The Worth of Gravel

The Greeks are very unhappy with my opinion on foreigners purchasing gravel. Events have conspired to make my point again.


The Levantine Islamic State is striving to eliminate all memory of competing and antecedent civilizations. Buddhist, Greek, and Roman sites and artwork must be destroyed or defaced. And some of these are big enough to make this a major challenge. Sumerian and Mesopotamian sites are even considered devil worship.


Petra is out of their clutches. Just. But that which is in danger is tear inducing.

Mideast Iraq Islamic State

Some people who value preserving the past over political concerns are buying and smuggling out all they can. If the items are discovered they are returned to the places where the Levantine Islamic State is destroying them. Are the people smuggling out the artifacts they can evil or unethical?


A couple of centuries ago Greece was being run by the Ottoman Turks. The Caliphate of the time was more relaxed. The Greeks were dhimmi; if they would pay extra taxes and submit to laws which were intended as ritual humiliation, they would be otherwise left alone. Mostly. It is hard to humiliate dhimmi when all around them is evidence of their cultural superiority. It is hard to be a dominating overlord sometimes. Wherever the Greeks looked there were statues and architecture the Turks couldn’t match. And the sniggering Greeks could whisper that the Great mosque of Hagia Sophia was built by the Greeks as a Christian church. Can an overlord accept pride from humiliated dhimmi?

An interesting bit of trivia is that marble is made from limestone. It is uneconomical to burn marble in a kiln to make cement and mortar, but it can be done. The Turks started burning statues and artifacts into quicklime. A cultural sacrilege as bad as anything in Iraq today. The Turks had classified the Greek statues as rubble or gravel.

An Englishman named Lord Elgin took advantage of this classification. He bought some rubble which was to be burned into mortar and sent it home to England. This rubble was the statuary on the Parthenon. Some very fine and ancient Greek work. They became known as the Elgin Marbles. There seems to have been a bit of legal wrangling and skulduggery to get the Marbles to England. Perhaps even some bribery.

Since Greece has regained its independence – with a bit of British help – the Greeks have been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles. Evil things have been said of Lord Elgin. Most of these things are true. He took the Marbles away on barely legal grounds or even illegal grounds. The Marbles deserve to be back on the Parthenon. He was operating as a thief, even if the local Turkish officials were in on the act. The Marbles were not conserved as well as they deserve. These all seem to be true.

But I cannot bring myself to condemn as a thief the man who saved these wonderful things.

I cannot condemn the smugglers today who are sneaking out artifacts from the Levantine Islamic State. Even if their bribery gives a bit of money to barbarians.

I wish some crook had found a way to preserve the Afghan Monumental Buddhas as well.

The Elgin Marble are visitable here.

Way to go Tommy.

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