- Archaeology in the Neighborhood:Views of the Ancient Agora and Other Ruins from Outside the Gate
Observed from the busy Adrianou Street pedestrian walkway, the ancient Agora in Athens promises a separate peace. From the archaeological site's northern entrance, a visitor may follow the Panathenaic Way up to the Acropolis. Three well-preserved buildings hold compass points in the 25-acre triangular space. The Temple of Hephaestus crowns a hill on the site's western edge; at the center of the site, the Church of the Holy Apostles points southeast toward the Acropolis; and the Stoa of Attalos, rebuilt from local materials and dedicated on 3 September 1956 as a museum of the site, draws a razor-sharp line dividing the archaeological site from Monastiraki to the east. An oasis of native plants and stony ruins, the Agora invites contemplative visitors to lose themselves in the historical traces of classical Athens. With a plan of the site in hand, visitors can meander along idyllic paths and imagine the place teeming with life at the time of democracy's origins, while ignoring the fact that the site is a composite creation by scholars from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In very different ways, two books published quite independently of each other, Yannis Hamilakis's The Nation and Its Ruins and Argyro Loukaki's Living Ruins, Value Conflicts, redraw the lines connecting the Agora and other archaeological sites to the living present.
In The Nation and Its Ruins, Hamilakis recontextualizes ruins by studying the links between antiquities, archaeology, and the nation. His "main exploratory axis" is the "nation and nationhood as embodied and materialized in ancient things, places, and sites" (2007:10). Hamilakis is not the first to observe that archaeology and the nation are reciprocally engaged in a continuous process of production and reproduction in the modern era. Following several theorists of the nation, Hamilakis sees the nation as modernity's most productive idea for the social imagining of temporal and geographic bonds between abstractly conceived groups of people. Not coincidentally, archaeology, the science of extracting historical meaning from bones and stones lodged in the earth, emerged contemporaneously with modern nationalism. Yet Hamilakis is careful not to treat [End Page 417] too simplistically the nation's central role in "excavating, collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting archaeological artifacts and finds" (2007:16). That the nation has used archaeology for its own ends is not an accusation but a starting point for Hamilakis's analysis.
This analysis rests on several fine distinctions. First Hamilakis is careful to differentiate the nation from the state and to recognize that the one does not always act in accord with the other. Second, national archaeology is not "an exclusively top-down construction imposed upon the people by state bureaucrats and intellectuals," but simultaneously a "construction both from below and from above" (2007:17). Relatively weak social agents may use nationalist discourses of the classical past to express their frustration with state authority. For example, political prisoners exiled on the island of Makronisos (1947–1950), one of Hamilakis's case studies, expressed their resistance to the state by their reconstruction of classical monuments and performances of ancient drama, labor forced on them by a repressive state machine intent on their rehabilitation. Third, nationalist discourse is not static, but constantly changing. Its creative energy is continuously absorbing all kinds of ideas, old and new. Nations are capable of remixing pre-modern with modern and post-modern forms of collective imagining. Hamilakis traces in nineteenth-century Greece the emergence of an "indigenous Hellenism," a syncretic fusion of western Hellenism, with its exclusive interest in classical Greek antiquity as the cultural origin of Europe, and a pre-Revolutionary "reworking and re-appropriation of ancient things" for Orthodox Christian concerns and purposes (2007:74). He finds variations of this "fusion of Hellenic-Christian nationalism" (2007:109) in Greek archaeological practices from the Bavarian Regency's protection...