A SCOTTISH estate is facing questions over ancient marble artefacts taken from Greece for the Earl of Elgin which remain in its private collection.

The Scots aristocrat Thomas Bruce, who gave his name to the infamous “Elgin Marbles” which have recently sparked a diplomatic row between the UK and Greece, sold the bulk of the objects he'd had taken from Athens and nearby sites to the British museum in 1816.

But other ancient Greek marbles – including a sarcophagus described by experts as “one of the very few examples of an Attic sarcophagus from Athens bearing an inscription” and which does “not appear in any of the standard modern corpora of ancient sarcophagi” – were kept in Bruce’s private collection at Broomhall House, in Fife.

The collection is now owned by his descendant, the 99-year-old Andrew Bruce, the 11th Earl of Elgin (below).

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SNP grandee Michael Russell, who has visited Broomhall (above), said: “They are things that were taken and set into the walls. It's slightly strange, in the entrance hall you have this Greek sculpture that is part of the decor.”

Bruce gave permission for experts from the University of Manchester to examine the artefacts in 2019. They reported: “Broomhall in Fife … which has been the seat of the Earls of Elgin since the early 18th century, is home to a small but diverse collection of antiquities, encompassing Greek inscriptions, uninscribed Greek sculpture and architectural fragments.”

Referencing the sarcophagus (below) specifically, the experts went on: “A drawing, dated to 1816, showing Elgin’s collection in its temporary home in the Duke of Devonshire’s shed at Burlington House, London, clearly depicts this sarcophagus (identifiable from its inscription) sitting alongside sections of the Parthenon frieze. It is unclear why this object was not included in the sale to the British Museum.”

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The objects Elgin had taken from the Parthenon – one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, built by the Athenian democratic leader Perikles in the fifth century BC – were sold to the British Museum in 1816 and have been the centre of controversy in recent weeks.

Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with the Greek prime minister after he raised the issue of the Parthenon sculptures’ return to Athens on the BBC.

READ MORE: David Pratt: Rishi Sunak’s Greek rebuff smacks of unadulterated British nationalism

But the controversy goes back further than that.

Elgin claimed to have obtained a firman – official permission – to take the marbles from the then-Ottoman-controlled Athenian Acropolis.

Yet one expert noted in a 2015 academic paper on the issue: “The existence of such a firman has been questioned, and few (if any) scholars are willing to defend the view that formal permission was given to remove as many of the marbles as Lord Elgin did in the end.”

And historian Rochelle Gurstein said: “Elgin went beyond his original mandate, amassing a vast store of treasures that included the choicest sculptural remains.”

At the time of the marbles’ (below) removal, there were fears for the artefacts' survival, leading some to argue that Elgin did the world a service by preserving and protecting them.

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Voices within the UK have said the sculptures taken from the Parthenon which now sit in the British Museum should be returned to Athens. SNP leader Stephen Flynn said earlier in the week: “This shouldn’t be subject to negotiation. The Elgin marbles were stolen and should be returned. Easy.”

And now questions are surrounding the collection held at Broomhall, though there's no suggestion that those artefacts were also taken directly from the Parthenon.

Green MSP Mark Ruskell, who has previously campaigned for the return of artefacts to the cultures where they originated, said: “These marbles should not be here in the first place. They are clearly of huge cultural and historical significance to Greece and should be returned.

“Our museums should not be showcasing or celebrating stolen goods. Yet, all across the UK there are museums full of artefacts that are only there as a result of looting and plunder or as a legacy of colonialism.”

READ MORE: British Museum to continue talks with Greece over Elgin Marbles despite fallout

He added: “Returning artefacts to their rightful owners and communities doesn’t have to mean a loss for museums or galleries. The repatriation can result in stronger and lasting cultural links and programmes that we can develop and build on that are based on a new relationship.”

Former constitution secretary Russell said there should “at the very least” be a conversation about the Broomhall marbles (some of which are shown below).

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He said: “I want to be very clear that I'm not critical of the Earl personally, I disagree with him but I understand where he's coming from.

“But the whole thing is untenable. If you have items that are of immense value to a civilization and to history, it is untenable to keep them elsewhere.

“I think at the very least, they should be discussing how they might be on permanent loan elsewhere.”

Russell added: “As far as his personal property is concerned, well, I suspect it would be sensible for him to think about how he might return it to Greece, but it would be up to him.”

Asked if there were any plans to look into repatriating the marble artefacts to Greece, a spokesperson for Broomhall said: “The Bruce Family, in common with many other museums and collections, has artefacts and archives of historic importance which are regularly made available for the purpose of academic study by scholars and researchers.”

You can read the 2019 paper on the Broomhill marbles here.