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British Museum Faces Legal Action Over 3D Scan of Parthenon Marbles

parthenon marbles british museum scan
The British Museum is facing legal action for refusing to allow for the 3D scanning of the Parthenon Marbles. Credit: Public Domain

The British Museum is facing legal action after refusing to allow the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) to take 3D scans of the Parthenon Marbles.

The IDA, one of the UK’s top organizations for heritage preservation, announced on Wednesday that it would serve the museum an injunction to order the museum to allow for the 3D scans.

The scans could be used to program a “robot sculptor” to carve replicas of the precious sculptures, potentially providing a solution to the dispute between Greece and the British Museum over the ownership of the marbles. The replicas could remain in the U.K. while the original Parthenon Marbles could be returned back to Greece.

“We will be filing a complaint by the end of the week requesting the court to order the British Museum to grant our request…We want them to treat our application in exactly the same fashion that they would treat similar requests. Their refusal has been capricious and arbitrary,” Roger Michel, Executive Director of IDA, reported to The Guardian.

Experts from the Oxford-based IDA hope that replica Pentelic marble sculptures can be created with metal chisels, in much the same way the sculptures were created by the ancient Greek architect Phidias around 447–438 BC.

The copies created from the scans would be nearly identical to the original marbles.

3D scans of Parthenon Marbles could allow for repatriation to Greece

“Our aim is to give people a chance to see just how extraordinary a copy can be…Copies [of the Parthenon sculptures] in the past have been low-quality plaster casts. This will be orders of magnitude better. It will help people see and feel the potential of this technology in ways mere words can’t describe,” Michel stated in speaking to The Guardian.

Despite the fact that the museum denied the IDA’s formal request, members of the organization scanned the sculptures anyway last week. Michel argues that the act followed the museum’s policy, which allows for the antiquities to be photographed using 3D technology by visitors.

However, the British Museum expressed its concern over the scans in a statement, reading “The British Museum was deeply concerned to hear suggestions that unauthorised scanning took place in our galleries. Any such activity would be a breach of our visitor regulations.”

The U.K. Government has recently been under increasing pressure to return the marbles with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisting last year that they were “stolen” by Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century.

Appealing to Boris Johnson’s background as a classicist, Mitsotakis told him he was “a true philhellene” while insisting the Greek government did not consider the marbles question to be a “footnote” that could be forgotten or overlooked.

Johnson, however, responded that any decision on returning them must be made by the British Museum.

“The Prime Minister said that he understood the strength of feeling of the Greek people on this issue, but reiterated the UK’s longstanding position that this matter is one for the trustees of the British Museum,” a Downing Street spokesperson said after the meeting.

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