The assertion came days after UNESCO announced the first formal talks between the U.K. government and Greece regarding the potential reunification of the ancient statuary with the Athenian monument.
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Jonathan Williams, the deputy director of the London institution, said during a UNESCO meeting Friday that “these objects were not all hacked from the building as has been suggested,” according to the Guardian.
The sculptures, comprising fifteen metopes, seventeen pedimental figures, and a section of a frieze depicting a festival procession, were taken from Athens in 1801 by the Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin during the Ottoman occupation of Greece. In successive campaigns for their return, Greece has cited correspondences between Elgin and Giovanni Battista Lusieri, an Italian artist 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, said in a statement to 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.”
The British Museum acquired the works in 1816. Amid the decades-long restitution debate, the U.K. government has maintained that decisions regarding the British Museum’s collection are outside of its purview. For its part, the museum has claimed that Ottoman leaders granted Elgin permission for the excavation, while Greece has rejected the idea that occupying powers have authority over cultural heritage.
There is also debate over which nation has the best facilities to ensure the sculptures’ preservation. In 2009, Greece unveiled a five-story glass-enclosed museum at the foot of the Acropolis custom-built for the display of ancient statuary.
No date has been set for the talks between England and Greece’s respective ministers of culture.
Last week, Italy announced that a fragment belonging to the Parthenon’s eastern frieze on loan from a Sicilian museum would stay in Athens. The artifact, depicting the foot of the goddess Artemis peeking out from a tunic, was returned as part of a four-year loan agreement between Greece and the Antonio Salinas Archaeological Museum in Palermo. In return for the fragment, the Acropolis Museum loaned Italy a 5th-century B.C.E. statue of the goddess Athena and a 8th-century B.C.E. amphora.
“Sending back to the context of its origins a small, but significant, fragment belonging to the Parthenon has a very strong symbolic value,” Sicily’s councillor for culture, Alberto Samonà, said in a statement. “It is also a response to the international debate [around the Parthenon artifacts].”