Athens. Really, it’s a big city for someone from the small, Dutch city of Utrecht. During my three previous trips to Athens (which were all very short) I’ve always been struck by the city’s size, its chaos, its large amounts of coffee-bars and of course its variety. Variety in wealth, poverty, grimness and also in the phenomenon of modern architecture alternated by archaeological remains. In February, I had the great opportunity to get to know the city a little better: I stayed at the NIA for 5 weeks. The main reason to go to Athens was to obtain as much literature as possible for my master thesis, which is about Late Neolithic/Final Neolithic houses and households in the central Aegean. Indeed, soon after I started my thesis in September it became clear that most literature on Greek Late Neolithic and Final Neolithic sites cannot be found in the Netherlands. A trip to Athens was crucial. Fortunately, the trip became a reality thanks to a scholarship granted by the NIA.
And so it began. I landed in an unfamiliar library-world in Athens. But, it didn’t take long before I sat among other people, all engaged in their archaeological and/or ancient historical research. It was not very hard to become encouraged by the library-atmosphere in the NIA and in other institutes. And of course there are plenty museums and archaeological sites around every corner in the city. So no lack of inspiration there. In fact, the acropolis is right outside the NIA, and honestly, I still can’t get enough of the view.
Every morning, I walked with a fellow student to the American and British institutes in the Kolonaki area (yes, we walked. Most people thought we were insane, but we had our reasons: 1. we got at least some exercise during the long library-days, 2. we could save some metro-money and 3. we could see and experience the city). In the institutes, I spend the days searching and scanning dozens of books and articles The evenings were filled with “household-stuff”, such as cooking (preferably on a decent Dutch time. Apparently, diner after 9 pm in Athens is not only a summer thing, which I still do not understand). Or it was possible to go to a lecture. In my mind, this is an extraordinary phenomenon: there are lectures on all sorts of (ancient) subjects in the multiple institutes all over Athens. Despite the differences in venues (from sitting in a cosy environment, almost in the bookshelves, to sitting in a huge hall with cinema-like chairs) the people, students, PhD’s, professors and researchers, often stayed the same. Apparently, this library-world is a small one.
Besides my scanning-tasks and the lectures, I also paid multiple visits to the archives in the Blegen library of the American School. This was a completely new, but interesting experience. One of my case-studies is the Final Neolithic site of Kephala, located at the Cycladic island Kea. The records of the Kea excavations (1960’s) have been inventoried quite recently and this gave me the opportunity to search through all the information about the site. I looked at the old notebooks, first drafts of reports, letters, photographs and maps. Although it was sometimes a challenge (it took me a while to decipher the handwriting), these visits were informative and a welcome addition to my research.
Looking back, I feel like I’ve had quite a diverse experience in Athens. On the one hand, I could finally grasp the long-wanted articles and books, which will definitely contribute to my thesis. On the other hand, there were opportunities to visit archaeological sites and museums in Athens (e.g. Kerameikos, National Museum and Acropolis museum) in order to actually see the material I’m dealing with. AND while I was Greece, why not make some trips outside Athens? In the weekends, I went to Brauron (also the location of a Final Neolithic settlement of which the material can be seen in the museum), Delphi (never been there before, absolutely beautiful!) and Aegina (also the location of a Final Neolithic settlement, i.e. Kolonna). In the end, I realized how much I haven’t seen yet, but obviously, one has to save some things to see (and read) for a next time.
Iris de Fuijk, Research Master Archaeology, University of Amsterdam