Queen Nefertiti's bust, a symbol of female power and beauty that has survived more than three millennia, is too fragile to leave Berlin for a trip to Egypt, German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said.
Neumann rejected a campaign by a Hamburg-based lobby group demanding the loan of Nefertiti to Egypt. CulturCooperation e.V., partly funded by the European Union, says Egypt has been requesting the return of the regal bust for more than 90 years, most recently just for temporary exhibition.
``Experts are of the view that there are serious conservation and restoration concerns that argue against any long-distance transportation of Nefertiti,'' Neumann said in a statement today. He added that in general, such cultural exchanges are welcome.
The painted limestone bust dates from the 14th century B.C. and is 50 centimeters tall. It is housed in Berlin's Altes Museum on Museum Island and is considered one of the German capital's most important ancient treasures. It was unearthed by a German archaeologist in 1912 and formed part of a gift of 5,000 objects made to Berlin museums by the philanthropist James Simon in 1920.
``We haven't officially requested the return,'' said Mahmoud Gaafar, a spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin. ``Obviously that is not to deny the fact that she is Egyptian.''
Lena Blosat, a spokeswoman for CulturCooperation, said the group is of the opinion that Egyptian requests for a loan of the bust are justified. No one disputes Berlin's legal right to ownership of the treasure, she said.
CulturCooperation, a non-profit organization founded in 1986, supports contemporary art projects and campaigns for a fairer cultural exchange between European nations and countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America whose treasures were plundered by colonial powers. The group has funding from the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU.
The campaign Web site includes a debating forum and invites visitors to vote on whether Nefertiti should be allowed to travel, should return to Egypt permanently, or should remain in Berlin. The campaign will also include an event in Berlin's regional parliament, supported by the Green Party, on May 22, Blosat said.
Now before we buy into Mr. Gaafar's claims, we should remind folks that the bust was on the list of things Egypt was demanding back a couple of years ago ... I guess it depends on your definition of "officially requested". Outside of that, I think we can end the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles dispute right now -- if they have been damaged by the damp London climate, they're clearly too fragile to be moved. End of discussion.