Re-Examining Nefertiti's Likeness and Life

It is also on record that during a lunch in March 1934, Joseph Goebbels tried to convince Hitler of the propaganda value of turning over the bust to Egypt. But he was unsuccessful. Hitler had other plans for the Nefertiti bust. "I will build her a museum in Berlin," he said.

It is not without a certain irony that one of the worst criminals of all time preserved the "most beautiful woman" for Germany, though it has no bearing on the legal validity of the agreement that was used to divide up the Borchardt find.

Did Borchardt Forge Artifacts?

However, a seemingly farfetched accusation remains to be cleared up. The renowned Egyptologist Rolf Krauss, a curator at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin for more than 20 years and the custodian of the Nefertiti bust, claims that the folding altar used as compensation for the bust was fake.

Krauss theorizes that Borchardt, consumed with ambition, had the magnificent panel, with which he enticed Lefebvre, made by skilled stonemasons in Cairo.

But could the excavator have been capable of such contemptuous fraud? Some, who believe Borchardt was a hatchet man, say he could.

It is true that the scholar had been working at the German consulate general in Cairo since 1899. His official title was "academic attaché." But in reality Borchardt's job -- in the struggle against the other imperialistic powers, England, France and the United States -- was to fill Germany's museums with treasures from the days of the pharaohs.

His approach was often crude. In 1908, British Egyptologist Alan Gardiner accused him of "tactless and brusque behavior." Gardiner also claimed that the German had established a network of academic spies in the Nile Valley.

When confronted at home, the accused admitted that he had illegitimately acquired "a large number of photographs, drawings, private letters and foreign documents, and so on." In a letter to the foreign ministry, a colleague complained that a man who had "compromised German academia in such a way cannot remain in his position."

But the Indiana Jones of the German Empire survived the scandal. He was simply too good at what did. Borchardt often roamed through the souks of Cairo, where bearded merchants offered stolen antiquities for sale, as well as fakes made to look old with etching acid. Borchardt himself described the dealers' tricks. For example, it was common that "the men scratch off old paint, crush it and apply it with a binding agent."

There is even evidence that Borchardt made forgeries himself when he was a student. He imitated a cuneiform tablet and wrote logarithms onto it. A scholar fell for the practical joke.

Its interest peaked by the rumors, the restoration laboratory (set up by Italians) in Cairo examined the folding altar some time ago. When it was placed under ultraviolet light, it turned out that the supposed weathering was only a "darker base color" that had been painted onto the limestone.

"I think this is absolute proof of forgery," says Egyptologist Christian Loeben. His colleague Dietrich Wildung, however, calls the whole thing "rubbish."

Because the laboratory analysis remains unpublished to this day, the accusation cannot be thoroughly evaluated. It remains unclear how honestly Borchardt behaved 100 years ago when, using picks and shovels, he exposed the astonishing monuments from an era when the world held its breath and Akhenaton brought down the gods.

'Mistress of Joy'

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