February 24, 2001
Prince Charming can sometimes appear from the most unlikely places. Devlin, Ontario, in this case. Homer Armstrong Thompson, who died in May of last year, would discover and awaken the sleeping Agora that had lain for centuries beneath Athenian ground. It wasn't fast and it wasn't easy, but archaeologists train themselves to look beyond days, weeks, months, and years.
Today, when magazine covers warn of
the perils of human cloning, it's easy to forget that there are
other, subtler, less scientific methods of influencing a new human
life. Thompson's father, a dairy farmer who moved to British Columbia
sometime after his son's birth, had a great love for the Classics.
Which explains the choice of the name Homer. Whatever he hoped
to gain from the choice, things couldn't have turned out more
to his liking. Homer received his B.A. and M.A. in classics at
the University of
British Columbia in the mid-twenties and went on for a Ph.D from the University of
Michigan, where he learned of a project sponsored by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, to excavate the general area of the city's ancient agora. He applied for and received a fellowship and found his life's work. And a wife, Dorothy Burr, who would become the first female fellow on the project and partner with Homer through the years.
On May 28, 1931, a field notebook reported,
"In the afternoon, H.A. Thompson
commenced the supervision of Section A." H.A. Thompson had his work cut out for him. First it was necessary to relocate the people of a whole crowded neighborhood of houses and shops dating back to the previous century and then to raze the buildings and begin carefully digging and sifting through over thirty feet and dozens of centuries of rubble. Their only clues to the precise location of the agora had been written several millennia previously. It wasn't until 1938, during the excavation of the shop of one Simon the cobbler, that they would uncover a stone with the word 'agora' on it and know they were on the right tract. The second such stone would not be found for another 30 years. In the meantime, two wars would interrupt the work. No sooner had World War II ended, than a Greek civil war broke out. Thompson was said to have worked for allied intelligence during both conflicts. One account has him raising a white flag over the agora site and convincing both Greek factions that their common heritage was at stake and that they should go and fight somewhere else.
Gradually the work began to pay off. Artifacts appeared. Such as ballots cast by jurors during a trial, medicine vials of the kind that probably held the hemlock used to kill the condemned, such as Socrates, hobnails used by our friend Simon, pieces of pottery, known as ostracon, used to vote to exile (or ostracize) other felons. A puzzle was uncovered in the form of a building with a foundation newer than the walls. It turned out the Romans had been engaging in some historic re-creation of their own. Thompson helped raise funds from the Rockefellers and others to establish a museum in one of the restored buildings. By the time of his retirement in 1988, he could have the satisfaction of knowing he'd rescued one small, important piece of the past.
From Simon the Sound Cobbler's shop in the Salmagundy Agora - for Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
Obituary - Douglas Martin, New York Times, May 13, 2000 - Homer Thompson, 93, Archaeologist Noted for Athens Excavation
URL OF THE WEEK
Archaeology, like any other field, has it's controversies. Disagreements over authenticity often arise, especially when the original work was done over a century ago. When Heinrich Schliemann excavated the site of Troy in the years 1871-1873 it was a pivotal moment in the history of this young science of digging up the past. For his next project he crossed the Aegean to Greece to investigate Mycenae. It was the site that the ancients described as that of the tomb of Agamemnon, the avenging figure (weren't they all?) of the Trojan War. He uncovered a mask and announced, "I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon". The find was accepted as authentic and accurate for the next 90 years or so. Then classics professor William M. Calder III, began to question the veracity of Schliemann's claims. Follow the course of the controversy at the site for Archaeology magazine at:
You'll fnd the details here, if not final answers, as well as being able locate other experts weighing in with their two drachmas worth. Then you can back-track to the magazine's home page for other articles on the science. Who knows what you'll uncover.
The Game's Afoot ! ! !
© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte