It is by far the most popular Egyptian artifact in German museums - the 3,400 year old bust of Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Echnaton. The German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust in 1912, and brought it to Berlin in compliance with the Egyptian law at that time. Nevertheless, from time to time (in 2009, e.g.), Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), demands the return of the bust - as once again on Monday. And again, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation rejected the request.
Hawass accuses archaeologist Borchardt of dishonesty to Egyptian officials about the importance of the bust, and believes it was taken illicitly. The bust is not the only artifact Hawass wants back. Other famous discoveries bywestern archaeologists, like the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, have been pursued, too. But, according to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the latest letter is not an official state request because it lacks the sign of Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. Nevertheless, it got much print in Germany - as always occurs when Zahi Hawass starts his media machine.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung had (with some, it appears, exclusive quotes) the most informative article, explaining the current debate, the history of the bust, the political moves of Egypt to repatriate its antique artifacts, and it provides background about Nefertiti, too.
The Financial Times Deutschland, though lacking a science section in the print edition, had a substantial Nefertiti story in the science part of the online edition. It adds some paragraphs about the past discussions, whether the bust might be a forgery - though, I don't know, why, because the rumors had been settled via CT scans and isotope analysis.
The Hamburger Abendblatt bothered to ask a local expert (of the Egyptian museum in Hannover) about the news. The same did the local boulevard BZ (Berliner Zeitung) in one of its two articles on the topic. Of course, the experts opinion is, that Nefertiti belongs to Germany. (Did someone try to call an Egyptian other than Hawass or even an independent expert from, say, Australia, perhaps?)
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has only a couple of paragraphs about the years and years of research and restoration, the special encasement and technological knowledge that helped to ensure the preservation of the bust. And it asks what would happen to the bust, if it was placed in a less than optimal museum in Cairo and sent on tour like the remnants of Tutenchamun, the stepson of Nefertiti.
The Austrian Wiener Zeitung provides the facts on the Nefertiti case but also compares it to events surrounding the feathered headdress of the Aztec king Montezuma in the Ethnological Museum of Vienna, which had been requested as a historically and spiritually important value for the Mexican people.
The Frankfurter Rundschau had a diffuse political comment, partly Hawass profile, partly historical excourse into colonialism.
RP online (Rheinische Post) had a report about "our Nefretiti" in the cultural section.
Die Welt had a sappy comment, comparing Hawass with Cato, the Latin politician, who consitently repeated his wish to destroy Carthage in all his speeches.
AND: Thanks for a candid comment!
Every year, the federal and local governments spent millions of Euros for "science years", "science fairs", "science cities" in the name of "communicating science to the public" - aka "create acceptance". 2001 life sciences, 2005 physics and so on. In 2011 the theme is "Research for Our Health". (At least in Germany. According to the UNESCO it's the year of chemistry, but don't be confused...)
Of course, folks need an opening ceremony with speeches of more or less important people, a public debate (though not too controversial), and some champagne and glamour, if you please. Journalists are invited and are supposed to quote lame speeches about how important ...(*) is for our society (*please fill in the science section of the corresponding year). Thanks to Kai Kupferschmidt, I wasn't forced to read such inane reporting. He wrote an acid-tongued comment about the dead boring ceremony, announcing the year of health sciences, for the Tagesspiegel. Hope this helps people rethink, whether it really makes any sense to just repeat the same stuff every single year.