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Teamwork needed to recover looted antiquities: Hawass

Countries seeking to recover looted antiquities from foreign museums must work together and make a joint, concerted effort to retrieve the artifacts, urged Egyptian antiquities official Zahi Hawass on Wednesday.

Countries seeking to recover looted antiquities from foreign museums must work together and make a joint, concerted effort to retrieve the artifacts, urged Egyptian antiquities official Zahi Hawass on Wednesday.

Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, was speaking at a two-day conference in Cairo exploring efforts to repatriate looted ancient treasures. Participants include antiquities officials, museum directors and cultural ministers from more than 15 countries, including Greece, China, Italy, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq and Mexico.

"We need to co-operate," Hawass told the audience. "We need a unification between our countries. Every country is fighting alone; every country suffered alone.

"We will battle together ... Maybe we will not succeed in a lifetime, [but] we have to open the subject."

The outspoken Hawass, who has made headlines internationally for helping Egypt reclaim thousands of ancient relics from abroad, urged the delegates to help create a master list of important artifacts they want returned.

Some of the prominent objects mentioned include:

  • The 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, which Egypt wants returned from the Neues Museum in Berlin.
  • The Rosetta Stone, which Egypt wants returned from the British Museum in London.
  • The Parthenon Marbles, which Greece wants returned from the British Museum in London.
  • The feathered headdress of Montezuma, which Mexico wants returned from the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna.

Hawass emphasized that countries are not seeking to reclaim all antiquities, simply those taken illegally and artifacts of great historical value to the original country.

A major initiative for the conference will be to draft an appeal to the United Nations cultural body, Unesco. The delegates want to amend the convention banning the import, export and ownership of stolen antiquities acquired after 1970, the year it was signed.

The current convention is not retroactive, but the delegates want it changed so that it applies to items acquired prior to that date.

A session will also be held to discuss strategies for recovering key works from foreign museums.

On the opening day of the conference, Hawass also pointed to successful recent repatriation efforts and praised the United States for its support for the restoration of ancient artifacts.

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