Experts moving Bronze Age dwellings near rowing center

SCHINIAS – For centuries, the remnants of the ancient homes weathered storms and battles. But they had to make way for the Olympics. Digging carefully through swampy ground by hand, archaeologists dislodged the ruins of 4,000-year-old dwellings in a painstaking relocation project at the site of the 2004 Olympic rowing center. The shifting of two ancient homes – which began Wednesday – was one of the most delicate endeavors by experts in a country where construction plans and antiquity preservation often collide. The rowing center at Schinias, about 28 kilometers (18 miles) northeast of Athens, has been one of the main flashpoints in the preparations for the 2004 Games. Environmental groups and archaeologists strongly oppose building the venue in the area. They claim the facility will endanger birds, fish and a rare species of pine, and will encroach on the site of the 490 BC Battle of Marathon, after which the modern race is named. Olympic organizers and the government insist no harm will come to the delicate marshland ecosystem. They also contend the site was underwater at the time of the Athenians’ famed victory over the Persians at Marathon. The latest tussle came after the discovery of remains of three early Bronze Age dwellings near the start of the planned rowing course. The Central Archaeological Council decided two of them must be moved so the venue construction could proceed. The third site was deemed not in danger from the Olympic works. The remains of the homes will sit only about 10 to 15 meters (33 to 50 feet) from their original sites. But the short move took weeks of preparation. «We dug underneath the foundations by hand, made small holes and poured cement into them. That way we were able to create a cement grid to be lifted by cranes,» said Dimitris Korres, head engineer in charge of moving the antiquities. The weight of the largest house, with the addition of the dried cement, was about 70 tons. The cement platform will remain under the ancient dwellings. After both of the homes are moved and secured, perhaps later this week, work will resume on the rowing center, which has been significantly delayed because of the finds. Plans call for the ancient homes to sit on the banks of the artificial lake to be used for the rowing competition. A walkway will surround the ruins for visitors. Plexiglas may be used to shield them against the weather. «It looks like from 3000 to 2000 BC people were inhabiting this area.. . They lived here to make good use of the.. . fishing (and) hunting,» said Mary Economakou, the head archaeologist in Schinias. Large families could have lived in the homes. They had storage areas outside the dwellings, she said. One theory is that they traded fish or other meat for earthenware with the nearby village of Makaria. Another idea is that the dwellings were summer homes for villagers, said Economakou.