In recent years, there has been a push for archaeological artifacts and treasures to be returned to their country of origin. Egypt (most notably, through Dr Zahi Hawass) has been at the forefront of this effort, with some debate going on about whether both the Rosetta Stone (in the British Museum) and the Nefertiti Bust (in Berlin) should be repatriated. Needless to say, the current holders of those items don’t agree with the idea!
Well, the debate is sure to get even hotter now that a document has been found which suggests that the Nefertiti Bust was taken to Germany under false pretences:
The document, discovered in the German Oriental Institute, shows that the archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt deliberately hid the true value of the Nefertiti bust when he submitted the inventory of his finds to the Egyptian authorities in 1913.
Written in 1924, the document is the account by the secretary of the German Oriental Company of a meeting he attended on January 20 1913 between Borchardt and a senior Egyptian offical.
The agreement was that Germany and Egypt would divide the spoils equally between them. But, says the witness, Borchardt “wanted to save the bust for us”. So it was tightly wrapped up and placed deep in a box in a poorly lit chamber to fool the chief antiquities inspector, Gustave Lefebvre.
A photograph of the bust was deliberately unflattering. The specifications state that the bust was made of gypsum, which is almost worthless, although the queen’s features were painted on limestone.
Egypt has formally asked for both the Rosetta Stone and the Nefertiti Bust to be loaned for the 2012 opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, near the Giza pyramids. You’d have to think that officials in London and Berlin might be a bit nervous about ever seeing them again if they do let them go…
Previously on TDG: