As reported by the Guardian this morning, the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), one of the UK’s leading heritage preservation organizations, is planning to take the British Museum to court. Their complaint regards the museum’s refusal to allow for a 3D reproduction of a segment of the Parthenon sculptures in its collection to be created.
The institute, which has previously been able to use their revolutionary robot carving technology to recreate in detail the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra in Syria, destroyed by ISIS in 2015, from photographs, had requested to build replicas in stone from three-dimensional scans of the sculptures, but the British Museum has not allowed for scans to be made.
The move by the British Museum seems to go against their standing argument for keeping the original sculptures in England, which is to allow for as many people as possible to view the artefacts in various contexts.
Many have argued that 3D imaging could serve as part of the solution to end the dispute between Greece and the British Museum and repatriate the marbles to Athens. The London museum could display faithful stone copies of the sculptures, which could even be carved out of the same marble from Mount Penteli in Athens from which the ancient artworks are made, and return the original pieces by Phidias (circa 480 – 430 BC) to be displayed in the Acropolis Museum’s Parthenon Gallery. In return, they would also receive rotating loans of other treasures from the museum.
IDA was planning on creating copies of metopes from the Acropolis temple’s south facade as “proof of concept,” according to the Guardian. “Copies [of the Parthenon sculptures] in the past have been low-quality plaster casts,” the founder and executive director of the institute, Roger Michel, told the newspaper, adding: “This will be orders of magnitude better. It will help people see and feel the potential of this technology in ways mere words can’t describe.”
In an article in The Times earlier this year, describing the technique which would be used by the institute to create the copies, Michel was quoted saying that if the British Museum were to refuse the request, they may resort to “guerrilla” tactics, enlisting “an army of patriotic Greeks with 3D cameras to take the images.” Instead, they’ve now decided to file an official complaint.
“We will be filing a complaint by the end of the week requesting the court to order the British Museum to grant our request,” Michel told the Guardian. “We want them to treat our application in exactly the same fashion that they would treat similar requests. Their refusal has been capricious and arbitrary.”