Workshop on Dion findings

Today we had yet another long day of workshop and discussions with three objectives in mind: 1) to share our findings from Dion, 2) to further work on specifying each group’s proposal, and 3) to update each team’s questionnaire for use in the final site that we were to visit the next day, Pella.

The atmosphere was yet again tense. Perhaps students started sensing that the end was near and that their ideas had to be much more specific than they had originally thought. Group dynamics also seemed to shift and tremble as discussions became heated and some participants started feeling more intensely the challenges of collaborative work. How far can ideas be expanded? How much agreement exists or needs to exist within the team? Does everyone need to work on the same task? If there are no alternative suggestions, why cannot we all agree on a common goal? …and the like, were probably questions that arose in students’ minds during this day. Again, to save time, thanks to our TAs’ assistance, lunch was ordered and eaten on site.

This day’s proposal presentations however were much better than in Vergina, perhaps mirroring the attitude of the community in Dion, which in general terms seemed to have expressed more positive feelings towards the site. Each team also showed awareness of key issues, often summarized in the form of keywords that kept appearing in their speeches: representation of the community, memories of the site, accessibility for everyone, free will of the residents, the unique feeling of archaeological discoveries, the importance of the quality of information available. The next step was to present these ideas in an as much realizable format as possible; in other words, to write up a kind of funding application that would convince stakeholders of the worth of each proposal. This would be the objective of the last two days of workshop that were planned after our return from Pella.

 

 

Field research in Dion

On the 23rd, we departed early in the morning from Thessaloniki on the route to Mount Olympus and the archaeological site of Dion. Today and the day after tomorrow, we knew we would only have one day to visit the sites in the morning and conduct our interviews in the afternoon. Mind sets had therefore to be wired to absorb as much information as possible and ask as specific questions as possible to the different stakeholders in a shorter period of time. The teams for fieldwork were announced in the bus, and thanks to our beloved portable printer, we could print out the questionnaires from each proposal group to handed them out to each group member, who would have to work with different partners on the interviews. (In the picture below on the right, green are the teams interviewing residents, grey are the teams interviewing site employees, orange are those interviewing shop owners and purple are those questioning visitors. On the lest are the final proposal presentation teams)

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Our day started with a thorough but quick visit of the sacred city of Dion itself and of the museum later on. Our guide, Ms Benaki, provided very succinct and clear explanations of the geographical significance of Dion, referring to its location on the narrow piece of land that connects central and northern Greece, between Mt Olympus and the Aegean sea. The site had definitely a different air to it. As a sacred city of temples (and later Christian churches), Dion had developed a complex system of infrastructure to host pilgrims, tourists and other kind of visitors of the ancient world. The site was also distinguished because of the presence of water, which during the winter would result in the flooding of parts of the remains, giving the area a different aesthetic to that of the larger towns of Aigai and Pella in the north. The museum housed mosaics found in a very good state, as well as one of the oldest remaining version of an hydraulis, a water organ. Another item that caught our students’ attention was a device that allowed sculptors to copy busts or other types of small scale sculptures. Our visit ended with the watching of a short video of Dion’s satellite exposition at the Onassis Culture Center in New York, which had just ended this past July. The video was particularly interesting because it showed in detail the methods used to transport ancient and precious artifacts over long distances.

After a quick lunch we were back in the annex of the museum for a lecture (interpreted from Greek to English by Prof Papadopoulou) by the archaeologist Maria Iatrou, and in the presence of the vice-mayor of Olympus-Litochoro, Mr Kalaitzis. The lecture, titled “Case‐study: Ancient Dion. Interaction of the Archaeological Site with the Local Communities and the Role of Public Administration,” introduced the history of the site in the modern period and how it had been affected by changes in local administrative boundaries over the years. Particularly informative was also the description of activities aiming at involving the local community and bringing more visitors to the area, which, contrary to Vergina, is fairly difficult to expand further because the modern village is squeezed between the mountain and the remains of ancient Dion. Following the lecture a relatively extended Q&A session was held and revealed similar challenges as to those witnessed in Vergina, although the scale of the issues was perhaps smaller.

Straight after the lecture students were given about 3 hours to conduct their interviews, before we met back in front of the entrance of Dion for a quick tour of the ancient theatre, which marked the end of another very long day.

2-day workshop at AUTh camp

On August 21 and 22, workshops were held at the lecture room of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s summer camp with two objectives: 1) to start looking for original ideas that could form the basis of the final proposals, and 2) to consider what information will students need to gather from the next two sites, Dion and Pella.

The morning session started with two fundamental advices from the organizers. First, students were asked to overcome the “not enough”-problem based frame of mind. In other words they were asked not to try to come up with ideas that would fill in the gaps observed in the current state of affairs at each site, but to devise proposals that make the most of the current situation as it is today. Secondly, our findings from our interview with the director of the museum of Aigai was shared with the students, and functioned as a reminder from the pre-course education sessions, that there are various stakeholders, as well as approaches, involved in any eventual plan to strengthen the public archaeological value of a site.

On the first day of the workshop, students were asked to make a mind map around two or three ideas that have the potential of not being just “not enough”-based ideas from their presentations on Vergina. The mind map was to include several factors that they would need to think about when drafting a proposal based on those ideas, as well as explanations about where these ideas came from and why. This process, called “thick description” (a term borrowed from anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books, 1973) took expectedly a long time, but the presentations of the mind maps allowed everyone to share suggestions for improvement and to push the boundaries of what is believed to be an original idea. Also, worth of note is that in this workshop students were grouped together in such a way that the new teams were composed of members who had interviewed different stakeholders in Vergina (hence were aware of different points of view) but held ideas that were somehow similar.

 

 

After the presentations and a brief lunch, the workshop continued with students asked to revise and/or specify some of their ideas, and start working on the questions they would need to ask in Dion, based on these new proposals. One group was split into two in order to allow them to select ideas they are interested in, and a new group was formed, in order to share the balance of work between participants.

At the end of this first day of workshops, we had the chance to visit another archaeological site nearby; a visit that further changed perhaps the way students think of archaeology. Professor Papadopoulou had indeed arranged for a guided tour of the nearly abandoned temple of Poseidon located near the camp. The tour was held in English by a local sculptor, Mr Magiras, who was born and raised in the region and who had published extensively on some of the archaeological findings of the area. Apart from the fascinating exegesis on the structure of the old temple of Poseidon, students were struck by the state of abandonment of the site, and of course by the lack of signage and other kind of promotion of the location for eventual visitors. These observations revealed the budgetary difficulties of the state to protect and develop every historical finding located on Greek ground, as well as the ensuing plight that some sites are in. Does a public archaeology for such archaeological remains exist?

After a brief detour from the beach, and dinner, we were all warmly invited to a small singing performance organized by the local workers of the camp, where a lot of dancing ensued.

The next day, we were back at the lecture room for a talk by professor Tokmakidis on Dion and Pella, the two archaeological sites we planned to visit the following days, and for more work on the questionnaires that each team needed to write up and share with each other. At the end of the day each student was asked which category of the four stakeholders (except for the one already interviewed in Vergina) he/she would like to question in Dion, and mostly based on these preferences, new mixed teams were built for the next day’s field research.

By 7pm we had all packed our belongings and were ready to return to Thessaloniki for another week of exciting activities and learning opportunities!

 

Vergina presentations, Veroia, and arrival at AUTh camp

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.

Field research in Vergina: a very long day…

Today we met at 9.30 in front of the museum of Aigai. Students were split in mixed teams and asked to use the questionnaires built and revised collaboratively during the pre-course education sessions to interview the four types of stakeholders: visitors of the site, site employees, shop owners, and local residents. The number of teams was decided based on the estimated number of each type of stakeholder and announced at the end of the previous day. For example, considering the popularity of Aigai, four teams were asked to interview visitors, whereas only one team was assigned the site employees. Also, some of the teams, depending on the availability of internet connection, filled up the questionnaires online, while others worked the old way, with pen and paper. Although the main purpose was to conduct interviews, of course the implied objective was to also observe the area and the behavior of people in and around the site. One of the teams entrusted with interviewing the visitors chose to actually observe how visitors experience the museum and noted down their reactions to each artifact, before moving on to interviewing them. This later gave birth to a very interesting proposal, although it took quite a long time to frame it appropriately.

In the meantime, we, the organizers of the program, had the chance to listen to the explanations and opinions of the director of the museum, Aggeliki Kottaridi, who, despite her very busy schedule, agreed to spare one hour to discuss the challenges that someone in her position faces every day.

After a quick lunch, when all teams were asked about the status of their research and their first impressions, the students went back to make more interviews, before we meet again in late afternoon, to walk back to one of our guest houses for a workshop that asked students to prepare for their presentations to be given the next morning.

The workshop asked students to simultaneously work on two tasks: share and analyze their data with other teams who worked with the same category of stakeholders, and suggest some ideas for strengthening the public archaeological value of the site of Aigai. The next day’s presentations were to include a team presenting data from each category of stakeholders, followed by proposals by each field research team, followed by feedback from the the vice-mayor, the archaeologist, Mr Grekos, local high school children and residents.

As almost always in GSP programs, the workshop went well over time. We were lucky that the TAs arranged for us to have dinner delivered so that we could use our time most effectively. Eventually, we were practically “thrown out” at 11.30pm by the owner of the guest house who wanted to go to sleep…

Aigai, the first gate to the Macedonian kingdom

The next day, we packed a smaller bag with enough clothes for the next four nights, checked temporarily out of the hotel we were staying in Thessaloniki, and got on the bus of AUTh to the first field-research location: the archaeological site of Aigai and the village of Vergina.

Aigai has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, nominated for its “outstanding universal value representing an exceptional testimony to a significant development in European civilization, at the transition from classical city-state to the imperial structure of the Hellenistic and Roman periods” (from UNESCO’s HP). Although the Palace was closed down for visitors during out stay in Vergina, our three-hour guided visit of the museum, from 11.00 to 14.00, will remain for many reasons unforgettable.

The visit started at the entrance of the museum’s compound, with Yiannis Grekos our archaeologist-guide, talking about the symbolism (between Homeric and Athenian worldviews) of the location, the historical significance of this period of Antiquity (4th century B.C.) and the extraordinary murals that were found here and which show the earliest traces of many art techniques, such as  the use of (graphic) perspective. Grekos’ lecture was about the pre-historical value of myths and the importance of memory and symposium in Ancient Greece.

He also explained the concept of the museum which is housed under the biggest tumulus (12m height, 100 m width), and which is purposed to offer not information, but an experience: that of the underworld. The museum was indeed very dark, in order also to protect some of the very sensitive artifacts such as textiles and ivory. Even though the museum had become quite crowded by the time we reached the famous tomb of Philip the 2nd, the sight of it was breathtaking, and I am not probably the only one to have thought that at that moment all I wanted to do is to just look at it, in silence. (photos from inside the museum can be accessed on its website.)

 

After the long guided tour inside the museum, we walked through the village of Vergina to an area where an estimated 600 tombs are still expecting to be unearthed. This, we were told, will take place during an open excavation project that will target one tomb per year, “so there is still work in Aigai for many generations to come,” emphasized Grekos in his last explanations. After a brief lunch at a local restaurant, we all checked in at three different guest houses of the village, and then moved, with the bus, to the new museum building that has just been completed outside of the village, and which will open to the public next year.

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At the new museum took place three talks: one by Giannis Grekos, one by the vice-mayor of Vergina, and one by Professor Papadopoulou (on Policies and Programs involving Heritage and Tourism). The talks were punctuated by long question and answer sessions that lasted until early in the evening. The vice-mayor’s speech (interpreted from Greek by Professor Papadopoulou) introduced some of the challenges that were to occupy our students’ minds for the rest of the program, and also inspired several questions addressed to both the vice-mayor and Mr Grekos, who revealed even more of these challenges: the expectations of the local residents for financial gains associated with the presence of an archaeological site, the lack of long-term master plans to develop the area by the local authorities, the gap of awareness about the value of the site between archaeologists and the local community, the lack of local initiatives, the politics on the prefectural level, the obligations imposed upon the site by UNESCO, the generation-gap issues between those who knew of the site before it became famous and the school pupils who visit it as part of their education, the zoning of land use by archaeological authorities which come into conflict with local farming activities, the disadvantages of transport and of having Thessaloniki nearby, the disinterest from the private sector to invest in the area and the lack of overnight stays, the need to advertise more and find perhaps an added value (in the form of wine-tasting, for example) to a visit of the archaeological site of Vergina, etc.

Needless to say the discussion became perhaps heated at times, but was a very good way to invite participants to consider the challenges of public archaeology directly in conversation with those implicated with these matters in their daily lives. A lot of raw information for very keen ears.

Our first day in Vergina ended in an extremely appropriate manner: a second visit to the museum and a late night concert on the museum grounds, with contemporary songs by a local archaeologist and artist, whose performance, with the great tumulus in the background and the full moon in the sky, reminded perhaps of another time and place.

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Orientation, lectures and “culture”

The first day of the program started with an early morning walk through the city to Aristotle University’s Research Dissemination Center, where, first, Professor Tokmakidis officially opened the program with a summary of this year’s contents and a brief talk on the significance of taking notes, expressing ideas and focussing not only on criticism of the status quo but also on constructive suggestions. Followed a presentation of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki by Professor Papadopoulou who finished with a few words she borrowed from the speech of the mayor of Ichinomiya, during last year’s GSP: “change can only come from the young, the strangers and the simple-minded.” The morning orientation ended with an explanation of the characteristics of GSP and of the objectives of the program this year by Chiba U staff. Emphasis was given on what we mean by collaborativity and what are the challenges associated with it.

AUTh had prepared for us a series of surprises: a badge for each student, with the first name written in Greek (for Chiba U students) or in Japanese (for AUTh students), and a bag with plenty of useful stationery, including a clipping board that was to be cherished throughout the program, eventually filled on the last day with messages and signatures from other fellow students. Also, we were joined by three participants from last year’s GSP, Evgenia, Anastasia and Xanthi, who were to be the teaching assistants of this year’s program (despite the fact that they all had already graduated and at least one of them was working full time, thus using her yearly holidays to help with the program). The TAs already surprised us with their initiatives: they had prepared a diary with each student’s name that they would distribute to students everyday and collect back throughout the two weeks. At the end of the program, they were planning to make a presentation based on these diary entries, which revealed themselves to be quite interesting and, some of them, unique in their own way.

 

The orientation session was followed by the lecture of Professor Thoidou, who had kindly also taken part in the program two years ago with a fascinating talk on the development of the seafront of Thessaloniki. This year, Professor Thoidou’s lecture, “Culture and Local Development: Sustainability and Creativity Approaches”, considered the role of culture in evaluating the territorial potential of a locality under development. The lecture introduced three models of the relationship between culture and sustainable development, which were to have a big impact in the way students came to conceptualize their proposals at the end of the program. In fact, some students replaced in their final presentations “culture” with “archaeological site”, using the venn diagrams shown below.

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Lunch was also a surprise. Professor Papadopoulou had arranged for the members of the Agios Antonios’ Women’s Co-operative that we had visited two years ago to come and offer us some of their local and freshly cooked products, of which the pies remain an unforgettable dish. During the break, the vice-chancellor of AUTh also made a visit and greeted us, wishing the best for the two weeks to come.

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The afternoon started with the cultural presentations prepared by teams of students from each university. The tone was mostly serious as students had to keep the time limit of 10 minutes in mind, but all went well in the end, and we had the chance to discover some interesting facets of each other’s contemporary societies.

 

Following the presentations, we held a short workshop so that students start getting used to working in groups, trying out their cross-cultural communication skills, and attempting to use ideas from the cultural presentations to think already about eventual public archaeology proposals. This was made possible by an exercise that started before the cultural presentations, as shown in the slides below.

It was a very long day and a long walk back (although we had the time to check on the location of the local laundromat). After a very brief meeting outside the hotel, the day was over and students took the time to discover the city.

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