Idalion (Chypre): criticism of works unwarranted
Dr Marina Solominidou-Ieronymidou , Director, Department of Antiquities
The Department of Antiquities of Cyprus has considered necessary to respond to an article published by the Cyprus Mail on September 4, entitled “A ‘nose for dirt”, which is largely based on an interview given by Dr Pamela Gaber to Mr Theo Panayides.
The statements and notions expressed in this article can only be described as offensive and ignorant – to say the least – for the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus and the Cypriots in general, and it is thus the Department’s duty, as the only liable institution delegated with the preservation and promotion of Cypriot cultural heritage, to clarify the misconceptions expressed in the above mentioned issue.
In this article, the Department of Antiquities is openly accused of general indifference and lack of interest to preserve the archaeological viability of the area of ancient Idalion. This is evident by statements such as “An American archaeologist has spent over 40 years excavating at ancient Idalion, uncovering Cypriot treasures to the general indifference of actual Cypriots”, which features as the article’s sub-heading.
Such explicitly stated accounts are not only erroneous but also insulting. The Department of Antiquities would like to inform the public that a massive area within the nucleus of the Idalion municipality has been expropriated years
ago. Specifically, the plots contained within the so-called “Western Acropolis” and almost half of the “Eastern Acropolis” plots arc state-owned properties. This means that an extensive land is protected in order to sustain future archaeological activity. A number of other plots were declared as Ancient Monuments of Schedule B, to facilitate the Department of Antiquities’ law-enforced authority to control any building activities in land suspected to preserve archaeological stratigraphy.
The tireless efforts of the Department of Antiquities aim towards the preservation of precious historical documentation for the coming generations.
We give emphasis to the word preservation as opposed to the uncalled-for statement that “there are no firm plans to exhume the remaining 98 per cent [of the ancient city]” to quote from the said article, we would like to inform the public and remind our colleagues that it is a principle of our science’s ethics (and in fact included in the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage) that our aim is to protect and preserve as much as we can for the future generations of archaeologists, not to exhume everything. Each generation of researchers should be given the chance to implement the technical and scientific expertise of their time
anticipating a more nuanced understanding of our island’s history.
The Department of Antiquities must also correct the misinformed statement contained in this article that “ancient Idalion hasn’t changed much in those 43 years, it’s ruins buried snugly as they’ve been for millennia”. The area of Idalion has been the focus of archaeological investigations since the beginnings of the 20th century, such as the Swedish Cyprus Expedition, the Joint American Expedition to Idalion, the University of New Hampshire Excavations, the University of Arizona and Lycorning College Excavations and of course projects directed by the scientific personnel of the Department of Antiquities.
Contrary to the disconcerting view expressed in the article, the Department of Antiquities appreciates and
values the work of each and every one of the missions who have contributed to the better understanding of ancient Idalion during almost a century of archaeological research in the area.
The article further presents the Department of Antiquities as allowing the bulldozing of antiquities at Idalion or rather for being absent when “half of the city gate was recently bulldozed to build a new sidewalk, the municipal feeling being that a few antiquities shouldn’t stand in the way of beautifying Dhali”, We cannot stress enough how unfounded such accusations are, since the Department has taken all the extra care in safeguarding Idalion’s
extant remains while allowing the controlled growth of the modern town. In the context of this article we would like to stress that Cyprus is an island with a long history spanning the depths of time, antiquities practically filling every inch of its land.
The main objective of the Department of Antiquities is to investigate, preserve and promote the. Island’s ancient material culture, while sustaining modern development works. As a Department, we can and will entirely halt development works when we consider it critical and damaging to the archaeological remains. The Director and the delegated officers of the Department of Antiquities decide on the principles collectively and individually for every case, to keep the delicate balance between archaeological research and modern-day activities.
Otherwise the island could very well have been an endless archaeological park. We did not consider
necessary to remind archaeological missions working in Cyprus of this principle.
Lastly, as the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus we are obliged to object to the contents of this article, through which the Department is accused of indifference for the promotion of the cultural landscape of Idalion because “even in the good old days they naturally prioritised Chirokitia”. The Department of Antiquities relies on a fruitful cooperation with the missions that excavate each site in order to prepare and implement management plans that ensure the promotion and preservation of ancient monuments. Our principle on such an
important issue is to construct strong partnerships and collaborations with people and institutions that can provide essential feedback for such challenging ventures.
The Khirokitia Management Plan is a successful model of a multi-institutional collaboration and we aspire to implement similar procedures to the building of a similar.’ teamwork In the case of Idalion. We certainly do not believe that, to quote Dr Gaber’s statement, “somebody has to make noise” is the way to go. We assure the public and especially the proud locals of Idalion that, with concerted efforts and meticulous archaeological research, the Department of Antiquities slowly and methodically builds on this long-term project.
As a matter of, fact, we are pleased to announce that the first 400,000 euros have been allotted to our 2016 budget so that work can begin on the implementation of Phase 1 of the Idalion Master Plan that concerns the preservation of the monumental administrative complex of ancient ldalion excavated by the Department and its opening to the wider public as archaeological site that is progressive and interactive with the visitors. At the same time we are in the process of building a network of partners in order to apply for a European project with the aim of funding Phase 2 of the Idalion Master Plan, namely the formation of a comprehensive archaeological park in the large zone of the expropriated plots. Our ministry, the ministry of transport, communications and works, the ministry of finance, the department of public works, and the municipality of Idalion, are all supporting us in this endeavour.
We take pride in the fact that in the early days of the Department of Antiquities’ excavation at the administrative centre, work was mostly conducted by volunteers from Idalion. Many of the volunteers came back for the project’s last season in 2012, underscoring their commitment to the project. We cherish and value the everlasting care and pride of the locals for their “basileion’ and the unceasing interest of the many visitors who travel from afar every year to attend the guided tour of the local archaeological museum and the western Acropolis during International Museum Day. As a matter of fact, the wholehearted support on behalf of the municipality and the people of ldalion to the Department of Antiquities provides the much needed encouragement to pursue our common long-expressed aim which is the establishment of a major archaeological site at the seat of the Idalion kingdom.