2004 venue’s ancient finds to be saved

The battered remains of three 4,500-year-old houses discovered on the site of an Olympic sporting venue near Marathon in northern Attica will be preserved with two of the buildings to be shifted a few dozen meters out of the way, the government said yesterday. The dwellings, which were probably linked to a larger settlement to the north, were discovered last month. But while announcing his determination to save the Early Bronze Age remains from destruction, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos failed to convincingly defend his main argument in favor of the government’s controversial decision to build the Olympic rowing course at Schinias on land linked with the 490 BC Battle of Marathon. The findings of a geological survey, conducted last year under Thessaloniki University geologist Antonios Psilovikos and presented yesterday at a press conference hosted by Venizelos, showed that, since Neolithic times, the Schinias area – some 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Athens – has been covered by freshwater swamp and lake, salt marsh, and lagoon. Venizelos has long claimed that Schinias was covered by the sea in the fifth century BC, in order to dismiss critics who say the venue is being built on swampland where the final phase of the battle took place. «For the past 5,500 to 6,000 years, the area was under water,» Psilovikos said. «There is no doubt whatsoever of that.» The 120 soil samples taken by Psilovikos’s team revealed traces of aquatic life from which conclusions were taken on the historical morphology of the area. «We found hundreds of shells,» he said, «belonging to freshwater shellfish, shellfish that live in low-saline water and seawater shellfish.» «In this area, any thought not only of battle but even of approach would have been impossible. Anyone trying to get there would have sunk in the mud, and would have been totally unable to advance.» This, however, concurs with ancient historians’ accounts of the defeated Persian invaders fleeing their Athenian pursuers into a large swamp which accounted for a large portion of the Persian casualties.