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Parthenon Marbles ‘Could be Returned Temporarily’ to Greece

The Parthenon sculptures displayed in the British Museum, London.
George Osborn, the chair of the British Museum has hinted at a possible resolution to the Parthenon Marbles dispute. Credit: Txllxt TxllxT via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Parthenon Marbles could be returned temporarily to Greece in exchange for ancient artifacts that have never been seen in the UK before, chairman of the British Museum trustees George Osborne has said.

Responding to Greek requests for their return, Osborne said he wanted to explore an arrangement where the Parthenon sculptures spent time in Greece.

He told MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “We think they play a very important part at the museum in telling not just the story of ancient Athens and its role in the world but how it sits alongside other great civilizations.

“I think it’s worth exploring – and I’ve been in direct talks with the Greek government about this – is there some sort of arrangement that would allow some of the sculptures to spend some of their time in Greece? And what would be the partnership that would be born of that?”

Osborne unhappy with stand-off over the Parthenon Marbles

Osborne noted that the presence of the Marbles in the UK had been controversial for 200 years since they were first brought across by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1803 and 1812.

He added: “It’s not a particularly happy situation where we have had this stand-off with Greece for many decades, and the level of scholarship and engagement that we have with many other countries is not one that is replicated with some Greek museums.”

The high-profile theft of thousands of objects from the British Museum has drawn renewed attention to the Parthenon sculptures, with some questioning their safety in the institution.

In September Osborne revealed that the number of artifacts that have disappeared from the British Museum is estimated at 2,000.

The U.K.’s former chancellor described the missing pieces as “small items of jewelry, gems, bits of gold that were not on public display.”

He told BBC Radio it was still not clear exactly how many items had gone astray from the museum that houses the Parthenon Marbles stolen from Greece by Lord Elgin in the 19th century.

Greece has renewed calls for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the UK following the theft of artifacts.

The security questions raised by the missing objects “reinforces the permanent and just demand of our country for the definitive return,” Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said.

“The loss, theft, deterioration of objects from a museum’s collections is an extremely serious and particularly sad event,” Mendoni said.

“When this happens from within, beyond any moral and criminal responsibility, a major question arises regarding the credibility of the museum organization itself,” she added.

Related: Over 100,000 Greek Artifacts Stored in British Museum Vaults

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