Experts vote to preserve rowing center antiquities

Antiquities found at the 2004 Olympic rowing center should be saved with a delicate preservation effort that could cause delays in finishing the venue, an archaeological panel decided yesterday. The Central Archaeological Council – whose recommendation was approved by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos – unanimously voted that all of the three foundations of Bronze Age dwellings should be saved. The decision conflicts with an earlier assessment by government archaeologists who deemed the 4,000-year-old finds not significant. Environmental groups and archaeologists had strongly opposed building the rowing center in Schinias, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) northeast of Athens. The council decided two of the finds should be moved several meters while the other can be preserved where it was found. Experts will continue excavations in the area. Venizelos said the council decided to «preserve» a small house and «to the transport on a horizontal axis two other small houses that were found.» George Steinhauer, a top government archaeologist in charge of the excavation, said the relocation work would not disrupt or delay the rowing venue – one of the few 2004 projects ahead of schedule. Transporting the small houses is not difficult, as it has been done several times to save other antiquities, Steinhauer said. «Greece is organizing authentic Olympic Games and has a complete comprehension of the significance of its cultural heritage for itself and humanity,» Venizelos said. The dwellings were uncovered at the edge of one of two lakes being built for rowing events. Critics of the venue claim it 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. Olympics organizers and the government insist no harm will come to the delicate marshland ecosystem. They also say the site was underwater at the time of the Athenians’ famed victory over the Persians at Marathon – a claim challenged by the discoveries. A geologist, Antonios Psilovikos, countered the claim by saying that surveys of shells and various layers of soil show that during the time of the battle, the area was a lagoon. «For a period the water pulled away a little, the houses were built and then the water came back again and covered it,» Psilovikos said. Denis Oswald, the International Olympic Committee official coordinating Athens’s 2004 preparations, has said the dig at the venue has not disrupted construction so far. «It’s on the edge of the course, the starting area. They would move everything a few meters east and then it would be out of the course and they could make sure that it is then well protected so that it’s preserved,» Oswald said. «It doesn’t stop them to proceed where they work now, which is mainly the finish area.»