New York Times Comment on the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles

There’s a long form article in the New York Times about the Digital Archaeology Institute’s reconstruction of the Elgin Marbles. The author reached out to me for a quote regarding the initiative–I’ve taught about their efforts regarding the triumphal arch in Syria, so I felt comfortable contributing. They used a short quote, and I thought I’d include the longer comment here, as below:

3D replicas can be exciting and useful tools for archaeologists and the public to use for commemoration and to think with. Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology’s previous endeavour, the 3D modelling and reconstruction of the triumphal arch from Palmyra, has been heavily criticised by archaeologists who were concerned with the funding, symbolism, lack of public consultation, and general disconnect from critical thinking by the creators of the model. Archaeologist Dr Zena Kamash from Royal Holloway, led an intervention while the model was located in Trafalgar Square. She and a team of students invited responses on postcards from visitors from the site; these responses showed the alienation of the 3D model, which was placed in a colonial setting as a proxy for British nationalism. 

I would have similar questions regarding the Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology’s new project, that of replicating the Parthenon Models. Who is asking for this replication? What population does this replication serve? What are the political implications of such a pursuit? Is there a way we could be using the technology to focus on and reveal the people who created the Parthenon, rather than mechanically reproducing previous art? The repatriation of artefacts from colonial institutions to indigenous communities is an immediate and essential necessity, and of central concern to an ethical archaeological practice. When artefacts become symbols of nationalism and of state power, we need to be very careful about who we are working with and for, and to what end. 

Interestingly I also received an email lambasting me for my perceived (but incorrect) position of retaining the marbles, quickly followed by another email apologizing for their misperception.

We’ll see how many more adventures in the popular press I get this year….

%d bloggers like this: