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by Archaeology Newsroom

The site of Kerameikos and the German Archaeological Institute

The cemetery of Kerameikos on the west boundaries of Athens was in 479 -8 B.C. divided by the Themistoclean walls into two parts, the one included inside the city walls, the other lying outside. The Greek excavation of 1871 brought to light the landmark of Kerameikos, with the inscription ΟΡΟΣ ΚΕΡΑΜΕΙΚΟΥ. In 1913 the Greek government conceded to the German Archaeological Institute the right to excavate the site. The excavations that followed gave impressive results and brought to light finds like the “Pompeion”, the place where the vessels used in the Panathenaic Procession were kept, the Dipylon, the sacred gate, the tomb of the Spartans who were killed in the battle of Piraeus in 403 BC, and last but not least, the most important necropolis of Attica of the Geometric period (10th to 8th century BC). This first phase of excavation lasted until 1930, while a second one was resumed in 1956. Seven thousand shards inscribed with names of Athenians sent into exile, a building decorated with rich terracotta ornaments as well as other finds that echo the everyday life in ancient Athens belong, among others, to the second phase of excavation. The portable archaeological finds were exhibited in a small museum founded in 1936, and enlarged in 1963. Furthermore, the site of Kerameikos was properly arranged so as to regain, as fully as possible, the aspect held in antiquity. Trees and bushes were planted to mark the topography and the wild vegetation that destroys stone and especially limestone, was pruned. Needless to say, the major factor responsible for the deterioration of limestone is atmospheric pollution, especially high in the area, due to the neighboring gas factory that produces CO2. Inscriptions that survived for centuries have suffered severe destruction during the last thirty years. Only the small-scale monuments that have been kept in the museum will be rescued. Therefore, the German Archaeological Institute has undertaken a “rescue project” by safeguarding the small monuments in the museum and replacing them in the open air by exact replicas. Unfortunately, the museum is inadequate in size to accommodate the great number of valuable items and thus the need for its expansion has become more than urgent.