Student Journal: summer dispatches from the field The Olympics of Ancient Nemea: excavating the way they were
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The Dispatches

1- A taxicab driver's introduction to Nemea and an archaeological jigsaw puzzle

2- The terra cotta jigsaw puzzle and Indiana Jones and his leather coat

3- Connect my 50 bug bites and you have a map of Nemea

4- Pilgrimage to Delphi, the center of the ancient Greek world

5- Upstairs to the Palamidi fortress, eye level with Zeus

6- Goodbye to Nemea, inventorying 5,000 artifacts


About the project

Editor's note: Katherine Chou, an undergraduate Classics student who will be sending us dispatches from Nemea,Greece, arrives at the ancient site on June 12. The piece below was contributed by Gretchen Kell, associate director of UC Berkeley Media Relations.

In an ongoing archaeological effort started in 1973, UC Berkeley has been excavating an ancient athletic site in Greece that, more than 2,300 years ago, was one of four places where the Panhellenic Games were held. During the original games, wars and hostilities between Greeks were suspended for a week or two - the first evidence in history of an organized, regular and international event that promoted peace.

The games, called "panhellenic" because they were open to all Greeks, also were hosted in Delphi, Isthmia and Olympia. The 45-acre site is in Ancient Nemea, an agricultural village of about 400 people that is 80 miles southwest of Athens and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Professor Stephen Miller from the Department of Classics has led the project since its inception, and this summer, as in the past, UC Berkeley students will work there under his guidance. Local villagers also have been part of Miller's excavation crews for decades.

The teams' archaeological discoveries - what may be the world's oldest remaining athletic locker room, an entrance tunnel to the race track, an early Christian burial ground, a basilica, a hero shrine and a bathhouse - have made headlines around the world. A museum has been constructed to give the public a glimpse of the thousands of artifacts, including ancient coins, tools, and pottery, gleaned from the site as well as to provide a study and research center.

Recent work includes the unearthing of an even older race track, evidence of a hippodrome, where chariot races were held, and further reconstruction of a Temple to Zeus, where gigantic, grooved columns once toppled and damaged are painstakingly being restored. The temple is scheduled for completion in time for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, to be held in Athens.

On July 31 of that same summer, for the third time since 1996, the Nemean Games will be held at the archaeological site. These successful international foot races (in the spirit of the first Olympics, open to anyone in the world who would like to sprint down the sandy clay track) feature mainly untrained runners competing barefoot, in white togas, in a 100-yard sprint. There also is a 7.5 kilometer race through the countryside.

Some 1,300 runners from 45 countries around the world have competed, with about 8,000 people cheering them on. Villagers and members of the UC Berkeley community dress in ancient costumes to participate as judges, heralds and trumpeters, and runners take off down the track with the help of a reconstructed starting mechanism. Winners receive a traditional crown of wild celery.

The games are organized by the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, a group formed in 1995 by residents of Ancient Nemea and nearby New Nemea. The organization also includes members of the UC Berkeley community.

Said Miller, "The Olympic movement is increasingly removed from those who are not extraordinarily gifted. That's why there is scope and, perhaps, even need for the average person - regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, gender or age - to participate in an international athletic festival."


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