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German Egyptologist Thomas L. Gertzen discussed at Harvard on Wednesday the history of German Egyptology, the discovery of the renowned bust of Queen Nefertiti, and the undercurrents of anti-Semitism that he argued permeated the discipline.
The Harvard Semitic Museum hosted the evening lecture, titled “Queen Nefertiti in Berlin: Anti-Semitism and the Spoils of War,” in conjunction with the opening of a new exhibit called “From the Nile to the Euphrates: Creating the Harvard Semitic Museum.” Harvard affiliates and attendees from the greater Cambridge and Boston areas gathered in the Yenching Auditorium for Gertzen’s talk.
“I intend to point out some things that might have been neglected in the past,” Gertzen said in an interview. “Certain aspects of the history of the discovery of Nefertiti and its way to Berlin have been left out of the discussion.”
During the first half of his lecture, Gertzen read correspondence exchanged by prominent German archaeologists and French and Egyptian directors of antiquities. The letters guided Gertzen’s discussion of German archaeology at Tell el-Amarna, the capital city built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty.
“Egyptology was not to be employed as a means of foreign diplomacy,” Gertzen said. The discovery of the bust of Queen Nefertiti in 1912, and the question of rightful ownership, however, caused political tension between Germany and Egypt and then later England and France during World War I, Gertzen said.
Legally, the bust belongs to the Egyptian Museum of Berlin collection, Gertzen said, but he posed the question of whether this decision was “morally correct.”
Gertzen ended his lecture with an examination of anti-Semitism within the field of Egyptology, citing more primary documents from German and Egyptian archaeologists that he argued show evidence of discrimination against Jewish archaeologists and patrons.
Gertzen’s presentation also highlighted the distinction of studies within Egyptology. Further commenting on this divide after the event, Rachel E. Drapper, an Oxford graduate with a degree in Egyptology, said she is interested by the divide in Egyptology between the study of Egyptian history and the study of the discipline itself.
“It’s very difficult to be expert in both,” she said.
Commenting on the event, Peter D. Manuelian ’81, the director of the Harvard Semitic Museum and a professor of Egyptology, said: “We try to bring Egyptologists to town whenever possible...and nothing is hotter than Nefertiti right now,” referencing the recent speculation over the possible location of the queen’s remains in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
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