Resistance is Futile: British Museum Won’t Take Robot Marbles

ATHENS – He’s going ahead with it although the British Museum said it’s a no-go but Roger Michel, Director of the Institute for Digital Archaeology, a heritage preservation organization based in Oxford, England, thinks robot-carved replicas of the Parthenon Marbles could lead to the real ones being returned to Greece.

In a feature, The Washington Post reported on the story that had come out earlier but now notes that the first replica, a copy of the Horse of Selene, will go on display in London the first week of September.

The museum isn’t shamed, moved or buying the idea, maintaining it is the ralowner of the treasures stolen by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who ripped them off the Parthenon more than 200 years ago.

The newspaper still calls them The Elgin Marbles, although that’s largely been discredited and reported on the process to reproduce the genuine articles right down to using the original Greek Pentelic marble.

The Horse of Selene, it said, “looks remarkably like the one on display in the museum, tiny chips and chisel marks and all, carved by a robot,”intimating it was just as good a job as that of the original sculptors, Phidias.

It’s done at a workshop in Carrara, Italy, the robot working away without rest or, ostensibly, any margin for human error or hand movement because it doesn’t have any, using minute mathematical precision.

He told the paper that the British Museum could replace the real marbles with the robot versions although they’ve already dismissed it out of hand, which hasn’t discouraged him a marble bit.

“The sculptures we’re creating can break this 200-year-old logjam,” said Michel, adding that the real marbles could then be sent back to Greece, which opened a new Acropolis Museum in 2009 with a space for them.


That’s in a windowed area on the top floor across from the Acropolis, offering a chance to unite the two visions that define Ancient Greece before Elgin stole them with the permission of the Ottoman Occupation, which didn’t own them.

The British Museum refused his request to scan the genuine marbles so he and a colleague had to do it by iPhone and iPad after entering the gallery as visitors who weren’t detected.

Jonathan Williams, Deputy Director of the museum pooh-poohed the very notion as tacky and just not done, telling the British newspaper The Sunday Times that,

“People come to the British Museum to see the real thing, don’t they?” he said, not mentioning they are stolen goods that belong in Greece, the museum offering only to loan them back with collateral of other Greek treasures.

The Institute for Digital Archaeology replicas will cost about $180,000 to make, Michel said. An initial copy of the Horse of Selene was carved by a robot running nonstop for four days.

A second copy of the horse will be carved from stone found in the quarries in Greece that were used to make the Acropolis. That marble was obtained “in consultation with Greek authorities,” Michel said.

Giacomo Massari, founder of Robotor, the technical partner on the project, said the 3D modeling allows their robot to create replicas with minute precision — and of much higher quality than plaster copies made by molds.

He said: “You can recognize every scratch,” he said. “You can see the flaws of the stone and you can see the challenges our colleagues from 2,000 years ago were facing. It’s like going back in time — you can feel the struggles of the artist.”


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