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From the President: Sea Change in Classical Archaeology Volume 51 Number 5, September/October 1998
by Stephen L. Dyson

Fifty years ago, archaeology in the Mediterranean faced an uncertain future. Europe had been ravaged by war, and Germany, France, and Italy were financially and politically ruined. In Germany and Italy, the use of archaeology for nationalist, imperialist, and racist ends had discredited the academic community. Italy had lost its African and eastern Mediterranean colonies, where some of its most spectacular prewar discoveries had been made. Britain, though victorious, was exhausted and could devote only very limited resources to archaeology. Only the United States had the intact institutions, resources, and spirit to play a major role.

The massive American excavations at the Athenian Agora were resumed in the late 1940s, while other major American projects began at the Lydian and Roman city of Sardis and the Phrygian site of Gordion.

Some researchers began to focus on the reconstruction of settlement histories over long periods of time, using aerial photography and intensive field walking to place major sites in a regional context. Two pioneering such projects focused on the hinterlands of Pylos, Greece, and the Etruscan areas north of Rome.

The invention of the Aqualung during the war spurred a postwar boom in underwater archaeology, while bombings that had opened up the cores of Europe's ancient cities lead to major advances in urban archaeology.

Urban sprawl itself threatened ancient sites, as in Tunis, where in the 1970s UNESCO organized an international project to salvage the remains of ancient Carthage. Another threat to archaeological sites has been the rapid growth of looting and the illegal trade in antiquities. Again UNESCO led the way, in 1970 producing an international convention aimed at stemming the trade.

Our concept of what archaeologists do or should do has changed dramatically. No longer simply diggers in pith helmets, we must be scientists, ecologists, and publicists. Our goal is no longer just to study the artifacts of high culture, but all elements of the human past and the world in which we have lived and acted. 

Stephen L. Dyson, professor of classics at the State University of New York, Buffalo, is president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

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© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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