Arts & Culture

Rhode Island Hall archaeology exhibit documents Greek history

Professor, students record relationship between local communities, archaeological dig

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2017

“I should be Poseidon,” a new collection of pictures and prose, seamlessly blends in with the first floor of Rhode Island Hall. Curated  by Yannis Hamilakis, professor of classics, and his graduate-level ARCH 2153: “Archaeological Ethnography: A Multi-Temporal Contact Zone,” the exhibit stems from Hamilakis’ book titled “Camera Kalaureia: An Archaeological Photo-Ethnography.”

The exhibition’s focuses on archaeological ethnography — “a new perspective on archeology that tries to connect past and present and include the voices of local communities,” Hamilakis said. The selected photographs were taken by Hamilakis’ co-author Fotis Ifantidis in the Greek island of Poros, home to the sanctuary of Poseidon, where archaeological research first began in 1894. The photography shows the continuous process of engaging with the site and with the community surrounding it.

Hamilakis and Ifantidis worked with the local community of Poros over the course of three years, recording and photographing the community’s relationship with the ongoing archaeological research on the sanctuary. “The quote, ‘I should be Poseidon,’ comes from someone who used to live on that site,” Hamilakis said. There are a number of families that used to live on the current research site but were forced out to give way to excavation, he added.

“The quote challenges archeology, contests the whole idea of prioritizing the ancient past versus the contemporary moment and also speaks of the sometimes difficult relationship we establish with local communities,” Hamilakis said.

The title of the exhibition also conveys a certain amount of doubt. Displaced locals of the archaeological site often question the knowledge that excavators bring, Hamilakis said. They say “‘You may know the academic dimension of these things — but I’ve lived here. I know the stones. I know the landscapes. I have worked the land.’”

The pictures in the exhibit were selected “in order to reflect elements that are central to archaeological ethnography: multi-temporality, use and reuse, displacement and questions of ownership, among others,” wrote Matthew Pihokker GS, a second-year archeology graduate student who helped curate the exhibit, in an email to The Herald.

The longest stretch of pictures in the exhibition follows a flashy plastic barrier set against a black and white photograph, connoting how “people perceive a separation between archaeologists and archeology on the one hand and local individuals and tourists on the other,” said Miriam Rothenberg GS, a third-year archeology graduate student who also helped curate the exhibit. That separation plays a great role in the exhibition’s narrative and is accompanied with questions that break the discipline down to make sure archaeology “really is for everyone,” Rothenberg added.

Other pictures “comment on the multiplicity of the site,” Hamilakis said. “On every archaeological site there are different moments. On this specific site, we prioritize the time in which the sanctuary was built,” Hamilakis said. “But what we are trying to convey in this project is the sense of multiple times — that in addition to that classical moment, there are other moments.”

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