Throughout history, various artifacts have been taken from their native lands in a less than ideal manner, sparking controversies between the countries involved. Perhaps one of the best ongoing examples of such a controversy is the case for the bust of Nefertiti (see fig. 1). The bust commemorates Pharaoh Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti (“Nefertiti”). For this reason, the piece holds historical significance. In fact, it is known to historians that “her reign was a time of tremendous cultural upheaval, as Akhenaten reoriented Egypt’s religious and political structure around the worship of the sun god Aten” (“Nefertiti”). That is, it was a period where monotheism was practiced (“Nefertiti’s Bust”).
It is not just the historical significance that makes this piece so coveted—it is incredibly beautiful and well-preserved. The bust, created by the sculptor Thutmos, was made with a base of limestone layered with stucco and gypsum (“Nefertiti’s Bust”). CT scans have revealed that the limestone base depicts what may have been her true appearance, as there were carefully carved wrinkles as well as a bump on her nose (Dell’Amore). On the surface, however, her face is idealized, perfectly symmetrical and free of any flaws. The rich colors of the paint used on her face, headdress, and jewelry bring life and light to the bust. Only one eye, crafted with wax and crystal, was completed, leading many to think that it was meant to be used as a model for other works (“Nefertiti’s Bust”).
It was discovered in 1912 in an excavation led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt and is estimated to be around 3,300 years old (Tharoor). The circumstances that follow made for what is now a very complicated case. Germany was permitted to claim the bust and several other artifacts due to an agreement that they had with the Egyptian government (“Nefertiti”).
Furthermore, the bust was taken back to Germany following the completion of the excavation. It was then displayed in the home of Jacques Simon, the man who had funded the excavation (“Nevertiti”). In 1923, he donated this piece to a museum in Berlin, where it was put on display (“Nefertiti’s Bust”). Around this time, the Egyptian government started to argue for its return. They claimed that Germany had not been honest with them in their dealings, using deceitful documentation in order to claim the bust (“Nefertiti Bust”). However, Germany did not return the artifact. During WWII, the piece had to be moved for safekeeping.
It was kept in a salt mine until it was discovered by American troops and displayed in West Berlin, where it was kept until the fall of the Berlin Wall (“Nefertiti Bust”). After this, it was moved back to the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany, where it is displayed today (“Nefertiti Bust”). The bust of Nefertiti is undoubtably a beautiful and highly coveted Egyptian artifact. Personally, I feel that the bust should be returned to Egypt, as it incredibly important to their history and there appears to be some incriminating evidence against Germany.
Though Egypt continues to ask for its return, it seems rather unlikely that it will happen any time soon, if at all. German officials still claim that they obtained the bust through legal means and that it should remain in their possession. It appears that this will continue to be a point of conflict between the two countries in the years to come.