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 The Elgin Marbles - a poll

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Should the Sixth Caryatid (and the rest of "The Elgin Marbles") be returned to Greece?
Yes?
67%
 67% [ 8 ]
No?
33%
 33% [ 4 ]
Total Votes : 12
 

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nordmann
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PostSubject: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 08:34

Given that we haven't had one in yonks, and in light of the innovation of allowing passengers passing through Athens International Airport to have their say in the matter, let's see what people here think ...

We'll keep it open for 30 days and then see what result we get. One can change one's vote in the meantime if one has second (or third) thoughts on the matter.


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Priscilla
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PostSubject: The Elgin Marbles (moved from The Tumbleweed Suite)   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 10:32

Oh dear! A vote on the Elgin Marbles - a difficult one because whereas  a sense of rightness points to voting for a return,  such an act could start an avalanche of demand for the return of any museum piece anywhere to the  place of its origin.
And whilst the Greeks are being selective about their wanting something they had neglected yet  kept well preserved by someone else, they are somewhat remiss  and chosey about  uplifting what they have; the neglect of Sparta comes to mind.  Not a pub discussion perhaps but even Nigel Farage probably has opinion between  hop-swigs.


Last edited by nordmann on Tue 25 Nov 2014, 13:24; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : wording)
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 11:13

The Parthenon marbles should all be returned. The reasons given by the British Museum for holding on to them are running increasingly thin. There are also other artefacts which should be returned such as Cleopatra's Needle which should be returned to Egypt and the Koh-i-Noor which should be returned to India.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 12:03

Hmm ... I think it unwise to conflate the cause for the return of the Elgin Marbles with that of Cleopatra's Needle. The latter was formally presented to Britain in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and the Sudan, Muhammed Ali, in commemoration of the victories of Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercromby. Whilst gifted, it remained at the time too difficult to move, and so it was only finally transported to England in 1877, but again with the permission of the then Egyptian government in their hope it would "promote Egyptian interests abroad". Its direct twin, the needle that now resides in Washington DC, was also expressly a gift "from the Egyptian Khedive on behalf of his people to those of the United States". And what also of "L'aigulle de Cléopâtre", that currently resides in the middle of the Place de la Concorde in Paris (gifted again by the Egyptian Khedive), to say nothing of the eight, yes eight, Egyptian obelisks currently located in Rome.

These obelisks do have local cultural value but perhaps their greatest value has always been in "promoting Egyptian interests abroad". I suspect Thutmose III and Rameses II (originators of the obelisks in London and Paris respectively) would both have been well chuffed to learn that some 3500 years after their reigns the familiar imposing stone symbols of their might would be planted in the centres of a cities so far north they were then in the fabled lands of the wild barbarians.

It is also generally bad form to ask for the return of a gift that one once gave willingly ... and the same tenet surely remains true for governments and for nations. Besides, these obelisks are hardly hidden away in the secret cabinet of a private collector but all remain on dispay to the entire world.


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 30 Nov 2014, 13:53; edited 6 times in total (Reason for editing : annoying typos & I got my pharaonic dates wrong)
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 12:41

I think one could also argue a case for all of the dispersed fragments of the Parthenon being brought together in Athens and not just those currently in London. 

Mary Beard's most recent blog touches on the issue of copies of works of art and authenticity and says this:

*Part of the point was to show the masterpieces of world art to "the working class order" (in that nineteenth-century phrase), but in as spectacular and impressive way as possible. The point was not that they were just "copies", it was that they were as "real" as you could get. And they were displayed in a vast, palatial architectural setting that was as impressive as you could imagine. The fact that Michelangelo's David was plaster not marble isn't what was at stake. This was, if you like, about replication as the essence of impact and originality.*


Would exact replicas, and we now have the technology, be any less impressive than the originals in the BM? 

http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2014/11/michelangelos-david-at-the-v-and-a.html#more
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 12:50

It's also a little wrong of P to infer that the Greeks "neglected" the frieze before Elgin made off with it - given that it wasn't the Greeks who owned it at the time. The Parthenon then (between 1801 and 1812) was technically not only the private property of the Sultan Selim III but was operating as an Ottoman military base. Elgin's own defence of his actions included the observation that several of the sculptures had already been lost after they had been used to manufacture lime by the Turkish military authorities in Athens (not exactly "looking after them" as P suggested) and that he was therefore saving the rest of them. This claim may be disputed, as is the legal status of the firmen (legal decree) issued by the authorities under which Elgin reckoned he could take what he wanted, but at no point did the Greeks in any form or manner have access to the material themselves - hardly, I would have said, could they therefore be accused of "neglecting" its upkeep.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 13:11

There is a correlation between the case of the Parthenon marbles and that of the Heliopolis obelisks. Both were given away by the Ottoman rulers of Greece and Egypt respectively. Egypt didn't become independent of the Ottoman Empire until the First World War and then only to replace Ottoman rule with British rule. Egypt only became fully independent of the British Empire in the 1950s.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 13:53

This is difficult.  Vizzer has a point about the "gifts" coming from a ruler who held the Greece and Egypt as provinces instead of letting them be independent states.  Is there any way that before any items are returned to overseas states an investigation could be undertaken to ensure that if such specimens are returned they will be kept in good conditions (my understanding is that some at least of the marbles were being allowed to deteriorate before they were transported to the UK - or maybe somebody will tell me matters are not so simple).  I concur with Priscilla that if articles are to be returned to their lands of origin, other states should do likewise, not just the UK.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 13:56

Yes, it's always the Brits who are the thieves and pirates.

Europe - and the US - is stuffed with booty that should be returned "home".
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 14:13

Or should all these 'treasures' be recognised for what they really are: multi-cultural heirlooms of the entire human race? Perhaps they should all be formally owned by say, UNESCO.

OK, I know that is a vain hope when you have nation states squabbling over posession of "their" cultural heritage ... and others striving to prove their religious virtues just by the destruction of what generations of their own, equally sincere ancestors once strived to preserve ... be that statues, paintings, sacred texts, symbolic items, or just simply the customs and habitual religosity of the people.

But surely one can still dream, no? Just imagine - the world's entire cultural heritage held, sacrosanct, in a global commonwealth? Yes, a great idea, and one I would gladly support....

 ... but sadly, I currently stand in despair of achieving anything remotely like that.


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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 14:31

MM wrote:

But surely one can still dream, no?


The minute we stop doing that, we are lost, no?
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 14:32

I think the Greek argument with regard to the Elgin Marbles however accentuates the uniqueness of this particular incidence, and in fact they would be the first to formally accept that a repatriation of these artefacts would not necessarily constitute a precedent, even for other artefacts of Greek origin in foreign ownership, except of course in cases where a cloud hangs over the legal provenance of their acquisition. In the case of the Elgin Marbles provenance is the key, both to the strength of the claim in Greece and in fact to the paucity of justifiable circumstances whereby the British Museum can claim continued ownership. Had an equally significant item of British heritage been procured in the same manner by a foreign power you can have no doubt but that Britain would be forcibly prosecuting its return too.

I imagine the compromise which UNESCO are now in the process of brokering will be to waive the issue of ownership in this case and replace it with a more neutral term (such as "custodianship"). This will allow the British Museum to press a stronger case for financial remuneration for its long involvement in protecting and maintaining the artefacts (an issue in its own right since the BM has not always been the best custodian either). However such an approach can at least allow a "let bygones be bygones" attitude be adopted by both sides.

When it comes to present circumstances it is very difficult to see how or why anyone can argue that their continued presence in London is now advantageous to their well-being or a more effective contribution to the preservation of world heritage. The intended home for them in Athens will be contextually and practically much more suited to that end, even in terms of visitor numbers (the crucial argument in times past presented by the BM).

As regards Britain "always" being the thief/pirate. I imagine the Egyptian authorities would have more to say about this than the Greek and would beg to differ with you, Temp. However the issue of provenance is crucial in all cases such as this where repatriation is wanted by a particular country and each case would have to be examined on its own merits. In instances where there is a clear cut case of the artefact being legally evacuated under the laws pertaining at the time then it is the prerogative of the current owner to claim legal ownership, gifting it back to the country of origin if desired but under no obligation to do so. It is the abandonment of this right that would open the floodgates for wholesale claims of repatriation. British claims of ownership of the Elgin Marbles, notoriously, are weakly protected however under this very principle. Their repatriation would not open a floodgate at all as long as the right to ownership as internationally understood is not changed in the process.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 15:50

Ha, it is noted that you wait until I'm on the other side of the world before mentioning the Parthenon Sculptures!  Smile

Joking aside, I'll just mention that far from setting a supposed precedent the Greek gov has offered the BM other antiquities of equal prestige and value to replace the Parthenon Sculptures along with revolving loans in perpetuity (sp?). The BM is not going to be bereft of stuff to display or to attract visitors after their return.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 16:37

I fear you're right about the unlikelihood of any agreement on objects of universal cultural heritage being taken under any international supervision, for a start I doubt there would be any easy agreement as to what qualifies, but there is some comfort in the UNESCO World Heritage Site programme although that's a pretty toothless regime. 
Part of the problem about having any definitive view on the acquisition of antiquities and works of art is lack of a functional crystal ball for predicting how they might be treated in the future if remaining in situ: a bit of acquisition, legitimate or otherwise, of some Middle Eastern/Central Asian/North African artefacts could now seem to have been a blooming good idea. 
As far as the marbles are concerned, who knows what might have happened to them had they remained in Athens, but I feel they are very much a special case, not just by their dicey provenance, but by being the components of an extant building of supreme cultural significance to the Greeks and to so many others.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 17:37

Just curious, nordmann - prior to the depredations of Ottoman rule- equally awful in Constantinople, had the Greeks shown a sense of caring for their wonderful antiquities?

If the Greeks offered superb copies of the marbles in exchange I doubt many would complain; only the few who would realise what was being lost. However, to hand over crass reality  shows to other places might cause riots. 
Being a world heritage site should make the exchange mor palatable - but hands off the Portland vase..... which we allowed to get smashed, yes, I know.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 19:41

@Temperance wrote:
Yes, it's always the Brits who are the thieves and pirates.

This is a bit of a whinge when it really should be taken as something of a compliment. Great Britain still has a much more positive international image than a negative one. And this despite the best efforts of Blair and Cameron etc to trash our international standing over the last 15 years or so. People expect better from the British.

This is precisely why the late Melina Mercouri re-ignited the debate following her visit to the British Museum in 1983. Greece first officially requested the return of the marbles shortly after independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s. That was within recent living memory their removal. And the controversy over their removal had existed in Britain itself earlier than that. Within Elgin’s own lifetime he had been the subject of investigation by parliamentary committee and was also publicly vilified by the likes of the poet Lord Byron:

‘fair Greece’ ... ‘Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands’

and

‘Elgin did the rest.
That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
The insulted wall sustains his hated name.’

These words were written less than 10 years after the removal of the marbles.

To feel that requests for the return of the marbles to Athens is somehow 'anti-British' is, therefore, a bit silly. Not least because there also exists a British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles supported by several prominent figures in British life including Olympic athletes.


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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 19:53

A whinge!  A whinge! How dare you, sir! The British never whinge! And if we do, we are only being ironic.

I splutter on you.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 20:15

@Temperance wrote:
The British never whinge! And if we do, we are only being ironic.

Well it seems that the 'joke' didn't go down too well in Australia by all accounts.  Wink

With regard to Egypt (and as nordmann has hinted) then France and Italy (among others) would be ranked much higher than Britain on the 'thief/pirate' stakes. Anyone, for example, who has been to the Musée des beaux-arts in Lyons and seen the staggering Antiquities department there and particularly the Egyptology collection will appreciate this.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 21:04

It's a funny old world though, considering the Egyptians handed over entire temples in appreciation of the international effort to save the antiquities post Aswan Dam construction. Had it not been for some pretty amazing technology so much would now be under Lake Nasser: apart from Abu Simbel and Philae there's Amada, the interior rooms of which were moved over 2k on rails.
If things were ever to go belly up over there, the stuff in Western museums and civic squares could just end up as being the last remnants of that civilisation accessible or, heaven forbid, existing.
I suppose that is one reason for the best examples of the artefacts of all peoples and places to be distributed for safekeeping across the globe and not subject to the vagaries of prevailing ideologies, not to mention climatic and geological considerations and fluctuating finances for their conservation.

5 votes submitted so far - who's posted but not voted?
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 21:08

It isn't always the British who are expected to return things, anyway.  France returned a Maori head in 2011, and the British in 2013.  I think heads are considered a little differently from marbles and other artefacts.  Probably not displayable any more, really, though you still see mummies.  Maori don't have the same sensitivities as Australian aborigines, I think.  Museums here don't have signs up as we saw in Melbourne warning of images of dead people etc.  I think it's taken forgranted in NZ that museums will ipso facto have images of dead people.  But I don't think actual heads would be looked on so favourably. At any rate they have been returned with great fanfare and cultural ceremonies. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4981390/Tattooed-Maori-head-returned-by-France

I don't think I will join in the poll, as there are so many issues to consider with these things. Museum curators hate giving back anything, I have noticed.  And in our museum the paid director is very reluctant to accept anything on loan for that sort of reason.  (Though next year we are probably getting a minenwerfer (trench mortar gun) on loan, one of many brought and few left, after WWI, gifted from Britain. It used to live outside the hall here and older members of our historical society are very excited about getting it back.)
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Tue 25 Nov 2014, 23:22

Has Greece said what thy would do with the returned bits of Parthenon? Would they go into a similar 'inside out' sized hall? I have yet to vote because that's the sort of thing I would like to know - but - and this is a huge public confession, I have never been awed by them. There are many other things which have stunned me to reverence for an ancient artist or culture. I reckon the BM could put that huge space to use - and a thread on that might be interesting. Ferv points out the real possibility of the loss of great things during possible cultural unheaval. No new thing but the shame of it in later years is a mark of a people's maturing so perhaps it is inevitable.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 00:10

This is where they would go, P. Currently there are plaster casts filling the spaces in the display. 

http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/content/parthenon-gallery

http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/content/frieze-0
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 03:22

I'm not sure why the possible return of the Parthenon Sculptures is equated with the return of all the various antiquities that are spread across the world, particularly when it is only a very small minority that have been requested by a handful of governments. Greece has stated many times that it is only the Parthenon Sculptures that it wishes returned, Egypt only wants 2 things  (the Rosetta Stone and the Bust of Nefertiti), Turkey the Schliemann Hoard and as they are a clear cut case of theft it is a perfectly reasonable request. 

But Caro is correct, it is not only Britain who has faced or is facing said requests. Just off the top of my head, Germany has been returning antiquities looted from all over Europe during the war for years now, the US happily returned a Royal Mummy (Seti I think) to Egypt on request, the Vatican has returned the bits of the Parthenon that they held to Greece on request and only recently Sweden or Norway have returned ancient textiles to one of the South American countries. There hasn't been any precedent set with any of the other returns, other than one of international co-operation and respect shown toward another's cultural heritage. 

And P is correct also, the Parthenon Sculptures are not overly awe inspiring as they stand now, the awe happens when they are viewed as a whole in their natural and original context, just as they were designed by the ancients to do.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 09:53

Ready to vote. Thanks, ferv for the tour of where it will go - such a better display than the tired BM mounting that does not do it justice, as ID suggests.  If GB  gives the display back then perhaps the others will give their bits too.

Re relics such as Caro relates. a local museum was long in gridlock over the skull of a hanged man that was demanded for another 'show' where they were trying to get interest in getting visitors. Eventually after throwing a book at them  re dignity and price paid and museum ethics a plaster cast was made and the skull properly stored...... there is a move to get burial eventually. And now the cast is causing concern because of children's variable interest in it. Hats off to the aging museum volunteers V a zealous young paid curator. Locally, the subject raised a little dust storm for many months.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 09:57

@Priscilla wrote:
Just curious, nordmann - prior to the depredations of Ottoman rule- equally awful in Constantinople, had the Greeks shown a sense of caring for their wonderful antiquities?

"The Greeks"? What is relevant here is whether the Parthenon was being looked after no matter who was in charge locally and in fact the answer here is a resounding yes, especially when compared to what passed for "care of wonderful antiquities" in other countries of the period (Romans using the Colosseum as a builders' providers yard, Englishmen driving turnpike roads through Stonehenge etc) which was cavalier, to put it mildly. However the Parthenon, largely due to its bulk and location, was in an almost perfect state of preservation throughout this period, surviving earthquakes, city fires and all the other turbulations to which Athens was subjected in the interim. So "The Greeks" were doing something right, if only by simply doing nothing at all. And thus it remained until 1687 when a Venetian bombardment of the city ignited an Ottoman ammunition dump within the complex and created the "ancient ruin" we see today. However even then the friezes remained largely intact and the main superstructure largely unaffected, meaning that future restoration in less politically turbulent times would always have been eminently feasible - until Lord Elgin arrived of course. Since his intervention and the removal of the friezes (which also further damaged the integrity of the structure by the way) "The Greeks" have actually been pretty consistent and diligent in their restorative and preservationary work on the site. If this does not constitute evidence of "a sense of caring" on their part, I'm not sure then what this term might actually mean in an antiquarian context.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 11:18

Nordmann is correct, the greatest damage to the Parthenon has actually been caused by foreigners and ironically mostly by those (like Elgin) who have professed to love it the most so it is a little cheeky to lay the blame at Greece's door for events which they had no control over nor participation in.

But the repatriation of the Sculptures is far from a new issue for Greece as the request for their return began almost as soon as it gained independence. This is an old film dating to 1985 from British telly and starring a few (now) familiar faces Smile , and although the quality of the upload is poor it is well worth persevering with because it includes some excellent information from both sides of the debate and amply illustrates just how far back this issue stretches.

The Parthenon Marbles - Stones of No Value. I think it appeared on British TV under the title Lord Elgin and Some Stones of No Value. 

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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 12:39

@nordmann wrote:
Had an equally significant item of British heritage been procured in the same manner by a foreign power you can have no doubt but that Britain would be forcibly prosecuting its return too.

While refusing the request by Athens regarding the Parthenon Marbles, the British Museum has even had the gall to demand the 'return' of the Bayeux Tapestry. When one considers the damage which was done to the marbles during their removal in the 1800s and again while under the 'care' of the British Museum in the 1930s then this double-standard simply beggars belief.

Even though there may be evidence that the Bayeux Tapestry was made in Kent, the fact that it depicts a Norman victory over the English, the fact that Normandy and England were both ruled by a Norman dynasty at the time of its creation and the fact that no-one in England even noted its existence before the 18th Century would more than satisfy this Englishman that Normandy is its rightful home.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 14:43

I am going to change my vote. Vizzer's quote from Byron has persuaded me that perhaps I have been a little hasty, if not "a bit silly". Also, I've just read a Jeremy Paxman article that has annoyed me - unpleasant tone, and the reference to "some Athens kebab stand" quite unnecessary:


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/museums/11185897/The-Elgin-Marbles-belong-in-Britain-Mrs-Clooney.html


I wonder if we can get London Bridge back? I suppose that was a fair deal though; McCulloch paid $2,460,000 for it - I wonder how much that is in today's money? The City of London must have been pretty hard-up. I hope Boris doesn't get any mad ideas and start flogging off other bits of the capital to the Americans.

How do I change my vote?

No gloating please.

EDIT:  I have done it.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Wed 26 Nov 2014, 23:20

You have sorted one point, nordmann but just for the record, what would Lord elgin's motive have been? Greed? Was he merely an avaricious opportunist or is there any hint that he misguidedly thought he was trying to save something of great note t o be installed in a place where increasingly more educated people could wonder at it? A regular  villain is what seeps through some posts here. Was he? Would the marbles really have remained in better shape -as you suggest - had he left them well alone? Historians  can not be perfect actuaries of the past but I think they often get their objective and subjective smalls in a knot when they try. More port, perhaps, before I change my vote for silly reasons.
And, ID, I know much stolen during the last Wars has been returned to proper ownership but Elgin was surely not on quite the same level of appropriation, was he? Of course the essence of all this  may go along with that old prayer when God is implored to spare us from people trying to do the right thing for us.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Thu 27 Nov 2014, 05:52

I might change my vote again. Nordmann did say we could have at least three thoughts and perhaps my second thought was sillier than my first. This is all so confusing. I really don't know what to think. I am a Libran and my inability to make a firm decision and never be moved is becoming more and more obvious as I age.

I am a disappointment to everyone; indeed I am sadly disappointed with myself at times. I feel very like the vacillating and irresolute Czar Nicholas II who had the unfortunate tendency always to agree with the judgement of the last person he had been talking to. Oh dear, this really won't do. I shall have a cup of tea and consider my position.

Byron was a bit unreliable - one of those dramatic, impossible types we all fall for when we are young.

I don't suppose money is an issue in all this, is it? It usually is. I really have no idea - just a question. Admission to the British Museum is free; the authorities in Athens charge, I believe, 5 euros for admission to the splendid new museum there. 5 euros is a pretty paltry sum (about £4?) and admission for children is free. And I don't suppose tourism in either city/visits to either museum would be affected one way or the other.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Thu 27 Nov 2014, 08:37

@Priscilla wrote:
You have sorted one point, nordmann but just for the record, what would Lord elgin's motive have been?

You keep asking tough questions, P. Thomas Bruce's motivation with regard to the Parthenon frieze was ostensibly to preserve it through removing it from a situation where interested and powerful parties (one of which he reckoned himself an emissary of sorts) had no say or control over to one in which they did. However this cannot be the extent of his motivation, as his original stated plans reveal. His family claim that correspondence shows Bruce at first tried to encourage parliament to release funds (to him of course) to take casts of the statues in situ so that copies could be made. These would reside for perpetuity, of course, in England. This however is hotly disputed as a fact - there is no public record of such a request. Even if that was his original plan anyway he quickly revised his notion radically and set about removing them altogether. This in itself was an incredibly complicated process involving huge amounts of bribes, lies and other "less than legal" methods with regard to access, hiring labour, securing export licences etc etc, the monetary investment alone bringing Bruce closer to bankruptcy and which must have been the primary reason behind his obvious decision to remove them, move them and then keep them for re-sale.

His apparent "generosity" in subsequently bequeathing them to the (British) nation is also contradicted by the record. After they began arriving in England he immediately set about trying to procure buyers for them - with no intention at all of keeping them together and with no obvious nationalistic sentiment involved to any visible degree. However the more vigorously he pursued this ambition (and failing finances accelerated his zeal and effort during this time) the more it came to public attention just what he had done. This frightened off potential buyers (though some pieces were sold and are now the subject of even more potential strife when and if an agreement is ever reached about the BM artefacts), and in fact ended up in a very public censure of his activities from parliament itself at one point. By the early 1800s the out-of-control market in antiquities had already begun to be seen as a massive liability in the effective running of a huge trade empire in which duties and tariffs were playing a fundamental role in generating public revenues and was alarming the establishment set on regulating all traffic of commodities within a wider framework of tariff and trade agreements thrashed out with its main rivals. Unilateral activities such as Bruce's, negotiating with competing empires in matters that could have repercussions on existing trade agreements with those competitors, unsettled this establishment tremendously. Lord Elgin was portrayed publicly as a seamy profiteer rather than a devoted antiquarian. Bruce, in the interest of cutting his losses and preserving some potential for rescuing his family's fortune for the future, was more or less walked into making the "magnanimous gesture" to the British Museum, who for their part were quite happy to receive the endowment without demur, pointedly avoiding - then and since - reference to the actual process whereby it had come to be assembled in England at all and especially whereby legal entitlement to its ownership was conferred on them.

"Greed" therefore is not the word I would use. "Desperation" certainly played a role in events towards the end. In the beginning of the caper even a genuine wish to preserve as much of the Athenian monument as was humanly possible - perversely - might have played a role. However it was, even by the standards of the day, an audaciously risky and ethically dubious venture upon which he embarked and which, once set in motion, was always going to lead him into trouble. From the moment the British Museum got involved they too became complicit in the scheme, albeit belatedly. It is this - more in fact than the international implications - which essentially defines the BM's present stance. The real precedent in returning the artefacts to Athens would be a tacit inference that all BM procurements - especially those in its nacent years as a national institution - must be examined also with a view to their legality, not alone by modern standards but even by the laws of that time.

This is a can of worms that actually has huge implications for a large empire now in its post-colonial phase. If the BM as a state institution admits effectively profiting illegally (or at least less than fully legally) from the advantages empire inferred on those close to its ruling establishment and tacitly makes restitution on that basis then what other institutions might also be brought to task on the same score?

My argument is essentially that this aspect to the case, rather than being hushed up or purposely ignored, should be openly acknowledged and discussed. And, in the case of the "Elgin Marbles", this acknowledgement can be through special legislation and agreement between the parties which emphasise that this exchange be regarded legally as a special and isolated event. Whether this is ultimately something that these parties wish to opt for, or whether it is even possible legally, I am not sure. However the underlying ethical principles are enhanced rather than dissipated by this dilemma and in my view these principles point fundamentally to restitution rather than continuance of a status quo inherited from an incident in which ethics played little or no role at all in the end.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Thu 27 Nov 2014, 10:10

Ah, not just me who dithers then:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/for-years-i-haveargued-againstholidays-and-giving-back-the-elginmarbles-i-was-wrong-about-both-9460928.html

But I still resisted Greece itself, and when the subject of the Elgin Marbles came up in conversation I was adamantine in my conviction that they belonged to us now, that pillage cuts all ways, and that there would be no such thing as museums if there were no such thing as plunder. But a funny thing happens, reader, when you wander round the marvellous Acropolis Museum in Athens and note a signal absence, and an even funnier thing happens when you find yourself dining with Greeks on a rooftop restaurant beneath the Parthenon itself.

Suddenly, you know the Marbles don’t belong to you. A mad impulse grips me. I will get them back for you, I want to say. I look into the gentle brownness of their eyes, as Byron will have looked before me, in an ecstasy of comradeship. Not only will I get them back to you, I am desperate to tell them, I will throw in St Paul’s Cathedral.


PS I like the bit about the Manchester Ship Canal too.

I'm shutting up now - nordmann's last post has finished me off - completely out of my depth here.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Thu 27 Nov 2014, 10:14

Thank you, nordmann, for that lengthy and probably as comprehensin insight as I could ever get. In a word the entire episode is dodgy. As for open discussion - yes but how many particpate with cool reason?
My own opinion is that UNESCO should mediate in a warm swathe of getting something positive through an appeal to rectify an old misguidance of enthusiasm to preserve the past. Soft diplomatic speak and gentle magnaminity could go a long way;  open discussion is the right way but opening old wounds and subsequent tit for tat stuff hauled up would surely cloud issues. The media would do that anyway in  nine day  impotent outrages as is the fate of most issues. Oh dear, am I making sense?

More port for a woolly Piscean and a supporting glass for Librans feeling the strain. And then another round to forget  that  a star sign makes any difference at all. To the bar!
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Thu 27 Nov 2014, 11:38

You're talking about spin, P, and I agree that this spin on the transfer would be the best. In fact if that's all that was at stake I imagine the artefacts would have been returned ages ago, especially in any case since the Athens Museum provided such an admirable location for them. It may not be too late for Britain to salvage some "good guy" image from all this and I am sure this opportunity to generate some is bringing certain political pressure to bear on events behind the scenes.

However it is the legal implications that are the real bug-bear here, I imagine. I am not convinced that the British authorities are actually competent enough or powerful enough any more to contain the effects of a decision in this matter and this is the real reason an impasse has existed for so long. UNESCO can by all means help with the spin aspect, but if their brokering is to be meaningful and effective it will also have to be to engineer the relevant legal authorities internationally into a binding acknowledgement that this transfer will not create an international precedence except for cases with identical histories (and these are not so many at all, despite the scaremongering and ill-informed comments to the contrary which abound in this case). This would probably require a UN resolution, which in turn involves several other highly interested observer countries maybe having to agree, so it is very moot indeed what might happen next. However it would at least be a transparent and useful exercise which, even if it does not break the impasse, would go a long way to restoring Britain's reputation in this area, even if not the artefacts to their point of origin.

PS: Temp, there is no limit to the number of times you can re-cast your vote within the 30 day period of the poll.

PPS: It would be nice if everyone who can, votes here. Let's pretend we're all Ozzies here - failure to vote could result in amputation of one's drinking hand.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Thu 27 Nov 2014, 21:56

Isn't dictatorship wonderful? Forced voting and approved spin - can our active members be given office? I just want to be an eminence gris - or the forum fool forever asking daft questions. I have a lot of gris and the eminence is broadening -  in a physical sense. I think someone has just pulled a vote out of the box and tossed it away. Is this allowed? Will there be punishment? I am a Censura - do I have a hand - or foot - in that?
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Fri 28 Nov 2014, 18:59

@nordmann wrote:
From the moment the British Museum got involved they too became complicit in the scheme, albeit belatedly. It is this - more in fact than the international implications - which essentially defines the BM's present stance. The real precedent in returning the artefacts to Athens would be a tacit inference that all BM procurements - especially those in its nacent years as a national institution - must be examined also with a view to their legality, not alone by modern standards but even by the laws of that time.

This is the nub of the issue. Although talk of setting legal precedents and implications for international law etc are overblown. Just as one can not libel the dead neither can one hold the dead to account. Children are not responsible for the actions of their parents and people alive today are not responsible for the actions of their ancestors.

Also suggestion of brokerage by the United Nations Education, Scientific & Cultural Organisation just serves to up the ante. Any UNESCO involvement should be merely as an interested observer. The return of the marbles should be a bilateral affair. Neither should it be a bilateral affair between the UK and Greece. It should be a strait-forward bilateral transaction between the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum as mutually respectful institutions.

Where the law does come into this issue, however, is via the British Museum Act 1963. This gives ample scope (under Section 5) for the Trustees of the British Museum to return the marbles to Athens. Paradoxically, however, it also give the Trustees the option to use the existence of the Act as an excuse for not doing so as well. And this is precisely what they have done, suggesting that it would take another act of parliament or even a UN resolution to allow them to return the marbles.

The decision regarding the Parthenon Marbles does not rest with the UK parliament or with the UN. The power lies where it always has done - with the Trustees of the British Museum.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Fri 28 Nov 2014, 23:13

And a bit of public support, Viz. Now  I belong to that old school of horses and water. If this becomes a 'You Must' V 'Would You?' (Widger, if Irish) then count me out. Some here know of my circumstances and how, for me, for many years I had to stand alone against 'You Must.' Well I didn't over any issue and them what pushed eventually gave me such respect that I softened and 'Would you,' became acceptable -within reason.

So saying her head held high, she sweep out  with a flounce - to the bar.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 03:48

Yes, I would think such an important decision couldn't be made without input at least to government, if not from it, if only because there is likely to be a public outcry to be managed. 

There is a lot involved with these sort of decision, even on a much more minor scale than this.  I have mentioned before, I think, the mortar gun that sat outside our hall here, till it was taken away for scrap metal.  Between then and now, it has been bought by an antique arms association and is now to come back on loan to our museum.  It's been no easy task, sorting this out, deciding a loan instead of a gift will be suitable, arranging who will pay insurance, filling out forms, liaising with the people concerned, organising how to get it transported here, finding somewhere in the museum that can fit a large minenwerfer and suit its surroundings.  And that is without mentioning the mutterings from some people in the community that it should be going to the hall (not the original one and not one that has a suitable place for it).
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 04:46

@Vizzer wrote:

The decision regarding the Parthenon Marbles does not rest with the UK parliament or with the UN. The power lies where it always has done - with the Trustees of the British Museum.

Yes it does, but the BM have dug themselves into a hole with their arrogant attitude and continual refusal to even discuss it. Can't see how they can back down now without losing a lot more face than they have already. It is all very silly really.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 07:16

ID wrote:
Yes it does, but the BM have dug themselves into a hole with their arrogant attitude and continual refusal to even discuss it.


I certainly agree that arrogant attitudes are not a good idea.


@Priscilla wrote:
If this becomes a 'You Must' V 'Would You?' (Widger, if Irish) then count me out. Some here know of my circumstances and how, for me, for many years I had to stand alone against 'You Must.' Well I didn't over any issue and them what pushed eventually gave me such respect that I softened and 'Would you,' became acceptable -within reason.


My motto was always: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar", but it must be admitted a roll of that sticky-stuff tape was often useful too. And, sadly, you occasionally need one of these:



Genuine diplomacy is surely needed here. Be reasonable and courteous; smile; above all, give the opposition a chance to save face; don't rub their noses in it. Then you may get what you want.

But how exciting the vote is becoming - 6 to 3 this morning. I'm going to change my vote again. I want to be wooed, especially as we approach the 30-day deadline. This dithery old "Don't know" could decide the vote!

PS I couldn't help thinking yesterday, amid all the dreadful frenzy and greed of Black Friday in the UK, that very few of those fighting with such ardour in our high streets would have ever heard of the Elgin Marbles, let alone give a hoot as to where they are displayed. It's hard not to despair sometimes.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 09:49

5-4 now, but I'm sticking with 'Yes'. We got our cess pit lid back, I don't see why the Greeks shouldn't get their fancy wall paper paper back either.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 10:37

You got your big stone back too, ferval - the one that that awful Edward I pinched. Didn't we ask if we could just sort of borrow it now and again, as necessary?

All very civilised (wasn't it?  Suspect ).

In 1996, in a symbolic response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots at the prevailing constitutional settlement, the British Conservative Government decided that the Stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use at coronations. On 3 July 1996, it was announced in the House of Commons that the Stone would be returned to Scotland, and on 15 November 1996, after a handover ceremony at the border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, it was transported to Edinburgh Castle. The Stone arrived in the Castle on 30 November 1996 and it remains alongside the crown jewels of Scotland (the Honours of Scotland) in the Crown Room. The handover occurred on St Andrew's Day, a day in honour of the patron Saint of Scotland, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York was the Queen's representative.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 10:49

That's what I was referring to, Temp. Haven't you heard the tale about how the crafty monks of Scone substituted the lid of their cess pit, complete with handy lifting rings, when Eddie came calling?  So what was in Westminster, post 1950, was really a fake of a falsehood.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 10:58

I hadn't, ferval - no. But I live out of the world and I am often astonished at what I hear. Is that definite? That's worse than Isabella of France having it off with William Wallace and Edward III being the product.

Oh heck. So all our kings and queens have been crowned perched on top of a loo-lid? How embarrassing!!
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sat 29 Nov 2014, 12:18

I can't guarantee authenticity, I'm afraid, Temp, bit if it ain't true, it should be and would mean that Lizzie was crowned atop of a replica loo-lid to make it better/worse. According to taste.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sun 30 Nov 2014, 11:50

I see that it was a good idea to leave the poll open to people changing their choice - it appears that there has been a flurry of second thoughts on the matter already.

Having been to the display at the BM (many times) and to their intended new display site in Athens I would have to say that the Athens option far exceeds their present London housing in terms of the artefacts' context, interpretation and, of course, their prominence as a part of global heritage. The BM exhibition as it currently is arranged, with the inverted geometry of the frieze and its necessarily restricted viewing area, places much more of a demand on the viewer to fully appreciate their original context, their decorative and symbolic function, and therefore their full significance as cultural and historical artefacts relating to historical Athens and its role in the development of civilisation as we understand it. In recent years the importance also being placed by the BM on justifying why they are there at all tends to overshadow these other more important aspects too, I feel. The debate about their location has now become an intrinsic feature of their interpretation, which is a shame.

I do not fail to appreciate the complexities of the implications for the British Museum regarding ceding admission that the Greeks have a valid point. However I cannot help but feel that the adversarial approach adopted by both sides over the last few decades has been a big mistake and that a more cooperative attempt at resolving this issue is actually the one which would prove most advantageous for both parties - a bilateral agreement without involvement of a third party being the one most conducive to avoiding precedent whereby more spurious claims of repatriation could be prosecuted to the museum's detriment. In attempting to avoid such an expensively litigious future the BM has actually walked itself ever closer into just such an outcome, I think.

However the poll asks simply "should" the artefacts be returned, which is a question as much to do with the morality of extended ownership based on "uti possidetis" as it is about the technicalities of relinquishing that possession. I cannot help but consider that those who opt for "no" therefore support this legal precept (one actually designed to protect colonial investment and control of foreign resources in a post-colonial context), and that this notion of "we hold what we have" with its accompanying unwillingness to examine the actual moral implications of that continued possession has in fact as much danger in its long-term application in such cases as any precedent that may be set in this case by the artefacts' return.

It is a "might is right" attitude at its core, and while this may serve countries well in matters of robust or aggressive diplomacy, it can in this case have only one guaranteed and prominent victim, a respect for our mutual heritage. The presence of the artefacts in London has increasingly become a symbol more of recent British Imperial heritage than what they should in my view be - tangible symbols of a much more ancient and globally important heritage, a symbolism best exposed and interpreted should they be displayed in the appropriate context.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sun 30 Nov 2014, 12:37

Oh dear, perhaps we restitutionists should belt up, it seems we are making things worse.

There's a whole question here as to the right of any government to dispose of the cultural heritage of a nation as it sees fit without the demonstrated approval of the people. It's the *who owns the past* argument. I suspect that wee Georgie O would flog off Stonehenge or anything else if he could get away with it. 

I find the reluctance to reassemble the various remnants of the Parthenon in Athens baffling, especially given all the sanctimonious wittering that issues forth from Europeans about the foundational nature of Greek civilisation in shaping our common culture, just stop the whinging and get it done. How many of the hordes who stop for a few minutes before the display in the BM are doing more than ticking the *must see* box anyway?
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sun 30 Nov 2014, 13:10

In a way our little poll therefore presently reflects actuality. Way back when the issue first came to public attention the BM stance was far more conciliatory in tone, and gestures were made concerning exploring the possibilities etc etc. As the Greek case was put more stridently however and it seemed that international opinion was tending to agreement with their argument the BM, and in fact what might be called the British establishment, effectively closed ranks on the issue and it is their collective stance that has played the largest role in influencing public opinion, I would suggest. MORI polls in recent years have consistently indicated a 40% willingness on the part of British people to have the artefacts repatriated with the remaining 60 % split between those against the idea, those undecided and those unwilling to participate in any such decision fluctuating wildly in relative proportions. In our poll these last three categories are represented by the "no" option, so in fact as the poll currently stands in a site with predominantly British-oriented members, the same levels of adamancy, prevarication and indecision appear to pertain here too.
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sun 30 Nov 2014, 21:53

Not being really British oriented was one of the reasons I didn't originally want to vote.  I don't have many feelings towards this issue at all.  I do sometimes wonder why the Elgin Marbles seem to generate such controversy when there are so many items in museums from outside their country of origin, often on the grounds that they allow far more people to know about them and their origins.  I certainly enjoy seeing something that originated from NZ in overseas museums and assume it gives information to others.   

My little museum only accepts things from our area or that pertain to it.  (Though it does have some oddities among the books - why do we have Great Expectations among the local histories?)
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PostSubject: Re: The Elgin Marbles - a poll   Sun 30 Nov 2014, 22:36

@nordmann wrote:
As the Greek case was put more stridently however and it seemed that international opinion was tending to agreement with their argument the BM, and in fact what might be called the British establishment, effectively closed ranks on the issue and it is their collective stance that has played the largest role in influencing public opinion, I would suggest.

The BBC seems to have played a major role in this. For example a while back the issue was raised on The One Show (a popular, prime-time, lite entertainment and current affairs magazine on television). The program gave a contrived vox pop (from both Athens and the UK) whereby all the Athenians interviewed said that they wanted the collection re-united at the Acropolis while all the UK people (including the obligatory cabbie) demanded that they stay. The program’s presenters also kept referring to the Parthenon Marbles as ‘ours’ and they even got the Prime Minister (who was a guest on the program) to say that they should stay in the UK. The whole tone was basically one of yah-boo.

Caro - not being from the UK (or from Greece) should in no way preclude your opinion from value. Quite the reverse. One of the reasons being put forward by the British Museum for not returning the marbles is that the Trustees believe that, they being where they are, somehow makes them 'free for all the world to see'. One wonders if this means that that the UK will pay for the air-fare and the food and the accommodation costs for someone, say, from New Zealand (or China or Bolivia etc) who wanted to come to the UK to see the artefacts.
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