|Map of northern Greece|
|View of Argilos|
|General view of the tumulus at Kasta; source: http://www.theamphipolistomb.com/hill|
|What had been found as of September 9th: source Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport|
With tourists flocking to see the covered-up entrance to the tomb, locals selling souvenirs and refreshments and news crews camped out, the area around the tumulus has become a circus. Since yesterday visitors are not allowed in the immediate vicinity of the tumulus and police forces are guarding the excavation on a 24-hour basis. Last night the TV coverage showed the curious visiting the area of the site at night. Even the Prime Minister visited the excavation in August before the digging had gone beyond the sphinges. In all of this media coverage and public interest the emphasis unfortunately has been on more and more “exciting new discoveries”, and little or nothing on the praxis of archaeological fieldwork, the in situ conservation needs and the overall goals of archaeological research. Further, this archaeological feeding frenzy is a distraction from the many unresolved issues related to the country’s long-awaited economic recovery. The tomb is being used by some politicians as a new component in the traditional construction of the nation’s identity by reference to aspects of its past, especially in relationship to ancient Macedonia. This has set off a debate in the media and more so in the social media about appropriateness of such use of antiquities in the national discourse. The Union of Greek Archaeologists has reacted sharply to the government’s handling of the media coverage and its direct intervention into the archaeological process.
Regrettably this overemphasis on the excavation of one ancient monument, unique and spectacular as it is (and which may well have been looted more than once), obscures the general state of archaeology in Greece today. On August 29th a new law was proclaimed by presidential decree which radically re-organizes and downsizes the Ministry and the Hellenic Archaeological Service as of October 1st. It is ironic that the outpouring of public support for this excavation by senior members of the government and others did not protect Ms. Peristeri from the incorporation of her Ephorate into the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities based in Kavala.
There is pressure to privatize the major archaeological museums and sites. This year, the longer site and museum hours, seven days a week, in effect from April 1st until the end of October only, was applied only to the 33 “most popular” ones. A two-tiered system has thus been created by this policy. A recently-commissioned study by McKinsey and Company (an international management consulting firm) on the cost of entrance to major Greek archaeological sites and museums compared to those in other European countries showed that the average ticket price here is much lower than elsewhere. The suggestion was made to raise the ticket prices significantly to make more money for the government. Is culture simply a “luxury commodity” for sale? The new unified annual property tax law (EN.F.I.A) that takes effect on September 15th has serious ramifications for the properties that are presently included in the “A Zones” which encompass known, registered archaeological sites, as these were previously untaxed since the owners could not use them or build on them.
The times are a-changing in the administration of archaeological heritage in Greece. It will be some time before we know the long-term effects of these changes and the re-organization. Given the importance placed on the promotion of cultural heritage by many sectors of the society here, the ramifications from these changes could be very significant. What appears lacking in all of this is a thorough public examination and debate of where archaeology in Greece should go in the medium- and long-term future and why? At this point there is no clear long-term strategy behind these changes except the reduction of the cost of the Hellenic Archaeological Service.