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

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Despite the dispute, Schulenburg said today that there is a tradition of strong cooperation between German and Egyptian archaeologists and researchers.

"There are experts working together on many sites," he said. But when it comes to Nefertiti, a truly unique artifact, Egypt's Hawass said fear was likely the driving force behind Germany's refusal.

"They fear we will be like Raiders of the Lost Ark and we will take it and not give it back," said Hawass, who is a frequent and vocal advocate for the permanent return of Egyptian artifacts to their homeland. (See "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts" [October 24, 2006].)

Schulenburg, though, said Germany's sole concern was preserving the artifact.

"The ownership of Nefertiti by Germany is not in question," he said.

The Nefertiti issue last flared in 2003, after the Egyptian Museum in Berlin let two artists place the bust atop a nearly nude female bronze for a video installation to be shown at the Venice Biennale modern art festival.

The decision outraged Egyptian cultural officials, who banned Dieterich Wildung, the director of the Berlin museum, and his wife from further exploration in Egypt.

"I thought it was disgusting," Hawass said.

The museum eventually cancelled the Venice-bound exhibit.

"Scientific War"

Hawass said today that he would send a letter to Germany tomorrow formally requesting a loan of the bust for the opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

The museum is scheduled to open in 2012 near the site of the Great Pyramids at Giza, just outside Cairo.

"I will begin a negotiation," Hawass said.

If it fails, Hawass said, he will organize a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums.

"We will make the lives of these museums miserable," he said. "It will be a scientific war."

Worldwide there are scores of international disputes over artifacts each year, said Erik Ledbetter, senior manager for international programs at the American Association of Museums.

"Certainly, source countries of antiquities are becoming more vocal in pressing claims of all kinds, including claims against dealers, auction houses, and private collectors as well as museums," Ledbetter said.

"There is enormous variation in the types of cases and in the legal and ethical theories undergirding them."

Hawass said Egypt didn't consider the Nefertiti bust to be a looted antiquity. Still, it is one of a handful of truly singular Egyptian antiquities still in foreign hands.

"I really want it back," he said.

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