UA dig in Greece planned
Inger Sandal.  Arizona Daily Star.  Tucson, Ariz.:  Dec 6, 2003.   pg. B.1

Copyright The Arizona Daily Star Dec 6, 2003

A team that includes members from the University of Arizona is heading to Greece next summer - but they aren't track stars or swimmers.

This group is more Indiana Jones than Kerri Strug, researchers whose destination is a mysterious mountain sanctuary where athletic contests, and possibly human sacrifices, were held more than 2,000 years ago. Led by classical archaeologists, the team is a cross- section of disciplines ranging from a bone specialist to a geoscientist who happens to be the UA's provost.

"There's some very interesting research that can be done at that interface of geology and classical archeology," said George Davis, who hasn't been in the field since he became provost in 2000.

This expedition, led by Associate Professor Mary Voyatzis, head of the UA's classics department, and David Gilman Romano, a senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, will explore the Sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Lykaion and the role it - and the mountain itself - played in shaping civilization.

The endeavor will include six-week stints in Greece each summer through 2010. The first five years will be archaeological digs on Mount Lykaion, which is near Olympia, and the final two will be spent studying whatever they find, Voyatzis said.

"As long as I am provost I can't be gone very long," said Davis, who will initially survey the landscape over a couple weeks in June.

He'll return for 10 days in summer 2005 to examine the area from faults to fountains to understand what "about that mountain and its landscape led to the conclusion that this was a very special and sacred place, a sanctuary."

For example, Voyatzis said, an ancient people may have thought an earthquake-prone area was divine.

"They may have then built a temple and worshipped there to try to appease the god," Voyatzis said. "We want to look at the geology to see how that might have shaped the development."

Voyatzis and Davis taught a class on the tectonic foundations of the geoarcheology of Greece two years ago, and plan to teach it next spring.

The site was briefly excavated a century ago by the Greek Archeological Society, which found artifacts including small bronze Zeus statues.

Most of the material is from the fourth century B.C., but some is from the seventh century B.C. and Voyatzis suspects the site is much older.

"In Greece, these were formative years. The height of Greek civilization was fifth century B.C.," Voyatzis said. The achievements of the era - democracy, the Parthenon, the philosophy of Socrates and Plato - are the foundation of Western civilization.

The site may also prove a popular draw next summer for people attending the 2004 Olympic Games. Mount Lykaion boasts the only remaining hippodrome - chariot racetrack - in Greece. Since the 1970s, area residents have re-enacted games such as footraces and discus throwing every four years.

The expedition is prestigious for the UA, and its findings will have immediate payoffs on campus, organizers say.

"We can use it in the classes. We can get students involved in the research. For me, my deeper technical interest is in the parallels between Tucson 25 million years ago and Greece today," Davis said, explaining that Greece is undergoing similar seismic shifting.

Organizers are trying to raise the project's $500,000 estimated cost through grants and donations. The effort will take a lot of expensive equipment and organizers will need to hire local workers to dig at the site, Voyatzis said.

The Tucson Hellenic Cultural Foundation is holding a benefit dinner Sunday.

For more information about the trip, call the classics department at 621-1689.

Contact reporter Inger Sandal at 573-4115 or at


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