Greece has hit back at a claim by the British Museum that most of the Parthenon Marbles were removed from “the rubble” around the Acropolis.
At a UNESCO meeting last week, the deputy director of the British Museum claimed, “Much of the frieze was in fact removed from the rubble around the Parthenon.”
“These objects were not all hacked from the building as has been suggested,” Dr Jonathan Williams told the annual meeting of the world heritage body’s intergovernmental committee for promoting the return of cultural property.
The assertion comes just days after it was revealed that the UK was willing to discuss Greece’s demand for the ancient carvings to be reunified with other treasures in Athens.
The sculptures were taken from Athens in 1801 by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin, during the Ottoman occupation of Greece.
Greece has been campaigning for their return for decades, and has often cited correspondences between Elgin and Italian artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri, who oversaw the operation, that detail their removal from the 5th-century B.C.E. temple with the use of marble saws.
In one letter penned to Elgin, Lusieri requested a “dozen marble saws of different sizes” be sent to Athens “as quickly as possible” and even conceded that he had “been obliged to be a little barbarous” during efforts to dislodge a sculpted relief panel.
“Over the years, Greek authorities and the international scientific community have demonstrated with unshakeable arguments the true events surrounding the removal of the Parthenon sculptures,” Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, told British newspaper The Guardian.
“Lord Elgin used illicit and inequitable means to seize and export the Parthenon sculptures, without real legal permission to do so, in a blatant act of serial theft,” Mendoni added.
The British Museum acquired the works in 1816, and continues to claim that Ottoman leaders granted Elgin permission for the excavation. Greece rejected the notion that occupying powers have authority over cultural heritage.
No date has been set for the talks between England and Greece’s respective ministers of culture.
Featured image: A woman looks at a section of the Parthenon Sculptures exhibit in the British Museum in London, England, on February 13, 2020. David Cliff—NurPhoto/Getty Images
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