Philippi hoping for UNESCO listing



The site is the location of the oldest Neolithic settlement in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and one of the largest in the Balkans.

Still licking its wounds after last week’s airport attack, Istanbul will this month host the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee at the city’s Congress Center from July 10 to 20. Among the issues on the agenda of the 10-day meeting is Greece’s request for the archaeological site of Philippi, in northern Greece, to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On the sidelines of the summit, the Greek Consulate is supporting a related photo exhibition at the Sismanoglio Megaro, in the same city. The exhibition, which will be launched on July 18 under the title “Philippi: A Century of Archaeological Discoveries,” is organized by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kavala-Thasos and the French School of Archaeology in Athens. The exhibition, which first went on display in Thessaloniki two years ago, aims to showcase the multifaceted research on the site, the team behind the dig, the significance of the artifacts unearthed by archaeologists, and the importance of international collaborations.

The bid to include Philippi on the list of World Heritage monuments is backed by the Regional Authority of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, the Municipality of Kavala, the local archbishopric, and the local community. Meanwhile, the municipality is organizing a tourism campaign for the region.

There is nevertheless a feeling of dismay on the Greek side following the decision by Turkish authorities which allowed a daily reading from the Quran to be broadcast from Hagia Sophia during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

17 monuments

Greece has been a signatory to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage since 1981. A total 17 monuments from the prehistoric, Classical, Byzantine and post-Byzantine period have since been included on the list. Another 15 sites are on the tentative list. The first Greek entry was the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae. The Old Town of Corfu, one of the main attractions of the Ionian island, was the last Greek site to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

“Officials at the Culture Ministry, with help from the Kavala Municipality, have carried out extremely important work. We have successfully completed a demanding evaluation process, we have a positive recommendation by the competent advisory body and we are looking forward to a positive result for the site as well as the country,” said Dr Eugenia Gerousi, head of the Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities at the ministry.

“The nomination of Philippi, already on Greece’s tentative list since 2003, is the first nomination in many years and, what is more, it complies with the new – and much stricter – operational guidelines imposed by the international organization,” Gerousi said.

What does it mean to be on UNESCO’s list?

“After a monument is included on the list, it gains international recognition,” says Stavroula Dadaki, head of the Ephorate of Antiquities in Kavala. This means more visitors and need for better infrastructure.

“There is an ongoing effort to include works that will upgrade the archaeological site (such as entrances, footpaths, guard booths, toilets and so on). Being on the list does not just mean glory and glamour; it also means extra obligations,” Dadaki said.

The archaeological site of Philippi is a magnet for visitors to northern Greece. The site is the location of the oldest Neolithic settlement in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and one of the largest in the Balkans. Saint Paul founded the first Christian Church on European soil at Philippi in AD 49/50.

Dating back to 1957, the festival at the ancient theater of Philippi is Greece’s second oldest festival after that at Epidaurus. A “virtual trial” competition involving university students from eight institutions is held at the Forum every spring.

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Athletes from around the world re-enact ancient games in Nemea



Fifty-five days before the Games begin in Rio de Janeiro, athletes from around the world are taking part in very different kind of sporting tournament in southern Greece.

Think of it as the no-frills Olympics: No national teams. No medals. No shoes.

Wearing only white tunics and running barefoot, athletes competed Saturday in the Sixth Modern Nemean Games, a partial revival of ancient Greek games which draws enthusiastic participants aged from 5 to 89.

The races, run in age categories, only include a 90-meter sprint on a straight dirt course at a 2,300-year-old stadium and 7.5-kilometer run through fabled olive groves and vineyards in the area, where in ancient Greek mythology Hercules – god of strength, sport and fertility – slayed a fearsome lion.

Runners take an oath before competing, and pass through an ancient tunnel to reach the track. A teenage boy, with a red cloak and laurel branch crown on his head, sounds a long horn before each race.

Overnight rain delayed the games for 90 minutes and caused some runners to slip in the mud during races.

Irish runner Andrew Fortune stayed on his feet to win the print in his age group. A white ribbon was tied behind his head and his feet were cooled in a copper basin.

«It was amazing to come into these games. The tunnel was phenomenal,» the 42-year-old said, still slightly out of breath. «The track was very muddy today.

One guy tripped beside me but the feet are good and the race is won. It was a great experience — the right way to run Instead of a starting gun, track officials used a mechanism copied from antiquity: a wood-and-rope starting gate that drops to the ground when the race begins. Runners pick numbered blocks of marble out of a metal drum at random to be assigned their lane.

The Nemean Games were revived by an American archaeologist who first came to Nemea in southern Greece in 1973.

Stephen G. Miller, professor emeritus of classical archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, led the excavation when the ancient site still lay buried beneath a highway and vineyards used by raisin farmers.

Near the southern city of Corinth, Nemea is steeped in ancient history. The 2,300-year-old Temple of Zeus stands next to the track and a museum built at the site.

Miller and his team unearthed the temple and stadium, one of the four major sites where Ancient Greek games were held: Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea.

The 74-year-old has led the games at Nemea since 1996, a lower-key, more egalitarian affair than the Olympics, in which athletes engage in the no-prize competition with a relatively small but dedicated following.

The games attract a mix of Greek and overseas travelers and tourists, history lovers, fitness enthusiasts and school trips. The tunics, held tight with a piece of rope, could be mistaken for hospital gowns and are color-coded: White for athletes, black for track officials, and yellow, green or light blue for other organizers.

Miller, in yellow, manned the entrance, checking the names of athletes as they entered the games area.

Giving an ancient site a little modern significance, he says, encourages people to learn.

«Im an archaeologist. And what I do is greatly satisfying – to be the first person to see what was made by an ancient Greek 2,300 years ago. But that’s self-satisfaction. What does that mean for our society? Nothing,» he told the AP in an interview during an interval at the games.

«I think here with our games, [people] will learn with physical contact – with the same stones and the same earth that the ancient Greeks touched. I hope they will be inspired to read a little history, to learn something about ancient Greek athletics and through ancient Greek athletics to learn about ancient Greece.»

Ancient games, held over roughly 1,000 years, were of major significance in Greece, pausing wars between rival city states so that hostilities would not interfere with the competition.

Unlike the ancient games and the Aug. 5-21 Rio Olympics, Miller said, Nemea is open to everybody.

«We don’t rival the Olympic games. We supplement the Olympic games. Weextend the experience of the Olympic spirit to everybody,» he said.

«You don’t have to be a great athlete as you do in the Olympics. You can be a common person. You can walk down the track instead of running. But you are part of ancient history.»


Scientists decipher purpose of mysterious astronomy tool made by ancient Greeks


Inscriptions on Antikythera Mechanism suggests it was mechanical computer used to track sun, moon

Fragments of the 2,100-year-old Antikythera Mechanism are displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens. For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the Antikythera Mechanism — named after the southern Greek island off which it was found — was a tantalizing puzzle.

Fragments of the 2,100-year-old Antikythera Mechanism are displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, in Athens. For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the Antikythera Mechanism — named after the southern Greek island off which it was found — was a tantalizing puzzle. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

When you’re trying to fathom a mangled relic of very old hi-tech, it helps to have the manufacturer’s instructions.

For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the Antikythera Mechanism — named after the southern Greek island off which it was found — was a tantalizing puzzle.

From a few words deciphered on the twisted, corroded fragments of bronze gears and plates, experts guessed it was an astronomical instrument. But much more remained hidden out of sight.


After more than a decade’s efforts using cutting-edge scanning equipment, an international team of scientists has now read about 3,500 characters of explanatory text — a quarter of the original — in the innards of the 2,100-year-old remains. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

They say it was a kind of philosopher’s guide to the galaxy, and perhaps the world’s oldest mechanical computer.

«Now we have texts that you can actually read as ancient Greek, what we had before was like something on the radio with a lot of static,» said team member Alexander Jones, a professor of the history of ancient science at New York University.

«It’s a lot of detail for us because it comes from a period from which we know very little about Greek astronomy and essentially nothing about the technology, except what we gather from here,» he said. «So these very small texts are a very big thing for us.»

Eclipse predictions

The team says the mechanism was a calendar of the sun and the moon that showed the phases of the moon, the position of the sun and the moon in the zodiac, the position of the planets, and predicted eclipses. Nothing of the sort was known to be made for well over 1,000 years.

Greece Ancient Computer

University of Athens professor Xenophon Moussas speaks behind a possible reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism during a press conference in Athens, on June 9. The team says the mechanism was a calendar of the sun and the moon that showed the phases of the moon, the position of the sun and the moon in the zodiac, the position of the planets, and predicted eclipses. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

«It was not a research tool, something that an astronomer would use to do computations, or even an astrologer to do prognostications, but something that you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos,» Jones said. «It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment.»

«I would see it as more something that might be a philosopher’s instructional device.»

The letters — some just 1.2 millimeters (1/20 of an inch) tall — were engraved on the inside covers and visible front and back sections of the mechanism, which originally had the rough dimensions of an office box-file, was encased in wood and operated with a hand-crank.


While hypotheses were made as to the functioning of the gears and the use of the machine, it was for long impossible to read more than a few hundred characters of the texts buried on the inside of a multi-layered mechanism a bit like a big clock. (Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

It wasn’t quite a manual, more like a long label you would get on a museum to describe a display, according to another team member, Mike Edmunds, who is an emeritus professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University.

«It’s not telling you how to use it, it says `what you see is such and such,’ rather than `turn this knob and it shows you something,»‘ he said Thursday, during a presentation of the team’s findings in Athens.

Found in shipwreck

The mechanism’s fragments were raised in 1901 from a mid-1st century B.C. shipwreck, and at first seemed like a scruffy footnote to a magnificent body of finds that included bronze and marble statues, luxury glassware and ceramics.

But the sediment-encrusted, compacted lumps soon attracted scientific attention, and were studied by successive teams over the next decades. While hypotheses were made as to the functioning of the gears and the use of the machine, it was for long impossible to read more than a few hundred characters of the texts buried on the inside of a multi-layered mechanism a bit like a big clock.

Greece Roman Wreck

A diver with a metal detector holds a copper ship’s fitting next to a vase at the site of the Antikythera wreck off the island of Antikythera in southern Greece, where the mechanism’s fragments were raised in 1901. (Brett Seymour/ARGO via Greek Culture Ministry/Associated Press)

About 12 years ago, Jones’ and Edmunds’ team started to use x-ray scanning and imaging technology to analyze the 82 surviving fragments.

«The original investigation was intended to see how the mechanism works, and that was very successful,» Edmunds said. «What we hadn’t realized was that the modern techniques that were being used would allow us to read the texts much better both on the outside of the mechanism and on the inside than was done before.»

It was a painstaking process, as to read each of the tiny letters, researchers had to look at dozens of scans.

Not a toy

Edmunds said the style of the text — formal and detailed — implied that it was designed to be much more than a rich collector’s plaything.

«It takes it to me out of the realm of executive toys — an executive wouldn’t pay all that money to have all that waffle — it’s more serious than a toy,» he said.

Greece Ancient Computer

«Perhaps, at some point, our reading may be fleshed out by sections retrieved from the sea,» said team member Yanis Bitsakis, speaking behind a possible reconstruction of the device at a news conference on June 9. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

It was probably made in Greece between 200 and 70 B.C., although no maker’s signature has been found.

The team says they have read practically all the text on the surviving fragments. Their greatest hope is that archaeologists currently revisiting the shipwreck will uncover pieces overlooked by the sponge divers who found it a century ago — or even another similar mechanism.

The commercial vessel was a giant of the ancient world — at least 40 meters (130 feet) long — and broke into two as it sank, settling on a steep underwater slope about 50 meters (164 feet) deep.

Most of the inscriptions, and at least 20 gears that worked to display the planets, are still there.

«Perhaps, at some point, our reading may be fleshed out by sections retrieved from the sea,» said team member Yanis Bitsakis.


Stone age Aegean Sea migrants brought agriculture to Europe



Stone Age people from the Aegean Sea region moved into central and southern Europe some 8,000 years ago and introduced agriculture to a continent still dominated at the time by hunter-gatherers, scientists say.

The findings are based on genetic samples from ancient farming communities in Germany, Hungary and Spain. By comparing these with ancient genomes found at sites in Greece and northwest Turkey, where agriculture was practiced centuries earlier, researchers were able to draw a genetic line linking the European and Aegean populations.

The study challenges the notion that farming simply spread from one population to another through cultural diffusion. The findings were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Joachim Burger, one of the study’s authors, said genetic analyses of the samples showed that the ancient farmers in central Europe and Spain were more closely related to the Aegean group than to each other. This suggests that farmers came in two separate waves – northward into the continent and westward along the coastline to Spain.

«One is the Balkan route and one is the Mediterranean route, as we know it also from migration of today,» said Burger, an anthropologist and population geneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

Researchers were also able to deduce some characteristics of the ancient Aegean farmers based on their DNA, he said. They were relatively fair-skinned with dark eyes and didn’t yet have the genes necessary to digest milk after childhood – a trait that only developed in Europe later.

The Aegean farmers also appeared to be closely related to Oetzi the Iceman, whose well-preserved remains were found on a glacier on the border between Austria and Italy.

Finally, by comparing the ancient samples to those of modern-day Europeans, the scientists found that the ancient farmers weren’t their direct ancestors. These ancestors also include the hunter-gatherers, who eventually mixed with the newcomers and a third population thought to have arrived in Europe from the eastern steppes about 5,000 years ago.

An expert not involved with the study said it was «solid and well done,» but cautioned that some of its conclusions were based on limited data.

«Small statistical effects might be [a] fluke,» said Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Potsdam, Germany.

But the insight into Europe’s Stone Age migration offered by the study was valuable, Hofreiter said.

«It adds to our knowledge about human history. And I think it is always valuable to replace speculation by factual evidence,» he said.

Burger said researchers will now investigate whether the Aegean farmers can be linked directly to populations further southeast in the Fertile Crescent stretching from Syria to southwest Iran, where agriculture is known to have first emerged more than 10,000 years ago.

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Is this Greek hilltop the 2,400-year-old burial place of Aristotle?


Greek archaeologist ‘almost certain’ he has discovered the long-sought tomb of world’s greatest philosopher

Aristotle tomb Stagira
The site in Stagira, Macedonia, in northern Greece, is near what would have been the ancient city’s main square. Photograph: PR

Greek archaeologists believe they have discovered the lost tomb of Aristotle, the greatest philosopher in history.

Kostas Sismanidis said he was almost sure that a 2,400 year-old domed vault he unearthed in ancient Stagira was the burial place of the man credited with formalising logic.

 Aristotle. Photograph: Alamy

“I have no hard proof, but strong indications lead me to almost certainty,” said Sismanidis.

Archaeologists have been working painstakingly at the site – the philosopher’s birthplace in 384 BC in the Greek region of Macedonia – for 20 years.

Sismanidis was due to give further details at a world congress in northern Greece of scholars specialised in Aristotle’s work. He said the architecture and location of the tomb, close to Stagira’s ancient square and with panoramic views, supported the belief that it was the philosopher’s final resting place.

Although few of Aristotle’s works have survived, two literary sources – a mainstay for archaeological discovery – suggest that the people of Stagira may have transferred his ashes from Chalcis on the island of Euboea (Chalkida on Evia today) where he is known to have died in 322 BC.

The vault, which has a square marble floor dating from Hellenistic times, appears to have been hurriedly constructed with an altar outside. Coins dated to Alexander the Great and ceramics from royal pottery were also found.

The claim was welcomed by Greece’s culture ministry; a senior aide to the minister, Aristides Baltas, said the academic community was awaiting further details.

“A team of independent archaeologists with no connection to a particular school or department have been working at the site,” the official told the Guardian. “What we know is that their excavation has been meticulous and we await further details with great anticipation.”

Plato’s star pupil, Aristotle was enrolled at the court of ancient Macedonia as the tutor of Alexander the Great. He thereafter travelled around the Aegean and Asia Minor before returning to Athens where he founded his own school, the Lyceum, in 335 BC.

An aerial view of the dig site.
An aerial view of the dig site. Photograph: PR

Remains of that complex were accidentally unearthed in 1996 during construction work for a site then earmarked for a new museum of modern art. From under the unpaved parking lot the fabled Lyceum emerged, replete with a central courtyard and wrestling area, or palaestra.

Northern Greece has been the scene of several discoveries, though not all of them have been well received. In 2014, amid great fanfare, a tomb initially believed to be the long-sought burial place of Alexander the Great was found in Amphipolis, also in central Macedonia.

Scholars subsequently agreed it was not related to the Macedonian warrior king, with many accusing authorities of deliberately overplaying the discovery to distract Greeks at a time of economic and social hardship.

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Rare copy of Aristotle’s De animalibus to be auctioned for first time in 125 years


The 15th-century edition of the Greek philosopher’s examination of zoology has not been up for sale since 1891 and is estimated to fetch up to $500,000

A page from a rare edition of Aristotle’s De animalibus which will be auctioned at Bonhams in New York on 8 June.
A page from a rare edition of Aristotle’s De animalibus which will be auctioned at Bonhams in New York on 8 June. Photograph: Bonhams

The rediscovery of a 15th-century illuminated edition of Aristotle’s De animalibus (On Animals) in Tennessee late last year was “pretty incredible”, said Christina Geiger, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams auction house in New York. Not only is the book an “incunable” – printed before 1501, when the ink was still wet on moveable type – but this deluxe copy was printed on vellum, or animal skin. Only one other copy exists and it belongs to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 BC, was a keen observer of natural history, and the three texts that comprise De animalibus reveal his aptitude for zoology, physiology, and embryology; he describes more than 500 species. He explains, for example, the development of a chick embryo and makes astute deductions about the anatomy of marine animals, such as whales, dolphins, octopi, and crustaceans that have been called “remarkably accurate”. Even paper copies of this edition of De animalibus are scarce; only three have come to auction since 1978.
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An invitation from Pope Nicholas V prompted a new Latin translation of the book by Greek scholar and refugee Theodore Gaza, printed in Venice by John of Cologne and John Manthen in 1476. The auctioneers believe that Gaspare da Padova is the artist responsible for the volume’s decorative initials and borders painted in gold and various colors. A handful of special vellum copies were probably produced for sponsors. Only one was thought to have survived before this recent finding.

Bonhams will offer the Renaissance-era rarity at auction in New York on 8 June. It is estimated to fetch $300,000 to $500,000.

The book last surfaced at auction on 5 March 1891, when American publisher and book collector William Evarts Benjamin purchased it for $850. “We don’t know if he sold it or kept it,” said Geiger. “We checked all of his catalogues over at the Grolier Club and we checked his archives at Columbia and couldn’t find a reference to it. But he’s listed as the buyer in 1891, and then it just fell off the map completely.”

No proof of the volume’s existence appears in the Census of 15th Century Books Owned in America published in 1919. The consignors’ grandmother acquired the book before 1964. The family retains letters between her and a librarian she contacted to make inquiries. “Those intervening years are a big question mark,” said Geiger.

“Part of what’s interesting for me is that if that sale in 1891 had been just a few years later, [De animalibus] probably would have been bought by Huntington or Morgan or one of the great collectors of incunables in America, but it was just a little bit too early.”

Geiger’s research turned up a long line of distinguished ownership before that 1891 sale, beginning with Luigi Serra, fourth Duke of Cassano (1747-1825). It then moved through the hands of bookseller James Edwards to Sir Mark Masterman-Sykes, the famed nineteenth-century book collector, who had it re-bound in red morocco gilt. His coat of arms still embellishes the binding.

It was while De animalibus was in Sir Mark’s collection that the well-known English bibliophile TF Dibdin had the opportunity to see it. He recorded his impression in his Bibliographical Decameron (1817): “Yet how can I omit to mention, with the distinction which it merits, the very beautiful, if not matchless, copy of Theodore Gaza’s Latin version of Aristotle upon Animals, of the date of 1476, in folio, UPON VELLUM, from the press of John of Cologne – of which my friend Sir MM Sykes is the fortunate possessor?! If my memory be not treacherous, this is the most exquisite specimen of an early Venetian vellum book that I have ever seen.”

Geiger said: “This is that very copy, almost exactly 200 years later,. You could probably go back and find out when he was at Sykes’ home. I haven’t gone back that deep, but [Dibdin’s] book was published in 1817, so here we are in 2016 and [De animalibus] is in the same condition. That’s the other thing. For a book that fell through the cracks, it didn’t get run over. It’s just in beautiful condition.”

Other 19th-century owners of the volume include English publisher and bookseller William Pickering, Sir John Hayford Thorold, bookseller and collector Bernard Quaritch, and American railway tycoon and banker Brayton Ives.

The Vatican Library holds a manuscript version of Gaza’s translation. Pope Nicholas V, founder of what would become the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, didn’t live to see the final product of his commission. Instead, this edition was dedicated to Pope Sixtus IV.

Rebecca Rego Barry


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The Ancient Theatre of Larissa Opens its Doors to the Public

One of the best preserved ancient theatres, the Ancient Theatre of Larissa dated back to the 3rd century BC, opened its doors to the public. Following Larissa Antiquities Ephorate decision, the theatre will be open for visitors every day from 10.00-13.00 with free entrance. The Ancient Theatre of Larissa is one of the best preserved and larger theatres of the ancient world that could host approximately 12.000 spectators. The visitors will have access to the area of the orchestra and the stage. However, the seats and the other areas of the theatre will not be accessible because they are under restoration.

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