Letter: Scrubbed marbles
Monday 15 November 1999
My claim - apropos of demands that the British Museum hand over the Elgin marbles to an as yet undesigned museum in Athens - that the marbles taken by Lord Elgin are today in better condition than those that remain in Athens is not "a reflection of long-running British arrogance" but a demonstrable statement of fact.
If Dr Solomonidis will not accept this, I would challenge her to defend a comparison of blocks recently taken down from the temple of Athena Nike and housed in the Acropolis Museum with those from the same temple housed in the British Museum.
That Greek buildings and carvings have been damaged by pollution and, on occasion, by bungled restoration is recognised and regretted by Greek and British scholars alike. Flogging the British Museum today over the unauthorised use of copper chisels by restorers during a restoration in the 1930s, when (much harder) steel chisels and wire brushes were authorised in Athens in 1953, smacks of selective amnesia if not intellectual dishonesty.
Dr Solomonidis now insists that Americans, not Greeks, should bear responsibility for that later restoration. This is unjust and ungracious. It is a matter of record that the cleaning "was undertaken after consultation with the Greek archaeological authorities" (Archaeology, 7, 1954).
A letter sent from the American director of the programme to the British Museum's head of science in 1953 reported that "The Greek archaeological authorities inspected the work both during its progress and after; they expressed themselves well pleased."
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