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Is Dorothy King going to help the British Museum keep the Elgin Marbles?

In recent months, Dorothy King has been highlighted as the person who is going to spearhead the British Museum’s fight to keep the Elgin Marbles in the UK. It remains to be seen whether she will have significant effect on the inevitable paradigm shift within the museums community.

The Observer [1]

Arts and humanities
The woman who is rewriting history… from the year Dot
David Smith, arts and media correspondent
Sunday November 16, 2003
The Observer

Cooking has Nigella Lawson, gardening has Charlie Dimmock and poetry has Daisy Goodwin. Now archaeology is the next subject to receive a glamorous TV makeover, thanks to an outspoken 30-year-old blonde dubbed ‘the female Indiana Jones’.

But whereas viewers are happy to watch a domestic goddess at work in the kitchen, Dr Dorothy King is already provoking a backlash in a profession still regarded as one of the last bastions of male dominance. Her undiplomatic views on the controversy surrounding the Elgin Marbles have seen her dismissed in archaeological circles as ‘not a serious academic’ and ridiculed as ‘a rich amateur with a flag to wave’.

Dr King is the secret weapon of the usually silent lobby resisting the Greek government’s campaign to bring the sculptures back to Athens in time for next summer’s Olympics. Twenty-three weeks pregnant, in her designer outfits and Jimmy Choo shoes, she is far removed from the popular image of archaeologists as white-haired professors and from TV incarnations such as Tony Robinson and Bill Oddie.

King is in talks with both the BBC and Channel 4 about a potentially lucrative TV career and even has a walk-on part in the next Indiana Jones film. She will present one TV series about the development of ancient cities such as Pericles’s Athens and Julius Caesar’s Rome. Another, which she claims will debunk the myths about the marbles and justify the British Museum’s right to keep them, will tie in with her book The Elgin Marbles due out in June – two months before the Olympics.

The former pupil of the Lycée in London and Malvern Girls’ College studied classics at King’s College London and went straight on to a PhD. Since delivering her first paper to a conference at the age of 21 she has made a habit of overturning establishment wisdom during digs everywhere from Israel to Greece. She also once astonished backpack-burdened colleagues by hiking in Turkey wearing a simple sundress. ‘I get called the female Indiana Jones or the real Lara Croft,’ she said.

Dr King, from Kensington, London, has seen her star rise steadily, with TV news appearances in Britain and regular vilification in the Greek press. This year she decided to quit campus life to write her book, which sparked interest from TV producers tipping her as the next Simon Schama – with whom she shares an agent.

‘If I can do the job half as well as Simon Schama, I’ll be thrilled,’ Dr King said. ‘When I tell other academics I’m working on a book and TV series, they frown slightly, as if we should all be doing research at universities. But I am doing research for this, and if people remember half a per cent of what I say on TV it will probably have a wider reach than a dozen academic papers.’

King’s candid opinions on Greece’s treatment of its past have ignited furious debate, with some in the predominantly male, middle-aged corridors of academia dismissing her as eye candy and a lightweight. After her contribution to the Elgin Marbles conference in London in 1999, an indignant Greek turned to her and said: ‘What do you know? You look like Barbie.’

She spent three years trying, unsuccessfully, to save the battlefield of Marathon from Greek bulldozers and is a fierce critic of the £55 million New Acropolis Museum, under construction near the Acropolis in the expectation the marbles will be returned. ‘They are destroying an archaeological site for the New Acropolis Museum which is going to stand virtually empty and might go splat at the next earthquake,’ she said.

‘The earth there holds seven layers of ancient buildings from the Mycenaean period on the bottom to the Byzantine on top. It was the site of a philosophical school and we are almost 100 per cent certain Plato taught there.

‘The Greek government keep claiming they will preserve the site underneath, but half the museum is in a big basin that goes right through and the rest is on stilts. I would like them to excavate the site and publish the findings. But they’re in a terrible hurry to get it ready for the Olympics. In the last few years they have been bulldozing everything to make way for the Games.’

Last week Jonathan Edwards, the Olympic triple jump champion, joined 12 other British athletes in Athens calling for Britain to give up the marbles because Greece had ‘a moral right’ to them.

But King said: ‘The marbles are part of world culture and have as much to do with twenty-first century Britain as twenty-first century Greece. The British Museum cares for them, whereas anyone can see the Greeks haven’t taken care of their cultural heritage. You wouldn’t leave your children in the care of someone you didn’t trust.’

The comments provoked anger from Greek officials. Dr Nicos Papadakis of the Greek Embassy in London rubbished King’s claims that remnants of a philosophical school would be buried under the new museum.

‘It is totally wrong,’ he said. ‘With all respect, the lady doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’