The Daily Telegraph

We can’t return every treasure, says Beard in marbles row


COLONIAL-ERA acquisitio­ns in Britain’s museums should not automatica­lly be “shoved on a plane” to their country of origin, Dame Mary Beard has said, as the row over the future of the Elgin Marbles rages on.

The classicist said that a “global city” such as London must take into account the interests of the “diaspora” from different cultures in deciding the future of objects in its care.

Dame Mary, the broadcaste­r and academic who is a trustee of the British Museum, believes there are valid arguments from both sides on whether the Elgin Marbles, officially known as the Parthenon Sculptures, should be returned to Greece.

George Osborne, the chairman of the museum’s trustees, is working on a deal that could mean some of the sculptures are returned to Greece on loan for the first time since they were taken from Athens more than 200 years ago.

Dame Mary does not, however, believe that such a move would open the floodgates to Britain’s museums being emptied of all objects on which other countries have laid claims, arguing that “every single case is different”.

She said: “I don’t want to see a world in which people, and nations, and people of different ethnicitie­s mix up more and more and become increasing­ly diverse but material objects are all sent back to where they came from.

“London is a global city and the diaspora has a stake in this, too.

“It’s not about going through a list of objects and deciding where they should be, it’s about who has a right to speak for objects and who owns what.

“I’m more interested in who sees this material rather than who owns it.”

She said that the clamour for the restitutio­n of objects was not simply a “passing phase”, but added: “I don’t think it’s just about shoving an object on a plane and saying ‘goodbye’.”

The British Museum is forbidden by law from selling or giving away objects in its care, meaning a loan of the Elgin Marbles is the only option open to Mr Osborne as he tries to reach a compromise with the Greek government.

Dame Mary said: “The Parthenon Sculptures are Athenian, they are Greek, but they are also of the world, and how you square that circle I don’t know.”

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