Monday, December 28, 2009

Artifacts from the (DOG) excavations of Tell el Amarna

The 1912-1913 excavations on behalf of the German Oriental Society (DOG) at tell el-Amarna brought to light a large collection of plaster masks and royal stone sculptures. The artist studio in which the sculpture was found was that of royal sculptor Thutmosis.

The most famous of the pieces is the limestone bust of Nefertiti in the Neues museum in Berlin, unfortunately, the bust is at the center of a battle to prove that it was removed from Egypt by an act of fraud on behalf of its excavator Ludwig Borchardt. Almost certainly the official on behalf of the Egyptian antiquities authority Gustave Lefevre did not do his job well, to say the least.

So what is the next step, which are the courts to deal with this situation? Are there world courts to resolve this matter or is this a job of UNESCO to decide the merits of this case?

The thought however must sooner or later be faced, particularly by the German officials, that if the bust of Nefertiti is found to have been obtained through fraudulent behaviour than the rest of the German acquisitions from the division of finds for 1912-13 are also acquisitions by fraud and the whole accession of that year need be returned to be re-evaluated by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The final decision may damage substantially the Neues museums Amarna collection but it is going to take more than the firm words of Dr. Zahi Hawass to do it. Since the meeting last week with Friederike Seyfried, director of the Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammiung in Berlin Dr. Hawass' case for the return of the bust has been acknowledged by the German's in charge of this matter.

I might suppose that after almost 100 years that if they found a note from Ludwig Bouchardt saying " I stole this" that it would had not much legal effect on today's situation. I would imagine for bureaucracy's sake there must be statutes of limitations in both countries.

At this point, I am unaware from a legal standpoint whether Dr. Hawass and the Supreme Council of Antiquities really have any case for the return of Nefertiti regardless of what the old documents say.

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