The University of Hamburg’s Egyptology department is facing a last-chance vote to avoid oblivion. The department, one of Germany’s most prestigious, is facing the axe for economic reasons. But a petition organised by protesters outside the city’s Tutankhamun: His Tomb and his Treasures exhibition has gathered over 66,000 signatures, meaning the department’s future is now in the hands of an internal vote.
The department’s closure would be a body blow for Egyptology in Germany, which remains popular thanks to world-renowned museums like the Neues in Berlin, and great artefacts such as the Bust of Nefertiti, the home of which has been debated for decades.
A number of high-profile figures have voiced concern over the imminent closure. Famed photographer Sandro Vannini (click here to see his spectacular work) this Tuesday noted the difference between public interest in Egypt and the funding it is allowed at a conference for his Hamburg-based show A Secret Voyage: Mysterious Egypt. The show accompanies two books, written with Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass: Inside the Egyptian Museumand A Secret Voyage.
Hawass has fiercely criticised Germany’s possession of treasures such as Nefertiti, or the Statue of Hemiunu in Hildesheim’s Pelizaeus Museum. Yet he admits the department’s closure would be a black mark on Egyptology worldwide.
“I was saddened to learn that the University of Hamburg decided to shut down its Egyptology department due to the economic difficulties the city was facing,” Hawass tells Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat. “The officials of the city or university never thought that the residents of Hamburg would protest the decision and put together a petition.
“I believe that the Egyptology department, which has become the main topic of discussion at restaurants, cafes and gatherings, will remain open,” adds Hawass (watch his top ten videos here). “This is a testimony to the greatness of the ancient Egyptians who managed to capture the hearts of the German people.”
German experts have long been at the forefront of Egyptology. Ludwig Borchardt was a prolific archaeologist in Egypt, who brought back some of the country’s finest relics including the Nefertiti Bust. Karl Richard Lepsius is probably Germany’s – then Prussia’s – most famous Egyptologist though, having led the way in deciphering hieroglyphs. His greatest achievement was to bring together Egypt’s best known works of papyri, which he then called the ‘Book of the Dead’.