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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 15:08 GMT
Elgin Marbles 'return' denied
Elgin Marbles
The Elgin Marbles date from between 447 and 432 BC
The British Museum has hit back at reports it intends to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens in exchange for a series of Greek artefacts, to reduce its 6m debt.

Any suggestion that the sculptures are to leave the museum are "total nonsense", its spokesman told BBC News Online.

"People expect to see the marbles in the museum - they are part of its core collection and are the property of its trustees, who are forbidden by legislation to dispose of them," he said.

But The Independent on Sunday (IoS) claimed that the museum's new director, Neil MacGregor, was "understood to be contemplating a deal" to help its beleaguered finances.

British Museum
The British Museum is currently 6m in debt
The museum's spokesman said that while the museum was considering plans to rotate certain artefacts with treasures from abroad, anything from its "core collection" was staying put.

The controversial issue of the marbles is to be discussed on Monday afternoon by the Greek culture minister Evangelos Venizelos and the director of British Museum, Neil MacGregor.

The marbles depict the most formal religious ceremonies of ancient Athens - the Panathenaea procession.

Although they once adorned the frieze of the front of the Parthenon, they were taken from Athens to England by the seventh Earl of Elgin and given to the museum in 1816.

They have been at the centre of a row between Britain and Greece since Elgin was given permission to work on their protection in 1801 when Greece was still under Ottoman (Turkish) control.


A recent campaign, Parthenon 2004, backed by more than 90 UK MPs and public figures, called for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the next Olympic Games.

Groups opposing their return say they have been saved from deterioration from Greek pollution by being kept in the museum.

The British Museum's spokesman also denied that Egypt wanted its mummies returned, referring to another story in the IoS.

The newspaper stated that the government was to recommend policy changes over "the mass repatriation of human remains to their countries of origin".

'No pressure'

The museum is famed for its collection of mummies, coffins and artefacts from Egypt.

The newspaper said the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has suggested it would "welcome" the return of relics, including the British Museum's mummies.

But the museum's spokesman said there was "no pressure" from Egypt to return the mummies, and that they also would be staying put.

He confirmed that the government report, which will also include plans for remains in cemeteries and hospitals, was due out before Christmas.

Extra funding

The report is being compiled by leading academics and curators and was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The British Museum was recently awarded extra funding from the DCMS, but the museum's officials said it would not be enough for the institution's long-term plans.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell made the announcement as part of a 70m package of funding plans, said to be the largest-ever allocation of cash to regional museums from central government.

The British Museum will receive 36.8m, with an extra 400,000 in 2003 to re-open the Korean Galleries and others currently closed.

BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
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