January 4, 2007

New Acropolis Museum reveals ancient treasures

Posted at 7:06 pm in New Acropolis Museum

Helena Smith writes about the progress of the New Acropolis Museum. As well as the building itself, she focuses on the huge number of artefacts that were discovered on the site of the museum itself during its construction.

The Guardian

£94m Acropolis museum reveals ancient treasures
Helena Smith in Athens
Tuesday January 2, 2007
The Guardian

Like many treasures from antiquity, they were chance finds, but a fabulous hoard of more than 50,000 pieces unearthed during excavations in Athens has also provided a window on to the ancient civilisation of Greece. The treasure trove, discovered during excavations to build the New Acropolis Museum in the capital, includes relics ranging from a near perfectly preserved marble bust of Aristotle to cooking utensils, children’s games and figurines of little known deities.

“Thanks to the New Acropolis Museum we were able to conduct the biggest ever dig within the walls of Athens’ ancient city,” archaeologist, Stamatia Eleftheratou, said. “The excavation yielded artefacts that told us a lot about people’s habits, the way they worshipped and their day to day lives.”

Some of the treasures, such as an ornate statuette of the eastern deity Zeus Heliopolites, are unique – providing evidence of a cult of a god hitherto unknown – and extraordinarily well preserved.

The £94m three-storey museum, designed by the Swiss-born architect Bernard Tschumi to house the 5th century BC Parthenon marbles, is by far the most significant edifice erected so close to the Acropolis. The decision to build on a site so archaeologically rich was roundly criticised, but the excavations have brought to light a densely built area of ancient Athens inhabited from the golden age of the 5th century BC to the mid-Byzantine period in the 12th century AD.

Archaeologists claim the discovered ruins – the remains of villas, workshops, bathhouses, courtyards, cisterns and sewerage networks – say more about the historic evolution of the birthplace of democracy than any other find to date.

“We learned that through all these periods the inhabitants of this historic area were rich people with the economic means to lead comfortable lives,” Ms Eleftheratou added.

Some of the finds, such as a Roman copy of an original 4th century BC bust of Aristotle – found amid the debris of an archaeological trench near the museum’s entrance – were announced only recently. With its aquiline nose, protruding forehead, floppy hair and minute eyes and mouth, the bust is regarded as one of the best likenesses of the Greek philosopher.

“From written descriptions we know that Aristotle was famous for his hooked nose and short hair and beard,” said Alkestis Choremi, the former director of Athens’ prehistoric and classical antiquities department. “This comes closer to resembling him than anything ever discovered here. It offers a rare depiction of how he looked.”

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