A Case in Antiquities for ‘Finders Keepers’

John Tierney in The New York Times:

Bust Zahi Hawass regards the Rosetta Stone, like so much else, as stolen property languishing in exile. “We own that stone,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking as the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The British Museum does not agree — at least not yet. But never underestimate Dr. Hawass when it comes to this sort of custody dispute. He has prevailed so often in getting pieces returned to what he calls their “motherland” that museum curators are scrambling to appease him. Last month, after Dr. Hawass suspended the Louvre’s excavation in Egypt, the museum promptly returned the ancient fresco fragments he sought. Then the Metropolitan Museum of Art made a pre-emptive display of its “appreciation” and “deep respect” by buying a piece of a shrine from a private collector so that it could be donated to Egypt.

Now an official from the Neues Museum in Berlin is headed to Egypt to discuss Dr. Hawass’s demand for its star attraction, a bust of Nefertiti. These gestures may make immediate pragmatic sense for museum curators worried about getting excavation permits and avoiding legal problems. But is this trend ultimately good for archaeology?

More here.