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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."