The British Museum’s deputy director has called for a “Parthenon partnership” with Greece, which could see the Elgin Marbles storybooks return to Athens after more than 200 years.

The sculptures – 17 figures and part of a relief decorating the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis – were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and have since That became the subject of a protracted dispute over where they should be displayed.

In an interview with Sunday Times Culture Magazine, deputy director Jonathan Williams said the British Museum wanted to “change the temperature of the debate” around marble artwork.

Parts of the Parthenon at the British Museum in London (Matthew Fearn/PA)

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“What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece,” said Mr. Williams.

“I firmly believe that there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation in which new ways to work together can be found.”

The British Museum has not said it will hand over the sculptures, with Mr Williams calling them “an absolutely integral part” of the collection.

However, he said they “want to change the temperature of the debate”, adding that all sides need to “find a way forward around cultural exchange on a high level, intensely”. a level and dynamism that has not yet been formed”.

He added: “There are so many great things that we are happy to borrow and lend. That’s what we do. “

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has stressed that his country is ready for negotiations (Chris Jackson/PA)

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The Greek Prime Minister has repeatedly called for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, even offering to lend some of his country’s other treasures to the British Museum in exchange.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis stressed that Greece was ready to negotiate but said that “small steps are not enough. We want to make big strides.”

The director of the Acropolis Museum, Nikolaos Stampolidis, also said there could be “grounds for constructive negotiations” with an offer of “active partnership with the Parthenon”.

He added: “In the difficult days we live in, returning them would be an act of history.

“It will be as if the British are restoring democracy.”