Greece eyes Elgin marbles

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece displayed two ancient, looted artefacts on Thursday that had been returned from the J.P Getty Museum and said the recovery of its most famous antiquities -- the Elgin Marbles -- was only a matter of time.

The Los Angeles-based Getty gave back a 4th century BC Macedonian gold wreath and a 6th century BC marble statue of a woman as part of their deal with Greece to return four objects from their collection that Greece says were the result of smuggling and illegal sale.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said their homecoming would strengthen international calls for the return of the Elgin marbles, which are called the Parthenon marbles in Greece.

The marble friezes and sculptures were removed from the Acropolis above Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin some 200 years ago and are currently housed in the British Museum.

Lord Elgin acquired his collection between 1801 and 1810. It was bought by the British Museum in 1816 and has been a major attraction there since.

“The ecumenical demand for uniting the marbles of the Parthenon is gaining in strength and reach,” Karamanlis said, flanked by the wreath and statue inside the National Archaeological Museum.

Britain has refused to return the marbles, claiming they are better preserved in London.

Karamanlis said the completion of the new Acropolis Museum and the return of two fragments from the ancient monument by Sweden and Germany last year “evaporate the vague excuses for their non-return.”

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said the government’s work “will some day lead to the return of the Parthenon Marbles.”

In December last year Getty, embroiled in an international scandal involving their former antiquities curator Marion True, agreed to return the two objects that Greece has long said were the result of illegal excavation and smuggling.

This is the second batch of ancient artefacts the Getty has handed back to Greece.

The Getty, one of the world’s richest institutions, said it approved the return of all four items after a scholarly review of information compiled by the Getty and supplied by Greece that indicated they rightfully belonged to Greece.

True faces criminal charges in Italy and Greece. She has denied the charges of conspiring to receive stolen goods.

A 2,400-year-old, black limestone stele - grave marker - and a marble votive relief dating from about 490 BC were returned in August.