Tag Archives: Athens

Athens

Athens is an amazing place of contrasts. It’s a real center of intellectual activity and talent from all over the world. I’ve never attended talks packed with as much academic firepower as I have in Athens (which is a terrifying thought; I’ve given two talks here in the past couple of months!) and there’s no place in the world with this density of archaeological institutions: all the foreign schools, the University of Athens, the Archaeological Society, the National Museum, and so on. There are multiple talks, every. Single. Night. Besides the foreign schools, there are seminars devoted to every single chronological and thematic region: the Palaeolithic Seminar, the Minoan Seminar, the Cycladic Seminar, the Mycenaean Seminar, etc. When I was a student at the School (2003-4), I didn’t take advantage of hardly any of this. Indeed, I was only marginally aware of it. Maybe it wasn’t as intense back then? I doubt it.

This intellectual activity is taking place in a radically different context from 2003-4. Then, Greece was a booming economy (GDP growth was 5.8% in 2003!); now, not so much. Athens is chugging along, but for those of us who have known the city for years, the signs of economic downturn are there. And of course everyone’s talking about the refugee crisis. My friends are volunteering at centers who need people to sort and deal with donations. The foreign schools are all collecting materials (canned goods, medical supplies) that they’re donating to refugee aid centers, a practice with deep historical roots. There are announcements before lectures start, reminding everyone to do their part. Meanwhile we keep hearing news about borders being shut, the horrible conditions in the camp at the border, and the rise of anti-immigrant parties and sentiment in Europe. This in a Greece where the local population is suffering economically, where pensions are set to be cut by 1% of GDP, and whose government can hardly afford additional expenses. After the past five years of crisis, it seems clear that the political class of Europe has been a colossal failure.

But I’m an archaeologist, not a policy wonk. I read Paul Krugman and nod, donate money to humanitarian organizations, and draw comfort from the history of the modern Greek economy, which is a story of setback and recovery. I am also amazed at the reaction here in Greece, which is incredibly noble and generous.

And through all of this, Athens is as amazing as it ever has been. I know many of my archaeologist friends don’t like Athens. I like to tell them that if you don’t like Athens, you don’t like Greece. Greece is a nation of many regions, each of them different: Crete is not like Messenia, which is not like the Argolid, which is not like the Corinthia, which is not like Thessaly, and so on. And the only place where people from all parts of Greece live together and break bread together is: Athens.

But besides that, Athens is a city of intellectual might, with plenty of grit and frenetic energy. There’s not a drop of Disneyfication here. I’ve barely scraped the surface of her depths and can’t imagine a better place to spend my sabbatical.

Reblog: Advanced imaging of the Linear B tablets from Pylos

This summer I co-directed (with Kevin Pluta) a project in which we began advanced imaging (RTI and 3D scanning) of the Linear B tablets from the “Palace of Nestor” at Pylos (modern Ano Englianos). These tablets are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.  I’ve written a couple of blog posts elsewhere about the project: one for the website of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), through which we applied for our permit, and another for the Archaeological Computing Research Group (ACRG) at the University of Southampton, a member of whom, Hembo Pagi, trained us in RTI. The posts say the same thing, more or less, to slightly different audiences. You can read the stories here (ASCSA) and here (ACRG).

3D scanning with Jim Newhard and Ben Rennison

3D scanning with Jim Newhard and Ben Rennison

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RTI with Dimitri Nakassis

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RTI with Jami Baxley

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RTI with Kevin Pluta (left) and Hembo Pagi (right)

Place and memory

I’m currently reading Janice Kulyk Keefer’s fantastic memoir, Honey and Ashes. It’s a memoir of an immigrant family in Toronto, full of stories from the Old World, stories that revolve around her grandparents, her mother and her aunt, in the western Ukraine. Those stories were about a world that felt in some ways far more real to her than the Toronto in which she grew up. Her book reminds me of my own relationship to my grandparents and their stories. On the one hand, I wish that I had paid more attention to their stories so that I could recall them with Keefer’s vividness. On the other, the yawning chasm between Keefer and the Ukraine is different from my experience — my paternal grandparents never left Greece, I and my family went back often, almost every summer of my life, although of course my experience of Greece was very different from theirs. My grandmother was from a mountain village in the least populated part of Greece, after all, and my grandfather was one of the refugees who were forcibly moved from their homes in Turkey to Greece in the population exchanges of the early 1920s. When they were married they were strangers, my grandmother always used to say. The Greece I knew as a child was a radically urban Athens and its suburbs (especially Glyfada) in the 1980s and onwards.

The other dimension of Keefer’s work that interests me is the extent to which her stories about her grandparents’ village are bound up in place, and how important place becomes when she travels back to the Ukraine as an adult to explore the remnants of ‘home.’ Places anchor these stories, prove their authenticity, bring them alive. In this respect, one of the stories I was told by my grandparents — although it barely qualifies as a story — has profoundly influenced me. One night I went out to dinner with a prehistorian friend in the Athenian neighborhood of Kaisariani. When I told my grandmother where I had been the night before, she nodded and quietly said that many people had died there during the war. Almost word for word, her youngest sister Elli independently repeated the same to me later that morning. I didn’t ask for any more details. 200 communists were executed there on May 1, 1944, and this is now commemorated by a memorial.

I was struck then by the way in which traumatic memories were so stronly associated with particular places, such that my grandmother and her sister immediately responded in exactly the same way, and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that more than 10 years later, I wrote an article in GRBS in which I argued that traditions and memories associated with the Athenian Acropolis — in particular the slaughter of the followers of Kylon circa 632 BC — exerted a powerful effect on Athenians in the Archaic and Classical periods, so strong that it influenced the performance of an annual ritual on the Acropolis known as the Dipolieia and the Bouphonia. Memories and family traditions reside in places, they haunt them and define them, no less I would argue then than they do now.