German hints will return treasured sphinx to Turkey

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Germany's culture minister hinted Wednesday that a priceless 3,500-year-old sphinx could be on its way back to Turkey where it was dug up, potentially ending a war of words between Berlin and Ankara.

Speaking after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Bernd Neumann said: "A solution should be found in the question of the Hittite sphinx."

"I think this is possible, because it is an individual case, incomparable to any other, and so it would not create a precedent for any other restitution demands," added Neumann in a statement.

German archaeologists uncovered the sculpture of a lion's body and a human head in the ruins of the ancient Hittite capital Hattusha in central Turkey in 1915.

The German team took it to Berlin to restore it but has held onto it for nearly a century -- much to the annoyance of Turkish authorities.

Neumann's counterpart, Ertugrul Gunay, had set a June deadline for the return of the sphinx, threatening otherwise to withdraw the licence for several other German archaeological digs around Turkey.

Berlin said a meeting would be held in Turkey in mid-April at working-group level to determine the sphinx's future.

Germany is also embroiled in a row with Egypt, which has demanded the return of the 3,400-year-old bust of fabled beauty Nefertiti which currently has pride of place in the Neues (New) Museum in Berlin.

Cairo began to demand the restitution of the Pharaonic-era statue back in the 1930s, but successive German governments have insisted the piece was bought legally and that there are documents to prove it.

© 2011 AFP

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