Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Development Juggernaut Volume 50 Number 6, November/December 1997
by Nikos Axarlis

[image] Archaeologists fear that construction of a subway tunnel under the Kerameikos cemetery (center) will destabilize marble funerary sculptures erected by ancient Athenians. (Courtesy Dimitris Schilardi) [LARGER IMAGE]

Public works projects are causing a furor among Greek archaeologists, who charge that the government is not protecting important ancient sites that lie in the path of development. Of nine threatened archaeological sites recently cited by the Greek chapter of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), three--Dodona in Epirus; the Kerameikos, the ancient Athenian cemetery; and the Zagani hill prehistoric acropolis in Attica--are menaced by major government initiatives. How these conflicts are resolved will determine how other sites blocking highway, bridge, and tunnel projects are treated in the future.

Sadly, money and political ambition, not a simple lack of communication, are at the heart of the conflict between public works projects and preservationists. Huge government contracts worth millions of dollars are at stake, as are the reputations of powerful politicians. The Greek government is shirking its responsibility to protect monuments and cultural heritage, despite their signing progressive international agreements to do so. Its insensitivity undermines the rhetoric of ministers who never miss an opportunity to call their country the "cradle of civilization and democracy" and to demand the return of the Parthenon marbles. Ancient sites, which reflect the ambitions of people of the past, are now threatened by ambitious people of the present.

Nikos Axarlis is a freelance writer based in Piraeus who specializes in cultural and archaeological issues.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America