Excavating the Athenian Agora: Then and Now

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has been continuously excavating the Ancient Athenian Agora since 1931.

The Agora of Athens was the center of the ancient city: a large, open square where the citizens could assemble for a wide variety of purposes. On any given day the space might be used as a market, or for an election, a dramatic performance, a religious procession, military drill, or athletic competition. Here administrative, political, judicial, commercial, social, cultural, and religious activities all found a place together in the heart of Athens, and the square was surrounded by the public buildings necessary to run the Athenian government.

These buildings, along with monuments and small objects, illustrate the important role it played in all aspects of public life. The council chamber, magistrates’ offices, mint, and archives have all been uncovered, while the lawcourts are represented by the recovery of bronze ballots and a water-clock used to time speeches. The use of the area as a marketplace is indicated by the numerous shops where potters, cobblers, bronzeworkers, and sculptors made and sold their wares.

In 1931 excavations looked like this:



image-5 image-4 image-3


Today in 2016, a few meters away, excavations look like this:

13669227_1022291617886154_7225824031500621067_n  13782294_1022291691219480_926340210917087740_n 13645119_1022291624552820_3336577771219192290_n13775822_1022291614552821_7590113705406843615_n 13631488_1022291621219487_8107559958583093262_n 13619909_1022291607886155_8124436550769339495_n

Read more on the Agora Website.


Excavating the Birthplace of Zeus

Mt. Lykaion has long been known as the the birthplace of Zeus. Today it is the site of a collaborative excavation between the the Arcadian Ephoreia of Antiquities, and the University of Arizona under the auspices of American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). We interviewed one of the directors of the project, Dr. David Gilman Romano, about his hopes for the excavations. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Mt. Lykaoin looking out into Megalopolis

Romano: “We’re excavating the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion in the Arcadian Mountains. It’s composed of an upper area, which is the altar and the temenos at the southern peak of the mountain, and the lower area which is the athletic complex: hippodrome, stadium, baths, stoa, administrative buildings, seats, and several fountain houses. Mt. Lykaion was known as the birthplace of Zeus in ancient literature; Callimachus and Pausanias give us that information.”

On the left of the sanctuary of the Mistress is Mount Lycaeus. Some Arcadians call it Olympus, and others Sacred Peak. On it, they say, Zeus was reared –Pausanias 8.38.2 English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A.

Dr. David Romano and Dr. Mary Voyatzis look at the project

“This is our second five-year period of excavations. We know a lot more than we did ten years ago when we started excavating.”

Mt. Lykaoin

“We’re interested in learning more about a number of different things we discovered. For instance we have discovered pottery going back to the Neolithic Period in the area of the altar. We’d like to know more about that. It’s very early material. Who was coming here in the Neolithic period? What were they doing? Did they use the mountaintop as an altar or for a different purpose”

There is on Mount Lycaeus a sanctuary of Pan, and a grove of trees around it, with a race-course in front of which is a running-track. Of old they used to hold here the Lycaean games. Here there are also bases of statues, with now no statues on them. On one of the bases an elegiac inscription declares that the statue was a portrait of Astyanax, and that Astyanax was of the race of Arceas. –Pausanias 8.38.5 English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A.

A Greek student works on excavations

“Another question [we have] has to do with the cult of Zeus. How old is the cult of Zeus? We have burnt animal femurs from sacrifices that we have Carbon-14 dated to the sixteenth century BC, as well as continuity of cult through to the Hellenistic period. The cult was very likely alive and well in the sixteenth century. So we have wondered— does it go back further than that?”

“We’d like to know more about the Mycenaean shrine that we found on the altar. We found huge quantitites of Mycenaean pottery and we’d like to know more about the Mycenean cult.”

On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lycaeus, and from it most of the Peloponnesus can be seen. Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lycaean Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning. – Pausanias 8.38.7 English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A.

“And another question has to do with when the athletic games were associated with the cult on Mt. Lykaion, because this had to be very old. We have more or less continuous activity in the area of the altar from the fifth millennium BC, and we’d like to know how and when athletics became a part of the religious cult.”


Archaeological Publication and Linked Data

Earlier this month I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the first Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI or #lawdi on Twitter) at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) in New York City, the brainchild of Sebastian Heath, Tom Elliott, and John Muccigrosso. I presented on the current state of archaeological publishing of my organization, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). The best part about the conference, though, was listening to new friends and colleagues speak about the many aspects of linked data, open source, and open access the archaeology of the Ancient World. As the ASCSA’s Director of Publications, I am beginning to put into practice what was discussed at LAWDI, and look forward to continuing to contribute.

Here’s what’s been done so far:

1. Open Access Hesperia. Our journal, Hesperia, is currently housed on JSTOR. We have a Content Sharing Agreement with JSTOR, however, which allows us to share our content from beyond the 3-year moving wall. This means that in July 2012 individual readers who need to search for and download any/all Hesperia articles published from 1932-2009 will be able to do so from the ASCSA’s website for free. The PDF articles can be read on any device that can open PDFs, and they can be used without Internet access post-download. There is no DRM. I alpha-tested the behind-the-scenes upload utility yesterday with reasonable success. I need to do a batch name-change on the PDFs and then load those onto our webserver (the test links currently point to JSTOR, but this will change in July). It is my hope that I can find just over $1M with which I can endow the journal at which point I can make open access to it complete and eternal.

2. Open Bibliography on Zotero. After the LAWDI meetings, I returned to Princeton to map out what I could begin to do with the concept of linking content for the ancient world. I had briefly used Zotero to read articles posted by Tom Elliott on Twitter, but I’d never gotten into the platform as a contributor of content. Since then, I have created a Zotero group for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in which I have now shared publicly the enter bibliography of 1,500+ Hesperia articles and about 150 (or 230+) monographs. I need to go through (and encourage others to help with this) and edit the book entries and add abstracts to earlier Hesperia articles. This will take time, but it’s a good start.

3. Linking in eBooks. June saw the publication of our latest printed monograph, Isthmia: The Roman and Byzantine Graves and Human Remains (Isthmia IX), by Joseph L. Rife. I spent yesterday and will spend today creating links in the PDF eBook. My previous attempts at linking were restricted to links between text, note, table, and image. I have done this in Isthmia IX, tedium made bearable through listening to hardcore punk, gangsta rap, and the Euro 2012 match between Germany and Italy. This is only the first step. The next is to attempt to create dynamic, outward-looking links from every bibliographic citation and every footnote to actual articles and books on the Internet. This could be insane and/or impossible, but I’m going to try. I am also going to attempt to link each inventoried object as presented on the ASCSA’s open access website for archaeological data, Lastly, I’m going to try to link from places mentioned in Rife’s book to records in Pleiades. Wish me luck.

The above is what I’m doing now and in July, and I’m looking forward to sharing/linking with other archaeologists worldwide on these and future projects.

Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications, ASCSA