Antiquities chief says Egypt will fight for Nefertiti bust

Published May 11, 2007

CAIRO, Egypt - Egypt's antiquities chief says if persuasion doesn't work, he will fight for an ancient bust of Nefertiti that a Berlin museum maintains is too fragile to ever travel.

Zahi Hawass rattled world museums last week with requests to hand over ancient Egyptian masterpieces, including the Rosetta Stone - some as loans, others permanently.

Hawass told the Associated Press in the interview Wednesday that the goal is to display the pieces in two new museums, especially the Grand Museum, which will open in 2012 next to the Great Pyramids of Giza.

But the bombastic archaeologist - known for wearing an Indiana Jones-style hat - has met resistance from museums reluctant to part with prized artifacts.

"Some people say, 'If we give this bust to Egypt for three months they will not return it, ' " Hawass said of the Nefertiti piece. "I say: We are not the pirates of the Caribbean. We are in the 21st century, we have cooperation with all the countries and they respect our work."

Over the centuries, thousands of Egyptian antiquities have been taken out of the country, some stolen, some removed by famed archaeologists. Many are now in the world's greatest museums.

At the top of Hawass' request list are the bust of Nefertiti and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. The bust is in Berlin's Egyptian Museum; the Rosetta Stone is in the British Museum in London.