German foundation refuses to return Nefertiti bust

Mon Jan 24, 2011 4:41pm EST
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BERLIN/CAIRO (Reuters) - A German foundation rejected Monday an Egyptian request to return the 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, a sculpture which draws over one million viewers annually to a Berlin museum.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) sent the request to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs the Neues Museum in the German capital where the bust is kept.

"The foundation's position on the return of Nefertiti remains unchanged," foundation president Professor Hermann Parzinger said in a statement. "She is and remains the ambassador of Egypt in Berlin."

Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, appealed to the foundation seeking the return of the bust, famed for its almond-shaped eyes and swan-like neck. However, the foundation said it did not consider the letter an official state request as it had not been signed by Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust about 275 km south of Cairo in 1912, and it was taken to Germany the following year.

Hawass, who sent a similar letter in 2009, has said in the past that documents presented by the Neues Museum confirmed Borchardt tried to pass the bust off as a less significant find to secure it for Berlin. The museum has said it was acquired lawfully and Egypt had no legal claim to it.

The SCA, which Hawass heads, said in an email that its request had been approved by both Prime Minister Nazif and the Egyptian ministry of culture.

"This request is a natural consequence of Egypt's long-standing policy of seeking the restitution of all archaeological and historical artefacts that have been taken illicitly out of the country," it said.

Hawass has campaigned to repatriate several pharaonic treasures in recent years, including the Rosetta Stone now in the British Museum.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey in Berlin and Patrick Werr in Cairo; writing by Brian Rohan; editing by David Stamp)

<p>File photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel looking at the statue of Queen Nefertiti (Nofretete) after a ceremony marking the opening of the Neues Museum (New Museum) in Berlin October 16, 2009. REUTERS/Guido Bergmann/Bundesregierung/Files</p>