Archeology in Greece: Exploring the Possibilities

International House hosted another installment of the International Scholar Brown Bag Lunch Series last Thursday, April 14, at 11:10 a.m. This episode featured opportunities for students to engage in the study of Greek archaeology and was presented by Ottilia Buerger Professor of Classical Studies and Professor of Art History Carol Lawton, alongside Assistant Dean of Faculty for Student Academic Services and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jere Wickens.

The presentation focused on two distinct features of Greek archeology, namely, votive reliefs and prominent archeological landscape. The first attribute was discussed in detail by Lawton. She described her most recent research in the Athenian Agora—a commercial spot within the city—excavating pieces that displayed votive reliefs. These were well-preserved reliefs that were dedicated in sanctuaries by individuals who were either asking for something from the gods, or in gratitude. “We do not always know what the original intention is,” Lawton explained, “as these pieces are not always properly inscribed.”

Lawton also shared why votive reliefs are such an important posture of ancient Greek art. “We try to restore the structures to their original sanctuaries,” Lawton conveyed, “and get a clearer picture of who is being worshipped there.” In other words, the votive reliefs play a crucial role in underpinning the workings of ancient Greek faith in Athens.

In the second presentation, Wickens extensively described the “remarkable” archaeological terrain of ancient Greece that lies scattered across the country.

Wickens, whose focus lies more in field archaeology, outlined his work on a surface survey of the terrain in which he took part. In his presentation Wickens shared numerous images he took during his expedition.

A surface survey essentially involves walking across the land with a team of archaeologists and noticing the artifacts that are found along the way. These artifacts may range from pottery shards to entire fragments of walls. Wickens and his team concentrated on a small part of southern Evia, an island in the Greek countryside.

Wickens also shared his experience in uncovering ancient villages from the excavation and analysis of pottery shards. “During the Hellenistic and Roman periods,” he said, “many of these sites became reduced in number.”

When asked about the importance of preserving these ancient works of art from the danger of erosion due to the Greek government’s inability to fund local restoration projects, Wickens stressed the need for investment from international bodies, alongside an equally dire need for archaeological interest and human resources.

“Today, since Greece is struggling financially,” Wickens shared, “it is important for international institutions to aid the preservation of its ancient arts.”

During the presentation both speakers also introduced the possibility of a December Term course in Greece as a field experience of Greek archaeology and art history. To ensure that the trip takes place, however, at least 15 students have to display interest in participating and actually committing to the experience.

The trip itinerary is expected to include the major archaeological cities of Greece, such as Mycenae, which happens to be a Bronze Age site, Delphi and Olympia.

“It was inspiring to hear about work that the professors were doing outside of the classroom,” shared junior Ginger Johnson, who is leaning towards a degree in art history and museum studies. “This is because I usually do not think of them [professors] outside that context,” she explained.