CULTURE

Geometric tomb reported in Crete

?On September 28, 2009, we started excavating for the foundations of our new house in Kavrochori. In the bottom of the pit we suddenly heard a faint, hollow sound and saw a gap in the ground…?

So begins the eloquent blog (http://kavrochori.blogspot.com) recorded by Nikos Psychogyios, a resident of Kavrochori village outside Iraklio, Crete, who unexpectedly had ?one of the most emotional experiences? of his life when he came upon an undisturbed ancient tomb while preparing the ground for his new home. Psychogyios had already waited 17 months for a building permit and was excited at last to see the mechanical digger begin scraping out his new basement. Then, suddenly, less than 2 meters below ground level, the digger?s teeth revealed a small dark cavity in the pale Cretan soil.

Psychogyios could have kept the tomb?s discovery on his property to himself, not informed archaeological authorities, disposed of the burial and its contents himself in some way and continued the construction. If he had listened to his visitors? advice, he would have kept the secret: ?Forget your house and your construction,? ?How unlucky you are,? ?The best thing you can do is dig a pit and dump all that broken stuff inside,? ?You?ll get all mixed up in something… Don?t say anything to anyone and bury it again,? and — most self-centeredly — ?I, my friend, would sell it and secure not only the construction of the house but also my grandchildren?s future.? Psychogyios baulked at such neighborly ?wisdom.? Instead, moved by a sense of responsibility to his own ethics, and to his children for whom he wished to set a good example, Psychogyios chose to report the tomb and preserve a small, valuable piece of his culture?s heritage.

After the crucial phone call to authorities, Psychogyios?s building site temporarily became an archaeological site; and the once-quiet country spot quickly became a hive of activity. Police, archaeologists, neighbors, family members, TV news crews and even school groups of curious children descended on the exposed tomb with its fascinating contents.

Archaeologist-in-charge Antonis Vasilakis, of the Greek Ministry of Culture?s local ephorate, oversaw the careful excavation of the cramped tomb (2.5×1.2 m), which had been hollowed out of the rock. Its original entrance — accessed by a now-infilled channel — was blocked with a large flat stone. Inside the tomb, 82 large and small ceramic vases were found, including four large funerary urns containing human bones. One of these burials belonged to an old warrior, whose characteristic weapon — a bronze spearhead — had been ceremonially ?killed? (bent out of shape) and placed among his cremated remains. Now in Iraklio being conserved and analyzed, the tomb?s artifacts already can be dated approximately, according to Vasilakis, to the Protogeometric period in the 10th century BC. A small museum showcasing the tomb and other local finds is now being considered for Kavrochori village.

In the aftermath of his important discovery and firsthand brush with archaeology, Psychogyios, a high school teacher in Iraklio, has left an evocative personal account of the tomb?s excavation and its significance for him, his family and his fellow citizens. His own words, recorded in his blog, speak for themselves:

?I feel a sincere, heartfelt pride about my decision… but also a particular honor that History chose me for its encounter with our present-day world.

?Our civilization is guided by the ancient civilization and I humbly and simply did my duty to History. I know I took a risk but my conscience wouldn?t allow me to do otherwise.?

The house construction?s brief delay was worth it, Psychogyios writes. He was able to observe and participate in the process of archaeology, documenting its steps and presenting them in an informative, handsomely crafted webpage that serves as a valuable teaching site.

Psychogyios sagely concludes: ?As Carl Rogers, the eminent 20th-century psychologist, wrote in 1959: ?I know that I cannot teach anyone anything. I can, however, create an an atmosphere in which someone might be able to learn something.??

The role of the archaeologist

?The work of the archaeologist is to reveal his discoveries without damaging them. It is an intervention into the past that warrants not only carefulness but also a great love for one?s work and especially a respect for history and the ways of our predecessors.?

Nikos Psychogyios, 2009