Lord Elgin of Parthenon notoriety has been much in the headlines lately. Many people, Archaeology Worldwide included, want his looted marbles (they are nothing less) to be sent back to Greece. But there is more to this story.
In 1802, Elgin’s ship, the Mentor, sank when the ship, carrying a batch of the marbles, foundered on rocks off the island of Kythera in a violent storm. While the island’s residents managed to save the passengers and crew, the marbles went to the bottom. Elgin was not on board, but he recruited sponge divers from nearby islands to raise them from a depth of 23m. The marbles were then shipped to Malta and on to England.
A team of 18 trained archeological divers has worked on the wreck since 2009. Most of the finds are rigging fragments, also clothing and other items, which paint a portrait of life aboard the ship. Recent dives have also recovered intact iron cookware, a magnificent gold ring (pictured below), a pair of gold earrings, and three chess pieces. The excavators believe that these three pieces are part of a complete set once used aboard. There is even the complete sole of a leather shoe and a metal belt-buckle, but there are no signs of antiquities. The finds from the wreck are a vivid reminder of Elgin’s priorities, and of the financial value of his looted finds two centuries ago.
We can only hope that the marbles (such as the beauty shown above) will soon return to Athens and the new Parthenon Museum, where they ethically belong.
Image below: The golden ring found in the shipwreck.
Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
Top image: The Parthenon sculptures, British Museum, showing a fight between a Centaur and a Lapith.
Credit: Carole Raddato