LIFE

Potential lay-offs at Nemea spark response from head archaeologist

By Alex Clapp

The possible dismissal of seven temporary guards from the archaeological site of Ancient Nemea as part of government plans to streamline the Greek civil service, may force the closure of the site, Dr. Stephen G. Miller, director of Nemea excavations, has warned.

In an open letter addressed to the general public recently, Miller lamented the consequences of such a decision, citing Nemea’s importance to ancient Greek culture and the modern Greek tourism industry.

“The firing of seven guards would leave active only three permanent guards, which would not even be sufficient to leave the site and museum open to the public. This means that visitors will now find it closed,” wrote Miller.

In antiquity, the sanctuary at Nemea hosted ancient Greek athletics and poetry competitions once every four years, rotating with Delphi, Isthmia and, most famously, Olympia. Today the site attracts more than 50,000 visitors a year.

Miller, a University of California archaeologist who first began digging at Nemea in 1973, is responsible for uncovering much of what remains of the ancient sanctuary and stadium. He has also spearheaded the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, a movement intended to resurrect the competitive and egalitarian spirit of ancient Greek athletics.

“I always welcomed the chance to use my research as a basis for educational experience,» noted Miller, “one that provided every visitor to Nemea a chance to learn more about their roots in ancient Greece.”

The decision to cut back on security comes at a time when Greece’s understaffed museums have become increasingly vulnerable to thieves and the illegal antiquities trade. An armed robbery last February at the Museum of Ancient Olympia, Nemea’s sister sanctuary, for example, resulted in the theft of 70 ancient artifacts.

“If this [the lay-offs] happens, I will look at myself in the mirror and realize how mindless, how deluded I was. I will have wasted my entire life’s work,” Miller wrote.

Speaking later to Kathimerini English Edition, the archaeologist reiterated these sentiments.

“Forty-five years ago I fell in love with Greece and decided not only to move here, but to devote every ounce of my energy to its excavations. Was that decision ultimately a mistake? We fought hard for what the foreign visitor now sees at Nemea. But when will the Greek state take care to attend to its most valuable possessions – its archaeological parks and museums?”

Online