Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Tomb Raiders


Stephen Fry, a huge twit, all round mouth and super luvvie, recently argued that Britain should “redress a great wrong” by returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece, as a gesture to mark the London Olympics. 

These precious reliefs once adorned the Parthenon in Athens. They were brought Britain by the seventh earl of Elgin in the early part of the nineteenth century.  They can be seen in all of their pristine beauty in the British Museum’s purpose-built Duveen Gallery.  Lord alone knows what they would be like if they had remained a further two hundred years in situ. 

This is not a good time for antiquities in Greece.  Driven made by EU imposed austerity, many people have taken to digging up the ancestors in a spot of tomb raiding.  Even Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient games, has been desecrated by pirates looking for buried treasure.  Running short of cash, the government is struggling to provide adequate security for some of the most precious locations in human civilization. 

Last month, according to a recent report in the Times, grave robbers were seen digging pits in the ancient Mycenaean cemetery on two occasions before a farmer raised the alarm.  Without any official support, local people mounted their own guard for ten nights running in an attempt to scare the thieves away.   Nikolas Zirganos, a journalist who has helped to retrieve pillaged artefacts places the problem in a bigger context;

In any political, social, economic crisis you always see a rise ion looting and robberies, whether it’s a war or a collapse of society.  I don’t say we are at war, but we are in a very deep crisis and this affects the cultural heritage very much. 

The tragic thing is that the problem has become so bad that the culture ministry has decided to rebury recently discovered sites of historic importance, including an early Christian basilica at Thessalonica.  Michalis Tiverios, professor of archaeology at the local university, said of this “Mother Earth is the best protector of our antiquities.  Let us leave our antiquities in the soil, to be found by archaeologists in 10,000AD when Greeks will perhaps show more respect for their history.”

The prof, in his sardonic whimsy, seems rather too optimistic.  In 10,000AD there will be no Greece just an undifferentiated Euromass, a unity of wealthy northern Herrenvolk and abject southern Helots.  By then all antiquities will have disappeared into the central core, the new capital of this monster land, a capital that might very well go by the name of Germania

Meanwhile, back in 2011AD, the situation gets worse by the day as the recession and the austerity bite ever harder.  Fewer jobs mean more tomb raiders.  Shortage of cash means fewer security guards.  Even the Acropolis, from whence the Elgin Marbles came, is being closed at 3pm on weekends, instead of 7pm, for want of staff. 

Please do not think that this is a problem restricted to open sites.  Even museums are under attack.  In February that at Ancient Olympia was looted.  After tying up the sole female guard, the thieves smashed display cases with hammers, making off with various artefacts including a three thousand year old gold ring with an estimated value of £3.3million. 

This is not the time to consider returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece.  That time, I rather think, will never come, no matter how much Stephen Fry bleats.  


24 comments:

  1. You might, perhaps, send them Stephen Fry on permanent loan . . .

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    1. Excellent suggestion! Ah, but the Greeks have an expression - Timeo Anglorum et dona ferentes. :-))

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  2. Over here when times get rough people steal Copper wire, A/C and water lines, copper roofing, aluminum railings, iron man hole covers and grates etc. to sell as scrap; or Just about everything that is not nailed down.

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    1. The same is happening here, Anthony.

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    1. That was the name the Hitler intended for a renewed Berlin if Germany had won the war, Anthony.

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    2. I know what Germania is, it is a very old term and a wonderful concept.

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  4. Ana I concur with your analysis. They are being looked after here are they not.

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    1. I agree - I wonder if the British museums could bill these various claimants for the cost of a couple centuries worth of preservation and protection of these items before returning them from whence they came. It might be a good source of revenue. :-P

      All kidding aside, though, I've often wondered about how chain of custody works in these instances where a piece of artwork was originally commissioned by the priests of a lost religion which was practiced by the citizens of a country that no longer exists (and whose people have no ethnic links to the current occupants of that geographic location).

      Do abandoned property laws apply when we're discussing the creations of fallen empires?

      Say for example some personal item is located in the former port of Carthage. The various tribes and nations that have passed over that spot (Romans, Visigoths, and Tunisians) were not related in ANY way (culturally, politically, or ethnically) to the original creators of any artwork found there. Do any of them have a more just claim to these items than the descendants of the original Phoenician colonists?

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    2. CB, you know, when you think about it, things could get really crazy, artefacts crossing all sorts of historical, cultural, ethnic and political boundaries. Do the modern Greeks have any claim at all to the Marbles? Do they have any connection at all to the ancients? Oh, dear; we could move in ever tighter circles!

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  5. The problem is Ana that there are just so many deluded fools around who beat their chests at every injustice and demand the implementation of every noble idea to create what they see as fair society for all.

    The end result? absolute devastation everywhere. In the economy, the culture, tradition, law and order, the way of life. Everything ruined in order to placate the misguided conscience of those who have no idea about anything much at all.

    Stephen Fry has lost his marbles.

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    1. Hey, Anthony, you of all people in favour of world government!

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  7. while undoubtedly they may be in a better state of preservation than if they had been left in place, subject to bombing, invasion and acid rain, their presence in the British museum is still a very actual and sore point with essentially the entire Greek populace - as I found out last year. I doubt whether the same could be said for the UK. btw - the new acropolis museum is quite beautiful and well worth a visit..

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    1. CWB, I wish it were possible to separate great cultural artefacts from issues of national pride. If a process of 'cultural repatriation' starts where on earth would it end? Should the Pergumon Alter in Berlin be returned? Who should it be returned to - the Greeks or the Turks? I could go on like this indefinitely.

      I'd love to go. I expect when I do, given the above examples, it will be closed or looted!

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    1. Houston would be proud of you. :-)

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  9. mind you it's nothing compared to the collection in the Kunsthistorisches museum Vienna.. this seems to contain every major classical work from every European country. Fantastic to visit, but quite shocking to see what the wealth of one family was able to obtain..

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  10. Actually that would depend on the policies of the government.

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