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Published on 2 August 2011
The latest round in the debate between Egypt and Germany over the rightful ownership of one of Egypt's most prized antiquities hit another snag on Monday when Germany again refused to turn a bust of Nefertiti over into Egyptian hands. Currently housed in Berlin's Neues Museum, where it has been for decades, the 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti is at the top of a list of artifacts that Egypt would like returned to their home soil.
Germany, for its part, is maintaining it acquired the bust through legal channels and it belongs to them. It further maintains the artifact is too fragile to travel, so even a temporary loan back to Egypt would not be possible.
The request for the artifact is part of the ongoing campaign by Zahi Hawass, the antiquities chief for Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, which under Hawass' leadership has sent requests to nations around the globe for the return of more than 5,000 artifacts which the Council claims rightfully belong back in Egypt. The bust of Nefertiti, the Council counter-claims, was actually stolen in 1913 using illegal documents.
Hawass began his quest in 2002 and has been very successful at working with museums around the world to return artifacts that were genuinely stolen back to the Egyptian people. He is building two museums to house the returned artifacts, the more notable of which, the Grand Museum, is being built alongside the Great Pyramids of Giza. It is scheduled to be finished next year.
Egypt first requested the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Germany in the 1940s but was quickly denied. Hawass' campaign to collect the antiquities of Egypt has reignited the debate between the two nations over the artifact. He has claimed to have made several formal requests for the piece, including one in 2007 and 2009. He also has requested that the Rosetta Stone be returned from the British Museum, as well as other high-profile pieces from the Louvre in Paris and other prominent museums.
So far the Neues Museum is standing firm -- both in their assertion that the bust was acquired legally, and in their refusal to give the bust of Queen Nefertiti back to Egypt. Hawass has promised a fight over the desired antiquities, but may not in actual fact have much legal recourse.
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