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Unofficial legal Parthenon marbles 3D scans

Parthenon marbles recreated from 3D scans to sway British Museum to return them to Greece, ABC News, 17 June 2024

Georgia Hitch and Marc Fennell for Stuff The British Stole.

Roger Michel didn’t take no for an answer and took 3D scans of the marbles “guerilla-style”. ABC/Wildbear/Cream/Wooden Horse. Watch video here

High on a mountain in central Italy is a robot that many hope could help solve a centuries-long debate.

Using state-of-the-art technology in a warehouse-like workshop, digital archaeologist Roger Michel and his team are recreating the hotly contested Parthenon marbles.

The idea behind it is simple — make exact 3D replicas of the marbles and donate them to the British Museum in exchange for the return of the original sculptures to Greece.

But when the British Museum shut down an official request by Roger’s team to go and get the 3D scans, the team decided to get them anyway, “guerilla-style”.

“We read the regulations for the museum and it says specifically [that], ‘Visitors may use 3D scanning equipment in the museum and they may use the product of those 3D scans for any non-commercial purpose,'” Roger tells ABC iview’s Stuff The British Stole.

“Boom, we’re done. So we went in … and made scans of all the Parthenon sculptures.”

Stephen Fry has long called for the British Museum and English government to return the marbles. Supplied: Wildbear, Cream and Wooden Horse.

Roger argues the replacement sculptures would also allow the museum to show people what they originally looked like.

“These things were brightly painted with skin tones and garish colours,” he says.

As well as support from Greeks at home and abroad who want their sculptures returned, the plan has A-list support from British actor and long-time advocate for the return of the marbles, Stephen Fry.

“Yes, it’s important in a museum to have the real thing, but we live in an age in which … we now are able to reproduce, so they are exact copies,” Fry told Stuff The British Stole.

“That’s a question of human decision about what the value is.

“But for the Athenians, there is a sacredness about these marbles and it belongs to those people, the Greeks who have suffered over the hundreds of years of occupation.”

The sculptures were removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th Century. ABC/Wildbear/Cream/Wooden Horse.

In 2022, when Roger and his team first floated the idea, the British Museum made it clear it was not on board.

Since then it’s flagged it wants to develop a “Parthenon partnership” with Greece that could see the marbles displayed in both Athens and London.

But fresh comments, made in recent weeks, have resurfaced questions about the legitimacy of England’s purchase of the marbles in the first place.

Questions about legality of removal

The marbles, which originally formed part of the friezes along the facade of the Parthenon in Athens, were removed by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin who arrived in Greece in the early 19th Century.

At that time, Greece was an occupied province of the Ottoman Empire and Bruce, or Lord Elgin as he was also known, was the British ambassador to the Ottoman sultan.

The museum maintains that Lord Elgin was given a permit, known as a “firman”, to legally remove the sculptures, many of which were damaged in the process.

In early June at a UNESCO meeting in Paris, the head of the Turkish Culture Ministry’s anti-smuggling committee, Zeynep Boz, reiterated that the firman or document has never been found.

“Turkey is the country that would have the archived document pertaining to things that were sold legally at that time,” she told the Associated Press.

“Historians have for years searched the Ottoman archives and have not been able to find a ‘firman’ proving that the sale was legal, as it is being claimed.”

The Greek government welcomed the comments as support for the marbles’ return, while the British Museum responded by referring to its previous statements about a partnership, adding that it was “keen to develop a new relationship with Greece”.

For many Greek people around the globe, it’s action, not more words, they’re looking for.

“We were stripped of these marbles … it’s like an injustice from that period still hanging today, still lingering today, haunting us,” Greek journalist Symela Touchtidou told Stuff The British Stole.

“It’s a symbol of the loss of freedom we had for so many years.

“The loss of identity itself and the loss of our heritage — that’s why we want them back so passionately.”

Symela Touchtidou is a fierce advocate for the marbles’ return. Supplied: Wildbear, Cream and Wooden Horse.

‘Without doubt they will be returned’

Back in Australia, there’s no doubt that Emanuel Comino is passionate about the cause.

Now in his nineties, he’s campaigned for the marbles’ return to Athens for more than 45 years, founding the first committee anywhere in the world to lobby for their repatriation.

“I intend to work until the day I die or until the day the marbles go back,” he said.

Emanuel Comino has no doubt the marbles will eventually be returned to Greece. Supplied: Wildbear, Cream and Wooden Horse.

His advocacy was sparked after seeing the sculptures in the museum.

“It just got me angry to see the Parthenon marbles in London,” he said.

“No other building on Earth has ever [equalled] its beauty, it is the supreme achievement of beauty in all recorded history.”

Despite little movement in the decades he’s been lobbying for their return, Emanuel is confident they will once again return to Athens.

“Of course, they will return, without doubt, they will be returned,” he said.

“You can’t have half [of your heart] out of your body somewhere else, right? You got to have [it] all together.”


See also: Stephen Fry likens removing Parthenon marbles to Nazi Germany taking the Arc de Triomphe