Re: Race against time
Date: 6 March 2003
Sir - In its haste to meet construction deadlines for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Greek government has allowed several important archaeological sites to be destroyed without undertaking appropriate salvage excavation.
The most notable of these is Schinias, the site of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). There, Miltiades and a small Greek army defeated the forces of Darius, so preventing the Persian invasion of Greece.
Famously, a messenger ran the 26 miles back to Athens to announce the victory, an event we commemorate with the eponymous race.
As well as being archaeologically and historically important, the site at Marathon is also ecologically sensitive as a wetland, containing many rare plants, birds and trees.
Almost every archaeological and ecological group has lodged protests against the plan to build a rowing lake and Olympic village at Schinias, because this development would irrevocably destroy the site of the Battle of Marathon and the contemporary monuments erected to commemorate it.
The Greek response was to produce an expensive scientific survey to "prove", contrary to all other evidence, that Schinias was under water in the fifth century BC, and thus could not have been the site of the battle.
In autumn 2002, a Bronze Age village was found in the middle of the construction area, clearly demonstrating that the site was not under water at that date. The Greek government has played down the importance of this archaeological site as only comprising a few small houses that stood by a swamp, but they are in fact some of the earliest (2500-2000 BC) monumental structures in Greece.
Now that this new evidence has come to light, work at Marathon should stop, and the international community should at the very least be given assurances that the archaeology will be respected and fully documented.
Although the bulldozers have started to destroy the site, there are many viable alternatives in the region, and we urge the prime minister of Greece and his cabinet to reconsider their decision to allow a site of such importance to European civilisation to be desecrated.
In years to come, when the games are long forgotten, future generations will not forgive this vandalism.
The current situation is a modern Greek tragedy.
Dr. Dorothy King, Archaeology and Ecology,
Robin Birley, London SW3,
Leon Levy, Shelby White, New York,
Dr. Mark Hassall, President of the Royal Archaeological Institute,
Prof. Simon Hornblower, Professor of Classics and Ancient History, University College London,
Prof Andrew Stewart, University of California at Berkeley,
Matthew Mellon, London SW1,
Eric Bettelheim, Sustainable Foresty Management Ltd,
Michael Nyman, London N1,
Dr Magnus Ryan, All Souls, Oxford,
Alexandra Lesk, University of Nottingham,
Ian Dejardin, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London,
Dr. Sean Kingsley, Editor, Minerva,
Prof. Thomas Drew-Bear, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France,
Dr. Antonio Corso, Athens
Robert Bidwell Bibow, London SW7,
Jesper Jensen, University of Aarhus, Denmark,
Lora Holland, University of North Carolina, Jason Cote, University of Cincinnati