A recent article posted by the Guardian presents us with an odd situation. The Institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA) of Oxford were scanning parts of the Parthenon marbles on display at the British Museum in London. Although the museum didn’t grant permission, the IDA scanned nevertheless. This started an outrage on many sides

While the IDA was well in their rights to scan the marbles (according to their own account), the British Museum saw a violation of their visitor regulations. But what was the problem here? Copies of the marbles exist already. According to the British Museum, not all requests are granted in time. The action by the IDA to scan the marbles nevertheless was out of the line.

But why?

It might have something to do with the quality of the scans. According to the IDA, the scans will be so detailed, that it is possible to create exact copies of the marbles. Even of the same material. The IDA is also a supporter of the repatriation of the marbles to Greece. It might be, that the British Museum wanted to prevent the possibility of exact copies. This way, it stays the sole “owner” of these marbles.

If that would be the case, the actions by the British Museum are troublesome to say the least. The British Museum and Government as well as Greece are in constant discussion about the repatriation of the marbles for a long time now. The museum refused to return them so far. Besides the discussion of repatriation however, it seems odd, that the museum also interferes with scanning them.

On the other hand, it is also a bold move to walk into the museum to scan something despite a lack of permissions. The IDA stated, that they used nothing else than “an iPad on Steroids”, but in our days, this seems to be enough for creating high-quality scans. What do you think? Was the scanning an illegal act or is the position of the British Museum questionable?

Sebastian Hageneuer

Founder & Editor

About the Author

My name is Sebastian. I am a research associate at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Cologne, Germany, Discipline for Archaeoinformatics. My special interest lies in reconstructing ancient architecture and thinking about ways to present archaeological knowledge to other researchers and the public in an informative and appealing way. I teach 3D documentation of material culture as well as 3D modelling and archaeological reconstruction and work on several projects as part of my job.

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