We all set off from our respective guest houses in the early morning and walked to the new museum’s auditorium for the scheduled presentations. There was undoubtedly a feeling of tension coupled with tiredness among the participants, who seemed anxious to present their findings for the first time in this program. Indeed some students had continued working on the powerpoint files well after the end of the workshop the previous night. The program had only just started, but I could feel already the diligence, zeal (but also frustration) that testified of the degree to which students were already engaged with the topic.
The presentations progressed exactly according to the schedule. After a quick explanation of the general trends that could be read out of the data gathered the previous day (13 site employees, 47 visitors, 25 residents and 14 shop owners), each team identified key issues and suggested their proposals for improving the local situation. Some of these ideas became the origin of the more specific proposals presented on the last day of the program: the holding of a live show with local cast, the building of a satellite museum, the use of augmented reality technology to help visitors with disabilities to experience the museum artifacts, the promotion of volunteer programs, the need for an interactive map and the need to involve more residents in the excavations and recent archaeological findings.
The feedback was often useful because it allowed us to find out more about whether some of the measures already implemented by the archaeological site were known or not known to the public. A key comment by archaeologist, Mr Grekos, was that information comes in stages. The problem was that it seemed difficult to control at which stage the different stakeholders were at. Interviews also confirmed other significant facts: the gap of information between the site employees who worked inside the museum and those who worked outside, the feeling by local residents and shop owners that the site has not been sufficiently developed and promoted by the local authorities (a feeling that sometimes paradoxically contrasted with the absence of local initiatives), and the serious problem of local public transport.
During the last general feedback session, residents also expressed their dissatisfaction with the upholding of their lands for archaeological excavations for several decades without compensation or further action, and with dire effects on the local agricultural economy. Here we had finally touched on a key factor in considering public archaeology: the equation “archaeological site = economic benefits for the local community” is not necessarily true. What to do?
With this in mind, our field research in Vergina came to an end. The rest of the day was to be spent on the bus, first for a brief tour of the city of Veroia, an important settlement of the Ancient Macedonian kingdom, but also the host of several centuries-old churches that attest of Veroia’s history as one of the earliest Christian centers of the Roman empire.
After Veroia, the bus headed down to the westernmost leg of the peninsula of Chalkidiki where the summer camp of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is located. Here, although it was already late afternoon, we had a quick swim in the sea, before enjoying dinner at the local restaurant, all provided for free thanks to the generosity of our hosts, AUTh.
**update: our activities in Vergina were summarized in a newspaper article written by one of our participants, Giannis Triantafyllidis, a student of Journalism at AUth. Giannis’ article was published in Veriotis.gr.