The British Museum is holding secret talks with the Greek government over whether to return the Elgin Marbles, according to a report.
The museum’s chair, ex-chancellor George Osborne, has reportedly been in negotiations with Greece’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis since last November.
While Mr Osborne has vowed not to ‘dismantle our great collection’ the talks are at an ‘advanced stage’, said sources quoted by Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea.
The marbles are made up of 17 figures and an elaborate frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Athens.
They were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Like many artefacts transported to Britain during the imperial era, the marbles have been the subject of a long-running dispute over where they should be displayed or returned.
Mr Mitsotakis has called for the sculptures to be transferred on many occasions, even offering to loan other treasures to the British Museum in exchange.
A spokesperson for the Parthenon Project, a campaign advocating for the return of the marbles, hailed the talks as a ‘positive sign’ and insisted a ‘win-win solution’ to the centuries-old debate is possible.
The British Museum said: ‘We have publicly called for a new Parthenon partnership with Greece and we’ll talk to anyone, including the Greek government, about how to take that forward.
‘As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity.
‘But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.’
The Parthenon Project said: ‘With widespread support for reunification amongst both the Greek and British public, and constructive dialogue going on based on mutual trust, a solution to this long-standing issue is finally within reach.
‘We have argued for a deal that is beneficial to both Greece and Britain, centred on a cultural partnership between the two countries.
‘This would see the British Museum continue in its role as a “museum of the world” displaying magnificent Greek artefacts as part of rotating exhibits, with the Parthenon Sculptures reunited in their rightful home in Athens.’
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