The British Museum in London and the Acropolis Museum in Athens are reportedly on the verge of striking a deal that would see some Parthenon sculptures returned to Greece as part of a cultural exchange, following months of secret talks.
The Telegraph reported this week that the two parties have drafted an agreement to send a proportion of the marbles to Greece on rotation over several years, in return for loans of other cultural treasures.
The arrangement would coincide with the British Museum's planned £1bn redevelopment, which will involve the complete renovation of many of its major galleries.
According to reports, the agreement may be similar to one reached last year on the return of 161 Ancient Greek treasures from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The British Museum confirmed for the first time this week that it has been engaged in “constructive discussions” with Greece over the 2,500-year-old artefacts.
However, sources close to the Greek government have denied reports of an agreement, with one senior official telling the Guardian that “there is no such deal”.
Although relations between the two parties have thawed, a loan agreement would be unlikely to bring the ownership dispute to an end. The Greek government continues to request the permanent return of the artefacts, which it says were acquired illegitimately.
Meanwhile the British Museum has made clear that any deal would abide by the terms of the British Museum Act 1963, which prohibits almost all deaccessioning from its collection. The UK Government has ruled out any amendment to the act.
The British Museum said in a statement: “We’ve said publicly we’re actively seeking a new Parthenon partnership with our friends in Greece and as we enter a new year constructive discussions are ongoing.”
The issue has been a diplomatic sticking point between the two countries since Greece became independent in 1832. The Greek government first formally requested the return of the ancient sculptures in 1983.