CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will formally ask Germany to return a bust of Queen Nefertiti after a Berlin museum official presented papers showing the 3,400-year-old treasure was taken unethically, Egypt’s antiquities chief said on Sunday.
Zahi Hawass said in a statement that documents presented by the head of Berlin’s Neues Museum confirmed that Ludwig Borchardt, who found the bust, tried to pass it off as a less significant find to secure it for Berlin.
With almond-shaped eyes and a swan-like neck, Nefertiti has caused a rift between Egypt and Germany, each intent on having the bust that draws millions of visitors from around the world.
“These materials confirm Egypt’s contention that Borchardt did act unethically, with intent to deceive: the limestone head of the queen is listed on the protocol as a painted plaster bust of a princess,” the statement said.
Friederike Seyfried, director of the Egyptian Papyrus Collection at Berlin’s Neues Museum, where the bust is on display, will liaise between Hawass and German officials to resolve the dispute over the artifact, it added.
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs the German museum, could not be reached for comment.
But in a statement on December 18, it denied that Seyfried was meeting Hawass to negotiate the bust’s return, saying the documents proved the Prussian state acquired the bust lawfully and Egypt had no legal claim to it.
Objects were registered precisely, and outstanding finds such as Nefertiti were photographed in a way that reflected their beauty and quality, the foundation said.
“The cases stood open for appraisal,” it added. “There can be no talk of deception.”
Hawass told Reuters he was upbeat about the prospects for the bust’s return and would call a meeting of the National Committee for the Return of Stolen Artifacts to make the formal request this week.
“I am always optimistic,” he said. “I always ask for artifacts to come and it always happens.”
Hawass’s push to repatriate the bust is among the priorities of a campaign for the return of pharaonic treasures including the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, that Egypt says were plundered by a succession of foreign powers.
The bust of Nefertiti was found in Egypt in 1912 at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived capital of Nefertiti’s husband, the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Akhenaten, and shipped to Germany in 1913.
Additional reporting by Brian Rohan in Berlin, editing by Tim Pearce