Symbiosis Between Local Communities and Foreign Archaeological Institutions on Long Term Archaeological Excavations in Greece: A Corinthian Example

Colin Walace, University of Waterloo

Keywords: Ancient Corinth; Social influences; local communities; long term excavation; Symbiosis

Ancient Corinth is a small village just south of the Isthmus between the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese. Historically, Korinthos (its ancient name), was one of the largest and most significant city-states of Ancient Greece and has held a strategic importance for trade and military advantage throughout its occupation.
The main archaeological site in Ancient Corinth is a stratigraphically diverse complex ranging from Early Neolithic (6500-5750 B.C.), Archaic and Hellenistic periods through the Roman, Byzantine and into the Frankish period (ASCSA website)
The focus of the archaeological site centers around the mid-6th century B.C. Temple of Apollo with other monuments including the South Stoa, the Roman theatre, the Odeion, the Peirene fountain and, of significance to many thousands of Christian visitors, the Bema where Paul is purported to have Spoken to the Corinthians. Other excavated areas outside of the village centre have included “the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on the slopes of Acrocorinth, the Potters’ Quarter, at the sites of the Sanctuary of Asklepios and the Kenchreian Gate Basilica. Current investigations focus on the area of the Panayia Field, located to the southeast of the Forum” (ASCSA website)
Systematic Excavations by the ASCSA (American School of Classical Studies in Athens) have been (more or less) continuous since 1896 in Ancient Corinth. During those 123 years, generations of local Greeks have grown up with a large, ongoing archaeological excavation in their midst. There exists a symbiotic relationship between the ASCSA and the village of Ancient Corinth. Countless local people have worked for the site, others have businesses dependant on the site or on the tourism that the site provides and for many others, it is simply a part of their lives.
What is the long term effect of both that interdependence and what is the local population’s attitude towards the site, the museum and archaeology in general? In this paper I present the results on a study on the relationship between the local population and American school and how it has evolved after more than a century of symbiosis. These interactions have been and continue to be more complex than one might imagine with common threats such as warfare and disease affecting both the locals and excavation staff over more than a century. In some cases, threats were actually contributed to by the excavations, as in the flooding of excavated parts of the site in 1906 which led to an outbreak of malaria. (Robinson 2011, 88) while other threats were mitigated by the American school including site director Bert Hodge Hill’s efforts to make the village water supply safe and end the dangers of water borne diseases that plagued the village. (Robinson 2011, 88). There are accounts of “the humanitarian activities of School affiliates, from their participation in American Red Cross efforts during World War I, to driving
ambulances and feeding hungry children in World War II.” (Robinson 2011, 88). These accounts are documented but what of those who have first hand knowledge? I continue to discuss personal experiences with the people of Ancient Corinth in order to see and express, through their eyes, the experience of growing up “on the dig”. Elders tell of how, as children, they would run to the unfenced site because that is when the coins would come out of the ground. Many of them still have their own little hoards from that time.
While the discovery of “the Fountain of the Lamps”; a Roman bathing complex excavated in the 1960’s and 70’s was a massive discovery, older Corinthians recall as children going into the tunnels that led to it. Other areas, while now fenced off, were once the playgrounds in which children of the village spent their time.
Employment on the site is constant with local skilled trades people working lifetimes for the ASCSA as well as for the Ancient Corinth Museum which is run by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. These economies have made a difference in the village throughout but more so with the austerity that has been put upon the Greek nation. The village and surrounding villages reap the benefit of both the presence of the school and the tens of thousands of visitors to the site each year. While the whole topic of the economic benefit is too deep for one paper, the perceptions of the benefit by native Corinthians can be illuminating and impress as to just how important the symbiosis of a long term archaeological site can be for one community.
This study will present the results of interviews with local Corinthians, American scholars and students in the Ancient Corinthian community to ascertain just what their perceptions of this symbiosis are and where they see it going.
More recent changes in technologies with internet access and social media, etc. creating more of a connection between Corinthians, the American school and the archaeological site that they have in common are resulting in differences in perceptions and the relationship to the site. Corinthians, archaeologists, graduate students, etc.; once separated languages and more so cultures now share their experiences and their own interactions between themselves, the site and each other. Even language problems for English only or Greek only speakers can now be mitigated, allowing for real time or near real time conversations. This, I believe, has created a solidarity, trust and good will that may not always have been seen as egalitarian. Through interviews with all players in this field, this study will show, through their perceptions, how the symbiosis of Ancient Corinth has evolved through time.
Another area worthy of examination is that of the efforts that have been put into public outreach in recent years. Live interactive online sessions, public meetings, open houses meant to include the community, educational programs for local school children and those abroad, have all contributed to democratizing the knowledge gleaned from excavation and research; once reserved for select publications viewed only by experts and those in the field.
Spoken histories are strong in a small village and those stories carry truths and myths through time. While we excavate and look at deep time, lives; generations, pass close and record everything, day after day, from their perspectives and it is their perspectives that can give us a better perspective of what we are doing and the place that we occupy in an archaeological village.

“About the Excavations.” About the Excavations | The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Accessed April 30, 2019.
Robinson, Betsey Ann. Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia. Princeton (N.J.): American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011.