CULTURE

Archaeologist Yiannis Sakellarakis — a lifetime devoted to archaeology

President Costis Stephanopoulos has awarded the Gold Cross of Honor to writer Thanassis Valtinos, archaeologist Yiannis Sakellarakis and conductor and composer Dimitris Agrafiotis. Sakellarakis, an archaeologist, writer and professor of prehistoric archaeology at Athens University, did his doctorate at Heidelberg University in 1969-70 and taught for a year in 1970. Director of the Iraklion Museum for 10 years, he carried out the famous excavation at Idaion Antron (the Idaian Cave), funded by then-Prime Minister Constantinos Karamanlis, as he did with Manolis Andronikos at Vergina. They say that once, when Karamanlis was thoroughly annoyed, he said, «Any more of this and I’ll take to the mountains like Sakellarakis.» With his wife, Effi Sapouna-Sakellaraki, also an archaeologist and writer and a PhD in archaeology from Athens University, who worked on important excavations on Evia – at Kymi, where the first Greeks set out for Magna Graecia – for years he shared everything, from a life with Greek color to the Athens Academy Gold Medal for Achanes in 1982, and in 1997 they founded the Achanes Museum. Helbi first met him in 1984 on Psiloritis, surrounded by the shepherds of Anogeia, who had adopted the excavation at Idaion Antron. Mantinades singer Aristidis wrote two verses for him on a flower pot with a basil plant in it. «Whatever you seek in the earth is in your heart.» A journalist for New York Times Magazine found Sakellarakis at the entrance to a cave, and his article «The Secrets of Crete» about Cretan-born Zeus went round the world. Sakellarakis’s book «The Poetry of Excavation» (pub. Ikaros) makes known his thoughts on his tremendous work of excavation. «After so many years’ research,» writes Sakellarakis, «I think that if I leave something to Cretan archaeology it will be precisely the sense of the size of the mountains. The place from which, since Minoan times, every strong feeling – that of freedom and peace too – has sprung. A recompense for all I gained. And I don’t mean the finds any more, because I esteem the feelings of the people of the mountains.» Sakellarakis and his wife continue with their program «Creation of Archaeological Parks on Psiloritis» at Zomintho, a Minoan name that will be written many times in the coming years, «as long as finds with ideas come to light.»