German artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai
German artists snuck into Neues Museum in Berlin to 3D scan the famous Nefertiti bust so that Egypt and the rest of the world can print their own versionJan Nikolai Nelles / The Other Nefertiti

Two German artists have found a way to symbolically return Nefertiti's bust to Egypt by sneaking into a museum to create a 3D design file of the ancient Egyptian queen, so that now absolutely anyone can 3D print their own version of the bust.

Nefertiti's bust is a particularly touchy subject in Egypt. Nefertiti was the queen and consort to Akhenaten, the heretic king who moved the Egyptian court and capital from Thebes (present-day Luxor) to Akhetaten (present-day Amarna) in 14th century BC and forced the ancient Egyptian people to worship just one god instead of the multiple ones they had worshipped for centuries.

When Akhenaten and Nefertiti eventually died (and no one knows how, but it is suspected by many archaeologists that they were likely assassinated), the ancient Egyptians decided to move the court and government back to Thebes, pick up all of their old gods and go on as if Akhenaten's rule never even happened.

Bust left behind because no one wanted it

Nefertiti 3D model
The high resolution 3D model of the Nefertiti bust is available as a 100MB file to download over TorrentThe Other Nefertiti

It is thought that when the ancient Egyptians left Akhetaten, they cared so little for their former rulers that they left behind everything that was no longer of value, and that is why, 33 centuries later, German archaeologists found a perfect, intact painted bust of Nefertiti on a shelf in a workshop in the city in 1912.

But as soon as it was discovered, the archaeologists took it out of Egypt back to Germany, and the bust was placed on display at Neues Museum in Berlin before WWII. It was then kept in various places and displayed in other museums before returning to Neues Museum where it is displayed today.

As with every other artefact that has been taken out of the country, Egypt really wants the Nefertiti bust back, but Germany has repeatedly refused, and the argument has led to tense relations between the two countries.

"The Other Nefertiti"

But now two artists have found a way to fight back. The Neues Museum prevents visitors from even taking photographs of the famous bust, but somehow, artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles managed to sneak into the museum and secretly 3D scanned the bust using the Kinect 360.

Even better, the artists have now made the high resolution 3D computer-aided design (CAD) files available to download for free over the peer-to-peer Torrent network, so absolutely anyone can 3D print their own bust, study the bust's design or even use the data for a new creative project.

Al-Badri and Nelles also plan to exhibit their 3D printed replica of the famous sculpture in Cairo, so that Egypt can have its own version of Nefertiti until they can get the real one back.

"With the data leak as a part of this counter narrative we want to activate the artefact, to inspire a critical re-assessment of today's conditions and to overcome the colonial notion of possession in Germany," the artists wrote on their website.