Divers find more artifacts at wreck of the Mentor, which sank carrying the Elgin Marbles
Divers exploring the Mentor ship that wrecked off the southern coast of Greece in 1802 while carrying the Parthenon marbles to England have found other antiquities at the site. Greek Culture Ministry archaeologists and divers have been exploring the site since 2009 in the hope of finding more of the sculptures and reliefs, which were torn from the Parthenon, damaged in the process, and taken to England by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. An international controversy is raging now because Greece wants the marbles back, but England refuses to repatriate them.
The recent find of three amphorae handles from the 3 rd century BC and a small stone vessel lend hope to the Greek cause of finding more antiquities at the site of the wreck off the island of Kythera. After the ship sank in the mouth of the port of Alvaimona, the 56 panels and 17 statues were recovered from the wreck and transported to England for display in Lord Elgin’s manse. They are now in the British Museum.
The British say Lord Elgin got permission from the Ottoman Empire to take the marbles, but Greece says he stole them. Bruce was the British ambassador to the Ottomans from 1799 to 1803.
The goddesses Hestia, Dione and Aphrodite, from the Parthenon's east pediment, presently in the British Museum (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen/ Wikimedia Commons )
“This year the excavation focused on the western boundary of the surviving portion of the hull, towards the bow, where two fragments of Egyptian sculptures were found in 2013,” said the Greek Culture Ministry.
The divers, under the direction of archaeologist Dimitrios Kourkoumelis, examined a 5-square-meter area (17 square feet) to determine if there are remnants of other works of art in the vicinity of the wreck. The explorations are being conducted under the auspices of the Kytherian Research Group of Australia.
“Poorly preserved wood fragments, possibly related to the hull of the ship, were recovered along with objects related to the operation of the vessel such as a pulley, an intact hourglass, and several fragments of dishes and everyday utensils,” reports Discovery . “Among the personal items belonging to the 12 men aboard, crew and passengers, were a glass decorative stamp bearing the letter “B,” a bone pawn chess piece and fragments of a bone comb.”
Between 1930 and 1940, the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were cleaned with wire brush and acid, causing permanent destruction of their ancient surface. In 1983, Melina Mercouri, Minister of Culture for Greece, requested the return of the sculptures, and the debate over their return has raged ever since.
Today, the Parthenon sculptures remain one of the most controversial objects in the British Museum, with some arguing for the repatriation of the artifacts to Greece, and others arguing that the sculptures ought to remain in London. Similarly, opinion is divided regarding Lord Elgin. For some he was the savior of the endangered Parthenon sculptures, while to others he was a looter and pillager of Greek antiquities.
Parthenon marbles on display at The British Museum. Wikimedia Commons
The British Museum in London is one of the world's largest and extensive museums, containing approximately 8 million works—objects taken from all over the world during the time of the British Empire. However, the Elgin marbles, also known as the Parthenon marbles, are the most controversial artifacts in its possession.
The Parthenon was one of ancient Greece's most important temples, dedicated to the city’s patroness, the goddess Athena. Over the millennia, the structure was converted into a Christian church by the Byzantines, and subsequently into a mosque by the Turks. The Turks also used the Parthenon as a gunpowder storage magazine, which blew up during the Venetian siege of the city in 1687.
Featured image: Marine research and excavation in the wreck area of the Mentor in 2011 and 2012. Credit: Kytherian Research Group
By Mark Miller