone bust was of Nefertiti and instead listed it as a “painted plaster bust of a princess.”

German Statement

The German government said it doesn’t view Egypt’s request as official, because the letter was addressed to Parzinger rather than the government.

“The government’s position on Nefertiti is well known and hasn’t changed,” Andreas Peschke, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters today in Berlin.

German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann has said that his country’s procurement of the bust was lawful and that Egypt had no grounds to demand its return. Germany refused to lend the statue in 2007, citing its fragility.

Egypt first requested Nefertiti’s return in 1925. Germany agreed to hand it over in 1935 before Adolf Hitler decided it should stay. It has remained in Germany ever since.

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