The Parthenon Marbles could soon be returned from the British Museum to Greece as part of a "cultural exchange" being negotiated with Athens, according to reports.
The ancient sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, were taken from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Athens in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Secret talks have reportedly been taking place for a year between the chair of the British Museum, George Osborne, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The deal is effectively a loan agreement, since British law prevents the British Museum permanently giving away items in its collection except in very limited circumstances.
But the landmark compromise could see the 2,500-year-old antiquities returned "sooner rather than later", the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Wednesday, quoting unnamed sources.
It would likely involve some objects being sent by London on a long-term loan basis, with Athens reciprocating by lending other ancient Greek treasures.
Any loan deal, however, is not expected to end the long-running dispute over the 17 sculptures and part of a frieze.
The Daily Telegraph said that Greece intends to keep up pressure to secure full legal ownership of the sculptures.
Greece maintains the marbles were stolen and has long campaigned for their return, while the UK insists that they were acquired legally.
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