Greece and UK row over who has cleanest marbles

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THE GREEK cultural attache to Britain has accused a British art expert of arrogance and "spouting pseudo-scientific froth" for claiming that the Elgin marbles in the British Museum are in a better condition than the remaining marbles in Athens.

The dispute comes ahead of a Greek scientific report into the state of the 56 panels, taken from a frieze on the Parthenon in 1816, and before a parliamentary committee looks at the case for returning them. Victoria Solomonidis, of the Greek embassy, was reacting to claims by Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, that the polluted air of Athens and heavy-handed cleaning of the Greek panels in 1953 had left them more damaged than the Elgin marbles, which were also damaged when they were cleaned in the Thirties. In 1938 the British Museum scrubbed and scraped the Elgin marbles with chisels to whiten them at the request of Lord Duveen, the benefactor funding a special gallery for the marbles.

Mr Daley said: "If one compares the marbles removed by Lord Elgin with the marbles that were not taken, they are in much much better condition - even after what happened in the Thirties. In the Fifties the Greeks employed even more severe methods ... including wetting the marbles repeatedly with alternating hot and cold water and scrubbing them with wire brushes."

Ms Solomonidis said Mr Daley's attitude was a reflection of long-running British arrogance about whether the Greeks are fit to look after their own heritage: "He is being rather arrogant considering he hasn't even examined the Athens marbles. His pseudo-scientific froth is an attempt to deflect from what the Greek scientists will say later this month.

"The cleaning in Athens in 1953 was not carried out by Greek conservationists (but) the American School of Archaeology, who asked the British Museum for advice."

Greece has been trying to recover the 56 panels ever since Lord Elgin's agents removed then in 1816. The team of Greek scientists will report on the state of the Elgin and Athens marble in time for the beginning of an inquiry into the issue by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee .

The museum has always maintained politicians should resolve the dispute. Earlier this year, an early day motion was signed by more than 150 MPs agreeing that the marbles should be returned to Greece.