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Ownership of the Marbles

A letter in the Times from John Huntley corrects some misconceptions in the previous coverage of Professor Francesco Buranelli’s proposal on how the sculptures could be reunited.

The Times [1]

From The Times
December 9, 2008
Forgotten Marbles?
Tug-of-war over the Parthenon Marbles

Sir, The suggestion by Professor Buranelli that the Parthenon Marbles “belong to mankind” is aspirational (“Call to unite Parthenon Marbles”, Dec 4); that they “lay forgotten on the ground” until Lord Elgin appropriated them is untrue.

The Parthenon Marbles were fixtures that were attached to buildings on the Parthenon for more than 2,300 years until they were forcibly removed by Lord Elgin’s agents. As such, they belong to the buildings to which they were attached, unless it can be indisputably demonstrated that their removal was expressly agreed to by the owners of the buildings. Ownership to them could only be transferred on the strongest evidence that a right to remove them had been granted. That would normally require the sort of documentary evidence that does not seem to exist. What little evidence there is, as the professor admits, suggests that Lord Elgin “interpreted in his own favour” — something that a court of law or, indeed, any sensible lawyer might question.

Regardless of whether this constitutes a “juridical” basis for disputing Lord Elgin’s, and therefore the British Museum’s title to the Marbles, it seems a flimsy foundation on which to construct a “European museum”.

John Kapranos Huntley
Professor of Law (ret’d)
Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire