Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dr Hawass is keeping up the pressure on getting the bust of Nefertiti and other objects returned to Egypt. Regardless of the legal arguments and understandable sentiment involved, I think it's in Egypt's interests for these objects to remain overseas. Nefertiti is Egypt's greatest ambassador.

Egypt would benefit from attracting higher spending tourists. Key to that are signature cultural artefacts strategically placed across the world to build a love of Egypt and a desire to visit. In short pretty much what now prevails.

Similarly photo bans are damaging. Photos of tourists stood beside a sign for "Tutankhamun's Tomb" is amazing free advertising. There are sites like the Laoatian Plain of Jars which are little visted - because they are little known. The last time I visited Ggantija Temples on Gozo, there were only a handful of visitors even though it's an amazing site older than the Pyramids ... But it's largely unknown. I think present policies may prove counter-productive over the medium term if pursued.

There biggest exception would seem to be the Rosetta Stone. Culturally it's relatively unimportant - it's prominent for technical reasons. It's also the key to Ancient Egyptian language and therefore in my opinion more closely bound with Egypt than the bust of Nefertiti. I doubt the British Museum would agree with me, but there's a case for a semi-permanent exchange.

Maybe that's the way forward with all the objects - arrange period exchanges. The chance of the Louvre returning the Dendera Zodiac or Berlin returning Nefertiti is remote. But one could see that objects could be loaned back to Egypt while a comparable signature treasure is loaned from Egypt in it's place.

That's the difficulty. Since the discovery of Tut's tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 nothing of the very highest quality has been found so Egypt doesn't have much to loan, although Tutankhamun's treasures could have been exchanged for Nefertiti etc for a time, rather than commercialising them. (An extra $1 a night hotel bed tax could have raised significant revenues instead.)

Perhaps the only way out of the impasse is some massive discoveries in Alexandria, Giza and Luxor etc.


Ann said...

I can't agree more on the photography ban. It is strange that when all bigger companies reach out to Flickr, Facebook, ... and 'outsource' their media campaigns to the masses (or at least tries to achieve that effect) that Egypt would stop people from sharing what for some most definitely will be the most stunning experience of their lives.

I understand some of the arguments, but think there are none that can't be overcome.

But I do trust Egypt will eventually realise it's in their own interest to allow photography on most locations.

As for the return of the Nefertiti bust and the Rosetta Stone, I'm undecided. You are right about them being ambassadors for the ancient Egyptian culture, but it's weird, I do not hesitate a moment if people ask me if the Elgin Marbles should be returned, why do I doubt if asked about those? :/

(I assume cutting the Bust in half salomo-style is probably not an option? ;))

Sean Williams said...

The photography ban is ludicrous, and a swap deal between Egypt and the British Museum for the Rosetta Stone would be great - more so for the BM than Egypt, where less people would venture to see the Stone than Londoners and tourists would to see, say, the Death Mask (yeah, right).

Ben Morales-Correa said...

Whatever positive value as "ambassador from Egypt" the Bust of Nefertiti may have, it cannot justify the fact that it was taken out of the country illegally and by deceit. Nefertiti (The Beautiful One has Come) should return to Egypt and be displayed at the Egyptian Grand Museum.

rymerster said...

I agree with everything you have written Kate. There is also a case, I believe, for arguing that Ancient Egyptian culture influenced other cultures in many ways, not to forget also that humans migrated over time - so these artifacts are part of our shared heritage as human beings.

Anonymous said...

I would loan the Rosetta stone to the Cairo museum tomorrow as long as they reciprocate with something of equal value as an insurance policy. The RS is a massive money spinner for the BM so i am thinking that the only comparable object is the golden mask of tutankhamun.

tim said...

Hi Kate

Nefertiti may one day be returned permanently to Egypt if it can be shown to be stolen, however the antiquities official Gustave Lefebvre undeniably did not do his job properly on the day of division of finds.

This is the Supreme council of antiquities biggest hurdle to overcome. What was inspector Lefebvre up to that day? These motives are probably now lost to guess work and doubtful the paper trail will resolve anything.

Returning the bust based on goodwill and a pile of replacement objects is probably the best route.

Anonymous said...

"Nefertiti is Egypt's greatest ambassador.
Egypt would benefit from attracting higher spending tourists. Key to that are signature cultural artefacts strategically placed across the world to build a love of Egypt and a desire to visit"

I don't think Egyptian ancient culture needs publicity, Museums and ancient sites in Egypt have more than enough visitors all year long, and it is not because of Nefertiti's bust or the Rosetta Stone being abroad, I think it is naive to believe this. As for the bust being too fragile to travel, that is ridiculous , since it is allowed for the statue to move around Europe but not to Egypt. For me the German arguments around Nefertiti's bust are all too weak and insulting to commonsense.

Anonymous said...

While it is true that artifacts accumulate different meanings across space and time, the reality remains that many of these object were taken under somewhat illicit (or at the very least historically ambiguous) circumstances. The problem is that museums in Western societies have taken a pedantic and paternalistic tone towards the cultures of origin for these artifacts. They make claims of being universal museums with access for all, yes they have higher attendance, but they are by no means universal. They are simply the expression of their location, they cannot claim to speak for the entire world. The objects should be returned but I advocate loans. Egypt should not be required to lend something of equal value, that is no less paternalistic than simply denying them access to their cultural patrimony.

Kate Phizackerley said...

There is a problem with that argument as it opens a whole can of worms. If it applies to objects, then it must also apply to land. Around the world that would cause immense troubles. For instance, in the USA on that basis large areas of the contry should be returned to the descendents of the Indian population. That land was also illegally acquired.

It is to stop arguments like that the UN placed a cutoff date - essentially an amnesty for objects exported before that date. I can't recall what the date is but I think most of the disputed objects were transferred before that date - altough it is possible Nefertiti was an exception as it was exported relatively recently.

For Nefertiti it is possible that it was exported illegally. If so the correct way forwards is to bring a case in a court as I have said before and get the issued settled once and for all.


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