Friday, January 24, 2014

The Institute's Winter/Spring Lecture Program and Heated Exchanges over the Management of Greek Sites and Museums

The Institute’s lecture program for the winter/spring of 2014 is out! The lectures will be held at the Institute’s Library starting at 7:30 PM.

We start on Wednesday evening, February 5th, with the lecture of our 2013/14 Neda and Franz Leipen Fellow, C. Myles Chykerda (Costen Institute of Archaeology, University of California – Los Angeles). The title of the lecture is “Structuring Thessaly: Working Towards Finding Patterns in the Prehistoric Landscape”. The subject relates to the research that he will pursue for his doctoral dissertation. After Myles’ lecture we will cut our Vassilopita for the health, happiness and productivity of the Institute and its members in 2014.

A month later, on Wednesday, March 5th, Margarita Nazou will give a lecture entitled “A site with a view: Kiapha Thiti and its connections during the 4th and 3rd millennia BC”. Margarita recently completed a successful defence of her Ph.D. thesis at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. A part of her dissertation research concerned her study of the Neolithic pottery from the Queens University excavations carried out at Kiapha Thiti in southern Attika under the aegis of the Institute from 1986 through 1988.

The last lecture of the series will be on Friday, March 28th. Dr. Sophia Karapanou (Archaeologist, 15th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) will give the lecture entitled “Early Results from the recent excavations on the shores of the dried lake Karla, Eastern Thessaly”. Dr. Karapanou is the synergatis of Prof. Margriet Haagsma (University of Alberta) on their joint excavation project at the Hellenistic city at Kastro Kallithea in Thessaly. As you can see from this lecture program we are very interested in Thessaly!

Whither Greek archaeological sites and museums in 2014 and beyond?
As the economic crisis gripping this country continues with claims of hope for an improvement by the end of this year and accusations that it will get worse, the management of cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture and Sport is challenged. As tourism at the moment is the main possibility in the shorter term for generating much needed new revenues, the country’s archaeological sites and museums are one of the reasons visitors would choose to vacation in Greece. To that end, the Ministry has announced that starting April 1st and continuing through the end of October, the 33 most visited archaeological sites and museums in the country will be open for 12 hours every day from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. Operators of cruise ships and package tours will be pleased with this development. This is, of course, if the money is allocated in the end by the government and the requisite additional guards are hired.

But what of the rest of the less well-known archaeological sites and museums which are away from the touristic hotspots and, thus, not so favored by the average tourist? Many of these have been open only on reduced hours this winter as no money had been allocated for overtime or additional guards. Professor Emeritus Stephen Miller (University of California – Berkeley), Director Emeritus of the excavations at the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea (under the aegis of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens), was irate when the Ministry did this to the museum at the site for lack of funds for the guards. He wrote an open letter in October to the Ministry and to the media complaining of this short-sightedness and suggested that the sites and museums of the country be privatized as the Ministry was unable to administer and to protect them properly. He proposed how if private companies could own and operate the sites and museums the antiquities, the visitors and the local communities could all benefit. The Union of Greek Archaeologists which represents the archaeologists employed by the Ministry of Culture and Sport reacted sharply against this suggestion at the time. Their basic position is that if sufficient funds were given to employ permanently the requisite number of archaeologists and guards for the stewardship of all of the sites and museums the situation would be resolved.

This call for privatization has resurfaced this month when Charlotte MacDonald-Gibson published an article about the situation in the January 18th issue of Time Magazine ( ). This article has revived the attacks on Miller’s proposal by the Union of Greek Archaeologists and the assertions by the Minister of Culture that this will never happen ( ). Miller, in frustration, claimed he was misunderstood when he said that archaeological sites were being vandalized. He meant that this assertion was directed only at unfenced and unguarded archaeological sites. His complete proposal was attached to the latter article.

The issues raised here are central to the future of the stewardship of the country’s very rich cultural heritage – known and waiting to be discovered. The lack of adequate funds (and, thus, personnel) to do this properly and thoroughly, as the administrative structure and procedures redefined and refined in in the law passed in 2002 was designed to achieve, has meant that short cuts are being taken, work is not being done and ad hoc solutions are chosen. The way things are progressing with the country’s finances it is naïve to think that in the foreseeable future the Ministry of Culture will be given what it needs to realize the broad vision of the Union of Greek Archaeologists. Having extended hours for the most popular sites and museums for the tourist season is only a band aid. In reality, it only will reinforce the narrow and superficial view that most visitors have (and are presented with) of what constitutes Greek cultural heritage. Private companies having the rights over selected popular sites and museums is no better than the making the “New” Akropolis Museum an independent entity, outside the framework of the existing ephorates of the Hellenic Archaeological Service. What happens to the other sites and museums?

Each of the three proposals misses the mark in my opinion, as they represent extreme positions that do not confront holistically all aspects of all of the interrelated problems. A significant portion of the income from ticket sales, from gift shop sales and from photographic fees that goes to the Treasury of Archaeological Funds and Expropriations (T.A.P.A.) should be spent on needs directly related to the stewardship of the archaeological heritage. Private, registered cultural resource management firms should be able to undertake - under the strict supervision of the Ministry of Culture archaeologists - the search for, the documentation of, and the testing of archaeological sites ahead of development projects and building activities. All of this needs to take place within the framework of a well-developed, broadly supported, long-term strategic plan for the stewardship of all of the country’s cultural heritage and resources. If this rich and varied heritage is truly seen by the present Greek government, as well as future ones, as crucial to the economic future of the country then it goes without saying that it should be respected and supported in every way possible.

Where do you stand on the question of the stewardship of a country’s archaeological heritage? Is it the sole responsibility of the State? Is it best managed by private entities? Or it should be a State/Private co-responsibility?

David Rupp

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