Bulldozers raze the past

When the bulldozers moved in they paid no heed to the animals and birds that had found refuge there, nor to the international treaties protecting the area as a unique ecosystem, nor even the ancient cemetery that had been there for at least 25 centuries. They swept everything away in their wake, and no one appeared willing to stop them. The scene of this crime was the beleaguered Almyri Limni (Salt Lake, or lagoon) in the municipality of Abdera, in the northern prefecture of Xanthi. A shallow wetland, geomorphologically a part of the system of lakes and marshes linking Lake Vistonida with the Nestos River delta, it is protected by the Ramsar Convention as a sanctuary for rare birds. On Almyri’s southern and western shores lie dense clusters of tombs dating from the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Recently, this newspaper reported at length on illegal attempts to build homes on the wetland by getting illegal permits from the Xanthi zoning office. This practice, which began in 1997 and is still continuing, has had a dramatic effect on the ecosystem. Meanwhile, according to sources at the Komotini antiquities department, works in the area over the years have caused irreparable damage to the ancient cemetery. They say that in 1995, in response to applications regarding the suitability for housing of the fields in the wetland, the department had pointed out that this was a protected area and that because of the antiquities there, any work would have to be monitored. Yet this did not happen, except in a few isolated cases, so that many antiquities, chiefly tombs, were lost for ever. In 1997, the contractor who had undertaken most of the work in the area covered two tombs with earth while building a new road south of the marsh, naturally without informing the archaeology service. The Komotini antiquities department said the graves had been visible from the surface. It would have been impossible for the excavators not to have seen them. In August 2000, due to more illegal excavation at Psila Vourla, where there are many tombs, buildings and other antiquities, a large ancient structure was destroyed. The head of the antiquities in the area, Dina Kalintzi, was an eyewitness. «I was passing by the site on an inspection when I saw the earth-moving equipment destroying a large ancient structure. It was a grave, a stone structure about 3.5 meters wide. The works were, of course, illegal.»