We are no doubt very much aware of the financial crisis in Greece and this situation affects the work of archaeologists all over the country. Licensed digs are being postponed (indefinitely as it seems) and illegal ones are proliferating, while theft from the local museums with their staff trimmed considerably are on the rise. Semi-professionals working for art trafficking networks and common treasure hunters are having the time of their life, smuggling precious pieces out of the country to obscure destinations and avid collectors. What a waste of efforts, analysis, study, restoration, if not cultural heritage!
In one month’s time, Greek police have arrested 44 people, recovering thousands of ancient coins and several Byzantine icons. In October 2011, a gang was arrested with Macedonian golden grave offerings from the 6th century BC worth some 11 million Euros. A worthwhile effort from Greek authorities no doubt, yet this is only the tip of a huge iceberg. With corruption running high in a country where people are cut short of their income, there is no way to even envision where this will end.
Until now, foreign archaeology schools are still at work on the Acropolis in Athens, the Minoan Palace complex of Knossos on Crete, the sanctuaries of Delphi, Olympia and Vergina, but it becomes harder and harder to protect their excavation sites. Besides, the Greek state has the obligation to share in the financing of each such excavation and since there is no money available from that side the foreigners’ budget is being stretched. With one out of ten employees from the Ministry of Culture dismissed, it is not hard to imagine the unfortunate consequence for Greece’s precious heritage. In the meantime, 3,500 temporary staff have been hired to man museums and archaeological sites, but how trustworthy are they, I wonder?
Greece counts 106 archaeological and Byzantine museums, 250 organized archaeological sites and 19,000 (yes, that figure is correct) other important locations – yet only a handful have escaped the consequences of the Greek debt crisis. Athens’ and Thessaloniki’s Museums of Archaeology repeatedly shut down part of their collection because of shortage in staff. Other museums and sites close at 3 p.m. or don’t open before the high tourists’ season for the same reasons.
A very sad episode in the life of such an ancient and proud culture. I’m sure that great men like Pericles, Solon and Alexander the Great would turn in their graves if they had to witness this!