Egypt Vows "Scientific War" If Germany Doesn't Loan Nefertiti

Dan Morrison in Cairo
for National Geographic News
April 18, 2007

She may not be Helen of Troy, but the face of another ancient beauty has nearly launched a "scientific war" between Germany and Egypt.

In an escalating conflict over a famous 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, the head of Egypt's antiquities authority has threatened to ban exhibitions and tours of Egyptian artifacts from Germany.

Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, had requested the sculpture for a temporary exhibition. But German officials say the iconic artwork is too fragile to travel.

Upping the ante, Hawass on Sunday told his country's parliament that he "will never again organize antiquities exhibitions in Germany if it refuses a request, to be issued next week, to allow the bust of Nefertiti to be displayed in Egypt for three months."

(Hawass is also an explorer-in-residence with the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

The painted limestone likeness of Egypt's most famous queen has been in Germany since 1913, a year after it was discovered by a German archaeological team at an ancient sculpture workshop at Tell el 'Amârna, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Cairo.

From her perch in Berlin, Nefertiti became one of the most admired, and most copied, images from ancient Egypt. The bust plays a prominent role in the marketing of the German capital's formidable array of museums.

Nefertiti was the wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who was later known as Akhenaten. Akhenaten roiled ancient Egyptian society in the 13th century B.C. by casting aside the pharaonic pantheon of gods in favor of a single sun deity. The old religion was restored after his death.

Raiders of the Lost Art?

While Egypt has periodically sought the return of the bust, "this vehemence is a new stage," said Dietrich Schulenburg, a spokesperson for Bernd Neumann, Germany's Minister of State for Culture.

German antiquities experts have determined the statue is too fragile to make the 3,000-mile (4,828-kilometer) trip to Cairo, Neumann said in a statement released April 13.

"To lend the Nefertiti bust would be irresponsible," the German culture minister said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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