Egypt Threatens to Take Back Beloved Central Park Obelisk

By Amy Zimmer on January 6, 2011 6:35pm | Updated on January 7, 2011 6:16am

Egypt is threatening to take back Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.
Egypt is threatening to take back Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.
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Courtesy of NYC Parks

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — The Egyptian government is threatening to take back "Cleopatra’s Needle," the iconic obelisk behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art that has been in Central Park since 1880.

It was not being cared for properly, according to Zahi Hawass, the secretary general for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who is alarmed over the erosion of its hieroglyphics and wanted the city to restore it — or else.

"I am glad that this monument has become such an integral part of New York City, but I am dismayed at the lack of care and attention that it has been given," Hawass wrote in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Central Park Conservancy, and posted on his blog on Tuesday.

"Recent photographs that I have received show the severe damage that has been done to the obelisk, particularly to the hieroglyphic text, which in places has been completely worn away," wrote Hawass, a world-renowned Egyptologist featured on the History Channel show, "Chasing Mummies."

The obelisk is one of the few "true antiquities" in the parks monuments collections, according to New York City Park Department officials. It was created in 461 B.C (along with its match now residing in Westminster in London) to commemorate Pharaoh Thutmose 111.

"I have a duty to protect all Egyptian monuments whether they are inside or outside of Egypt," wrote Hawass, whose warning was reported by LiveScience.com on Thursday. "If the Central Park Conservancy and the City of New York cannot properly care for this obelisk, I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin."

In the 1980s, a Metropolitan Museum study by its conservation lab found that the granite was "largely inert and that damage to inscriptions on two sides, as well as the base of the monument, occurred at identifiable moments in the distant past, prior to the 20th century," according to Jonathan Kuhn, director of Art & Antiquities for the Parks Department.

"We have been working in recent years with the Metropolitan Museum and the Central Park Conservancy to further analyze the condition of the obelisk and monitor its condition," Kuhn said. "There is no evidence at this point of any significant ongoing erosion."

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