Egypt announced yesterday it was launching a campaign for the return of five of its most precious artifacts from museums abroad, including...
CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt announced yesterday it was launching a campaign for the return of five of its most precious artifacts from museums abroad, including the Rosetta Stone in London and the graceful bust of Nefertiti in Berlin.
Zahi Hawass, the country’s chief archaeologist, said UNESCO — the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — had agreed to mediate in its claims for artifacts currently at the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris, two German museums and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Several countries have waged uphill battles to get back pieces they contend were looted by Western museums. Most notably, Greece has been seeking for decades the return of the Parthenon’s Elgin Marbles from the British Museum in London.
The Rosetta Stone, a 1,680-pound slab of black basalt with a triple inscription, was the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The stone, with parallel texts in ancient hieroglyphics, Demotic language and Greek, was first discovered by French troops, then taken over by Britain in 1801.
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It has been in the British Museum since 1802, where it is a major draw.
Egypt considers the artifacts stolen, Hawass said. “We believe that Rosetta Stone didn’t leave Egypt legally. It was taken through imperialism,” he said. The same holds true at Berlin’s Egyptian Museum and its bust of Nefertiti. The 3,000-year-old bust has become a symbol of ancient beauty, with its depiction of the queen’s delicate neck, elegantly arched brows and towering blue headdress.
Hawass said Egypt is also seeking the elaborate Zodiac ceiling painting from the Dendera Temple, now housed in the Louvre; the statute of Hemiunu — the nephew and vizier of Pharaoh Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid — in Germany’s Roemer-Pelizaeu museum; and the bust of Anchhaf, builder of the Chephren Pyramid, now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.