It is a well-known fact that the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) is one of the most important cultural institutions in Greece. Its magnificent restoration of the Stoa of Attalos in the Athenian Agora is one of the nation’s architectural treasures and leaves powerful and lasting impressions on the visitors it both delights and intrigues. What is less known is that ASCSA is a flagship American institution as well.
Indeed, it is the oldest and largest U.S. overseas research center. A consortium of nearly 200 affiliated North American colleges and universities, the School provides graduate students and scholars a base for the advanced study of all aspects of Greek culture, from antiquity to the present day.
Among ASCSA’s vital contributions to international scholarship on Hellenic history through the millennia are two wonderful facilities at the heart of its presence in Modern Athens, the Gennadius and Blegen libraries.
ASCSA was pleased to announce the appointment of John K. Papadopoulos as the next Director of Excavations at the Athenian Agora. According to the ASCSA website, “Papadopoulos, who began his tenure at the School on July 1, is a Distinguished Professor of Classics and Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he chaired the Interdepartmental PhD Degree Program in Archaeology and is a core faculty member of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. A prolific scholar with vast experience in archaeological fieldwork, Papadopoulos received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Sydney.”
Prior to a discussion of archaeological developments, especially at the Athenian Agora, The National Herald asked Dr. Papadopoulos about the renowned ASCSA libraries.
“The importance of the ASCSA libraries cannot be stressed enough,” he said. “Together, the Blegen and Gennadius Libraries of the American School provide not only visiting scholars from North America, but Greek scholars, as well as scholars from the various foreign schools of archaeology in Greece some of the finest research facilities anywhere in the world. The use of these libraries by our colleagues in Greece fosters collaboration and a sense of community within archaeology and the classics. A recent graduate from UCLA (where I teach), once said that working in the libraries of the ASCSA was like doing research on steroids.”
Asked how the way scholars interact with ASCSA is changing, both in the aftermath of COVID, and with the advance of technology, Dr. Papadopoulos said, “some of the most exciting developments have been in the realm of digital technology. In the Athenian Agora, the development of iDig, the brainchild of Bruce Hartzler, has meant that scholars anywhere in the world can access the full archives of the Agora excavations, including all the notebooks, the tens of thousands of inventoried objects, and the entire archive of photographs and drawings, digitally. In the darkest days of the COVID pandemic, especially during the period before vaccines, I could access the full archives of the Agora, and other digital offerings of the ASCSA, remotely from my home in Los Angeles. This was not only an important lifeline for scholars and students, but it has changed the way we do scholarship in field.”
TNH asked Dr. Papadopoulos to put the relatively new Malcolm Wiener of the Wiener Lab into perspective.
“Archaeology is, in many ways, the most scientific discipline in the humanities, and, at the same time, the most humanistic discipline among the sciences. It is one of the very few disciplines that incorporates the humanities, the social sciences, and the hard sciences. Thanks to the generous endowment by Malcolm Wiener of the Wiener Lab at the ASCSA, as well as the endowment of the new research facilities at ancient Corinth by Charles Williams, these two visionaries have put the scientific study of the past on a whole new footing. The Wiener Lab in particular has given bioarchaeologists, paleofaunal experts, and those studying paleoethnobotany, soil science, geophysics, geomorphology, malacology, and many other fields a home and magnificent facilities in which to work. Combining these branches of the discipline with the traditional fields of philology, history, and art history, has expanded the reach of archaeology and what it can achieve exponentially.”
Scholars and archaeological laypersons alike are excited about what is planned for the site of the Stoa Poikile, literally a stone’s throw away from the Stoa of Attalos. Dr. Papadopoulos put this vital and exciting building into the spotlight.
“There is little doubt that the Stoa Poikile is one of the most important discoveries in the area of the Classical Athenian Agora in recent years. The western segment of the building was exposed in the current excavation area north of Hadrian Street, as was a much smaller portion of the east side of the building. The main central portion of the stoa was covered, however, by a modern building, which was recently expropriated thanks to funds by the Packard Humanities Institute (which largely funds the Agora excavations), and is scheduled for demolition ‘as we speak’ (in early October, 2022). Once demolished, there will be a relatively large area to excavate.”
The excavations are expected to ‘touch’ and ‘expose’ several historical periods.
“On the basis of the excavations in this area to date,” Dr. Papadopoulos said, “we anticipate a stratigraphical sequence beginning in the Middle Byzantine period and extending through various stages of the Aegean Bronze Age. Using modern protocols of flotation, and other techniques, we hope to acquire a complete record of what the Athenians were eating and drinking from Byzantine times, through the Roman and Hellenistic periods, into the Archaic, Classical, and earlier levels, including those of the Early Iron Age, and various stages of the Bronze Age through the organic materials and residues recovered. In the process, one of the most iconic buildings of the Classical period, the Stoa Poikile – or Painted Stoa – will be exposed.”
The Athenian Agora was both the commercial marketplace of Athens in the Classical period (480-323 BC), as well as the administrative center of the Athenian City-State. Dr. Papadopoulos noted that it was a “radical democracy – the first democracy in the world.”
Dr. Papadopoulos noted that, “the Agora, together with Corinth, is one of the oldest and continuous excavation projects of the ASCSA. But the School has made a whole slew of stunning discoveries in various parts of Greece. In the last 15 years alone, the excavations at Pylos, especially the Tomb of the Griffin Warrior, has opened a whole new vista into the iconography of the early stages of the Aegean Late Bronze Age or Mycenaean period.” He emphasized that, “elsewhere in the Peloponnese, important discoveries have been made in the Corinthia, at Rachi Koutsongila, Kenchreai and at the Lechaion harbor and settlement; as well as in Nemea. In other parts of the Peloponnese and adjacent areas, the excavations and surveys at Mt. Lykaion, Megalopolis, Galatas, and the Saronic harbors projects, have greatly extended our knowledge of the antiquity of these important places. Numerous excavations by members of the ASCSA in Crete (at Gournia, Mochlos, Azorias, Plakias, and other sites) have brought the prehistory of Crete and the early historical period into much clearer focus.”
As if this were not enough, Dr. Papadopoulos also mentioned, “the significant fieldwork by the ASCSA has been conducted in central Greece at the Ismenion Hill at Thebes, at Mitrou, and the plains of Boiotia, where the focus has been on ancient agriculture. But one area that has recently blossomed with a spate of American projects is the north Aegean, especially the excavations and surveys at Samothrace, ancient Methone in Pieria, and at Molyvoti in Thrace.”
All these sites present golden opportunities to students and scholars all around the world, and especially from the Greek-American community.
The scholars come to ASCSA all year long, but as Athens as a whole has become a travel site for all seasons, exhibitions and other presentations at ASCSA is also part of the itinerary of tourists who want to delve more deeply into Hellenic History.
“Among the wonderful facilities that have emerged on the Athenian cultural stage in recent years is the new Makrygianni Wing of the ASCSA, which features temporary exhibitions that showcase the holdings and archives of the ASCSA, as well as the work of its many members and fieldwork projects,” he said.
It was also noted that, “two recent exhibitions, Hippos and the Free and the Brave were highly regarded.” Dr. Papadopoulos added that, “several upcoming exhibitions will feature the holdings of the Archives of the ASCSA, the plight of the Asia Minor Greeks after 1922, and we are also planning an exhibition on Vrysaki, the neighborhood of over 360 houses in Old Athens that was demolished in order for the Classical Agora to by uncovered. Although this neighborhood was largely eradicated by 1931, what was gained was one of the first archaeological parks in Greece and the Mediterranean, and a green-zone in the middle of the bustling metropolis of Athens.”
He also wished to highlight other venues. “There are many cultural venues in Athens to visit year-round; among the many, the new Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, together with the Benaki Museums and the Goulandris Museum, are just a few that feature not only their permanent collections, but also temporary exhibitions.”
Whether one is a scholar participating in its renowned programs or an amateur student of history, the ASCSA is a magnet and a lighthouse of Hellenic civilization.