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The BBC's Nick Higham
"The damage has been exaggerated for political reasons"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 04:17 GMT
Museum admits 'scandal' of Elgin Marbles
The marbles are housed in the British Museum The marbles are housed in the British Museum

The British Museum has admitted that the controversial Elgin Marbles were damaged by "heavy handed" cleaning 60 years ago.

And it has said an attempt to cover up the damage to the marbles in the 1930s was "a scandal".

The admissions came on Tuesday during a two-day symposium in London to examine the ancient sculptures.

Horse sculpture The sculptures were created 2,500 years ago
Two dozen conservation and archaeology specialists are trying to determine how the surfaces of the 2,500-year-old sculptures have been altered by cleaning.

Greece says staff used wire wool to clean the marbles at the British Museum in the 30s and caused significant damage.

But while admitting that the cleaning was "heavy handed", British Museum officials said the damage is not as bad as the Greeks claim.

The marbles have been in the British Museum for almost 200 years after being taken from the temple at the Parthenon in Athens by the then British ambassador Lord Elgin.

'Lost originality'

And amid increasing pressure for Britain to return the marbles, the Greeks say part of the reason they want them back is because Britain has failed to take proper care of them.

If Lord Elgin did not act as he did, the sculptures would not survive as they do
Ian Jenkins
Greek expert Dr Alekos Mantis told the BBC the marbles had lost "the sense of originality".

But Ian Jenkins of the British Museum said the damage had been exaggerated for political reasons and that the Greeks were guilty of excessive cleaning of the marbles before they were brought to Britain.

Mr Jenkins said: "If Lord Elgin did not act as he did, the sculptures would not survive as they do. And the proof of that as a fact is merely to look at the things that were left behind in Athens."

The museum says the cover-up in the 1930s should not affect whether the marbles go back to Greece.

On Monday, Greece's culture minister Elisavet Papazoi said the "barbarous cleaning" of the marbles had meant many of the marble surfaces were stripped of original details such as chiselled grooves which characterise the architectural work of the Parthenon.

There truly was a barbarous cleaning. The marbles were tortured
Elisavet Papazoi
The battle over the fate of the 17 figures and part of a giant frieze that once decorated the Parthenon, on the Acropolis, has rumbled on for decades.

Lord Elgin took them while he was British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then included Greece.

The Greeks describe his actions as theft, but the UK government has always insisted they were legally acquired and that there is no question of returning them to Greece.

But President Bill Clinton gave his support to Greece's campaign to reclaim the statues during a visit to the Acropolis earlier this month.

The British Museum is hosting the two-day gathering at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  UK
Elgin Marbles: The story so far...
20 Nov 99 |  Europe
Clinton backs Elgin marbles claim
28 Jul 99 |  UK
Elgin marbles 'stay in UK'
15 Jul 98 |  UK
Britain returns ancient marbles to Turkey
09 Jun 98 |  Europe
Greece renews marbles demand
09 Jun 98 |  Europe
Greece demands damaged Marbles

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