Home sick or home sweet home?

With the 100 anniversary of the discovery of the famous Nefertiti bust coming up in the near future, it seems very appropriate that the topic of repatriation be discussed. When German archaeologists dug up this ancient piece of work at Amarna, Egyptian Queen Nefertiti soon found herself far from home in Berlin. There have been many years of debate on the topic of returning the Queen back to Egypt, her rightful home, but others feel that she belongs in Berlin, the land of her discoverers. Issues of repatriation are found all throughout archaeology and questions of “the rightful owner” are debated worldwide.

Like the bust of Nefertiti, Egypt has lost many archaeological artifacts to museums and private collectors all over the planet. The statue of Rameses II and the Rosetta Stone have also been removed from their homeland and now reside in the British museum along with other Egyptian relics of their time. But Egypt isn’t the only one effected by the relocation of ancient artifacts. The British Museum is also the home of the famous Parthenon Frieze of ancient Athens and the Roman Bronze head of Augustus, for example. Museums in London, Berlin, Cairo, Paris, etc all feature archaeological finds from every corner of the world.

Though these institutions are more than qualified to take proper care of these ancient artifacts, who’s hands should the really be in? Do they belong to their native lands? Or does “finders-keepers” stay in effect after the age of five? Though the German’s did find the bust of Nefertiti, many Egyptians feel that she belongs back home. The Neues Museum in Berlin will have an exhibition honoring the Egyptian Queen in December entitled “In the Light of Amarna – 100 Years of the Find of Nefertiti.” Though Cairo seems to be happy about the event, I can’t help but think after 100 years, Nefertiti should be returned home to Egypt and be celebrated among her people.


1 thought on “Home sick or home sweet home?

  1. Most of my familiarity with the issue of repatriation is linked to the contemporary and still controversial issue of rightful return of Native American human remains. As you said in your post, the question with repatriation is “who do the artifacts belong to?” The same question is applicable to bones and the repatriation of Native American remains to their tribal descendants. With the establishment of the NAGPRA, Native American remains must be returned in a timely an efficient manner to their descendants, or the tribe most closely associated in ancestral heritage. Thinking about the guidelines and practices established through NAGPRA, it is appropriate to consider how these regulations would apply to Egyptian artifacts. Using the bust of Nefertiti as an example, and following the guidelines established by NAGPRA, Berlin would have been forced to return Nefertiti to her homeland years ago. As Ethan mentioned in class however, many Egyptian artifacts were obtained ‘legally’, however, the morality of such appropriations remain questionable. This argument leads me only to further questions, instead of answers unfortunately. Why are ancient artifacts different than human remains? Shouldn’t artifacts, as cultural momentos, belong as much to their ancestral lineages as human skeletal remains? In many cases, human remains and cultural artifacts are found in close association, often times within the same grave. Therefore, does the future of archaeology stand to create a series of guidelines and best practices regarding the rightful and ‘moral’ return of ancient cultural artifacts and can these guidelines use as a foundation the earlier establishment of NAGPRA?

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