Friday, October 24, 2014

Archives lay bare the foundations of Greek Archaeology in the 19th century

Those of us who specialize in archaeological research which focuses on some aspect of the cultures that once existed in what constitutes today as the national borders of the modern Greek state tend to overlook how our broadly-defined sub-discipline called “Greek archaeology” came to its present state. In the last decade or so there has been an increasing interest in examining the history of Greek archaeology from its beginnings in the publications of the early European travelers. More frequently now there are studies of the “pioneers” and their research from a particular country, of a specific chronological period or a particular development. In these ways we are starting to understand more clearly how and why Greek archaeology is as we find it today.

For the past three days at a Synedrio archaeologists from the Hellenic Archaeological Service with significant input from researchers in a number of Greek universities, research centers and societies and archives have put the foundations and development of the Service, the early practitioners, the advent of formal excavations, the creation of public museums and the serious problem of the looting of Greek cultural heritage for personal gain in the “short” 19th century of modern Greece (from 1834-1899) under the microscope. It should be noted that this was a smaller Greece than we know today, as Crete, Macedonia, Thrace and the Dodecanese islands had yet to be incorporated. 

«Περι των Αρχαιοτητων ιδιως. Η Αρχαιολογια στην Ελλαδα του 19ου αιωνα απο τις πηγες του Αρχειου των Υπηρεσιων των Αρχαιοτητων», was organized by the Directorate of the National Archive of Monuments. 61 individuals gave papers based primarily on the documents, telegrams, excavations reports, plans, drawings and photographs in the Historical Archive of the Service located at Psaromylingou 22 on the edge of the Kerameikos and Psyrri Districts. Since 2007 the originals of these materials systematically have been organized, catalogued and digitized. This was done first under the direction of Dr. Metaxia Tsipopoulou and then by her successor and current Director, Dr. Eleni Kountouri.

The papers were organized into a number of sessions: Background Addresses; Archaeological Looting and the Protection of Antiquities; History of Research and Excavations; Archaeological Prosopography of the 19th century; Museums and Collections; Actions of the Foreign Schools, Foreign Archaeologists and Travelers; the Historical Archive and Recent Research. In conjunction with the Synedrio an exhibition of a selection of the archival materials used to prepare the papers was mounted at the Historical Archive. It is entitled, «Ιστοριες επι χαρτου. Μορφες και θεματα της Αρχαιολογιας στην Ελλαδα του 19ου αιωνα».

The Synedrio was overwhelming given the number and the variety of the papers. Of particular interest from a CIG point of view were the papers of Alexandra Charami (Θ’ ΕΠΚΑ) on Tanagra - our synergatis at Eleon, Maria Chidiroglou (EAM) on Karystos - a researcher of the Southern Euboea Exploration Project, and Anthi Batziou-Efstathiou on Thessaly. She is the Proistameni of ΚΕ’ ΕΠΚΑ where we have a synergasia with her colleague Sophia Karapanou at Kastro Kallithea. One hopes that all of these papers will be published promptly in the proceedings of the Synedriou as they will form the basis for further research in many directions. It will also open the minds of other archaeologists of the great potential that archives such as that of the Hellenic Archaeological Service for the “backstory” of many topics.

In my role as the President of the Board of Directors of the Syllogos Filon tou Istorikou Archeiou tis Archaiologikis Yperesias I am very pleased to see this Synedrio and the large and diverse audience it attracted. It is unfortunate, however, that so few non-Greek archaeologists resident in Athens attended such an important presentation of the background to where we find Greek archaeology today.

David Rupp

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