The British Museum denied on Friday that it was considering returning fragments of sculptures from the Parthenon to Greece, as suggested by the director of the Acropolis Museum in Athens a day earlier.
The British Museum said it was “open to discussions regarding a short-term loan of some of the objects, but not a permanent return.”
“The trustees of the British Museum will consider — subject to the usual considerations of condition and fitness to travel — any request for any part of the collection to be borrowed and then returned,” it said.
On Thursday, Acropolis Museum director Demetrios Pantermalis said at a UNESCO meeting in June he had proposed the return of small fragments from the famous Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, to Greece and that talks would be held in Athens in the coming weeks.
“I proposed an arrangement to colleagues from the British Museum, involving pieces — hands, heads, legs — that belong to bodies from the Parthenon sculptures and can be reattached,” Pantermalis told Skai Radio.
“The proposal has been accepted in principle, we will have a discussion in the autumn,” he said.
Greece has long campaigned for the return of the priceless friezes, removed in 1806 by Lord Elgin when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire and later sold to the British Museum.
The British Museum has rejected successive Greek calls for their return, arguing that the sculptures are part of world heritage and are more accessible to visitors in London.
Inaugurated in June 2009, the new Acropolis Museum includes a section reserved for the disputed collection.
Pantermalis on Thursday said the issue remained “taboo” and that the new proposal involving smaller pieces could be a way to “unravel the thread.”
The British Museum on Friday said it had agreed to “explore” a research partnership on the detached fragments of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens, London and elsewhere.
Parts of the Marbles are also located in Copenhagen, Munich, Paris, the Vatican and Vienna.