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From The Times, February 11, 2009
Roger Boyes in Berlin writes:

Secret note reveals how Germany smuggled Queen Nefertiti bust from Egypt

German archaeologists cheated Egyptian customs officers in order to smuggle the 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti to Berlin, according to a secret document unearthed in archives.

The document is sure to stoke the row between German and Egypt over the removal of antiquities at the beginning of the 20th century.

The face of Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships; the head and shoulders of the beautiful wife of Sun King Akhenaten look set to launch a thousand angry petitions from curators in Cairo.

The document, discovered in the German Oriental Institute, shows that the archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt deliberately hid the true value of the Nefertiti bust when he submitted the inventory of his finds to the Egyptian authorities in 1913.

Written in 1924, the document is the account by the secretary of the German Oriental Company of a meeting he attended on January 20 1913 between Borchardt and a senior Egyptian offical.

The agreement was that Germany and Egypt would divide the spoils equally between them. But, says the witness, Borchardt "wanted to save the bust for us". So it was tightly wrapped up and placed deep in a box in a poorly lit chamber to fool the chief antiquities inspector, Gustave Lefebvre.

A photograph of the bust was deliberately unflattering. The specifications state that the bust was made of gypsum, which is almost worthless, although the queen's features were painted on limestone.

It was enough to get Nefertiti out of the country into Germany. Now her long swan-like neck and exquisite features have come to symbolise the join between ancient and modern ideas of feminine beauty. Over half a million visitors a year are drawn to see her at Berlin's Egyptian Museum.

But Egypt wants Nefertiti back and a document showing that the bust only left the country because of skulduggery could well strengthen Cairo's case. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, has already threatened trouble. "We will make the lives of these (German) museums miserable," he said.

At the very least Cairo wants Nefertiti back on loan to mark the opening of a new Grand Egyptian Museum, near the pyramid at Giza, in 2012.

The Germans have resisted so far. Dietrich Wildung, one of Germany's best Egyptologists, stresses that the bust now belongs to Germany. "She was donated to the state museum in 1920 by James Simon." he says, referring to the man who sponsored the dig.

A spokesman for the Oriental Institute argues that the loss of the bust was the fault of the Egyptians; the inspector should have looked more closely. "It is not right to complain now about a deal that was struck long ago," said the spokesman.

That is a little disingenuous. Borchardt knew as soon as he had dug out the bust from his site at the old settlement of Amarna, 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Cairo, that he had a treasure in his hands. "Suddenly we had the most alive Egyptian artwork in our hands," he wrote in his diary, "You cannot describe it with words. You can only see it."

But not apparently if you are Egyptian, unless you care to take a trip to Germany. The Queen, it seems, is staying put in Berlin.

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articles posted on egy.com were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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