Germany and Egypt fight over bust of Nefertiti: will Zahi Hawass’s crusade ever end?

You win some, you lose some.

Zahi Hawass is a man who is used to getting his way. The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has been fighting to repatriate stolen Egyptian artifacts for years, and more often than not he wins.

This time, though, he’s suffered a setback. He’s trying to get the Neues Museum in Berlin to return the famous bust of Nefertiti. He claims it was stolen by a German archaeologist a century ago who covered it with clay to hide its true value. Museum officials told the BBC it was legally exported and that it’s too delicate to move anyway.

The bust is the centerpiece of the Neues Museum’s amazing display of Egyptian artifacts, one of the best collections in the world. Nefertiti was the wife of the mysterious pharaoh Akhenaten, who put the Sun god Aten above all others in the Egyptian pantheon. Vengeful priests erased his name from monuments after his death in 1338 BC.

This won’t be the last battle in the war for Nefertiti. Dr. Hawass’s predecessors have been trying to get the bust back since 1930. What really needs to be done is for museums, governments, and archaeologists to get together and come up with a binding agreement on how to deal with these issues. Perhaps a neutral International Antiquities Court could be set up via the UN? At the moment Dr. Hawass has little power to force Germany or any other country to return artifacts, other than threats (which worked with the Louvre) or constant badgering. With a proper system in place, Dr. Hawass could get a good night’s sleep.

But having seen the inner workings of far too many museums and academic departments, I don’t hold out much hope for an amicable agreement. Too many people are trying to cling to their little bit of turf.

[Photo courtesy Philip Pikart]

YOU Can be Indiana Jones!

Have some extra time and a wad of cash to spend? Become a treasure hunter. There’s a fun article in WSJ’s Weekend Journal about “Seven Missing Wonders of the World,” plus a treasure map to get you started.

  • The Holy Grail: Apparently, this wasn’t mentioned anywhere until around 1190 in a poem about something (undescribed) seen by the knight Perceval. But, obviously undergoing a recent surge of interest, and you’ve probably already started your search. Quite possibly being hidden along with the Holy Hand Grenade.
  • Genghis Khan’s Tomb: Maury Kravitz, retired trader and attorney, has spent over $3m and 15 yrs searching Mongolia for the resting place of this conqueror. Don’t let him beat you to it. Follow him around, and interview locals to see where he’s dug already and don’t dig there.
  • Amelia Earhart’s Plane: She was lost July 2, 1937, heading from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island. Some think she assumed the identity of NJ banker and pilot Irene Bolam, but I think traipsing around the South Pacific looking is a little sexier.
  • Nefertiti’s Tomb: Seeing as how Egyptian royalty were usually hidden when buried (because of the nasty habits of grave-robbers), she could be anywhere from the Valley of Kings, to somewhere in New Jersey.
  • The Shipwreck The San Jose: This Spanish galleon was sunk by the English in 1708, taking gold and silver, estimated to be worth between $150m and $10B, to the bottom of the ocean off Columbia. A 20-yr legal battle with the government of Columbia ended this year, promising the finder would split the loot with the government.
  • Peter the Great’s The Amber Room: This masterpiece of Baroque art was actually a room given by the king of Prussia to Peter the Great in 1716. It disappeared some time after the Nazi armies carted it off. I’m guessing it is with the Arc of the Covenant.
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s Mural The Battle of Anghiari: Thought to be his greatest work of art, this mural decorated a hall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, was copied by other artists, was lost, and now some think it was covered by another mural by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century. If you can’t find it, at least have a replica of the mural tattooed on your back.

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I see another Hollywood blockbuster or bestseller in the making…