D A M S E G - Database of Archaeological Material from Swedish Excavations in Greece

To the database

The database has been compiled as an inventory of mainly published and exhibited material from the Swedish excavations in the Argolid. This database can, and hopefully will be extended in the future to encompass material from all Swedish excavations in Greece. It will eventually comprise both human and animal bones and information on conservation treatment of ceramics and metals. We also hope it can be complemented with photographs, drawings, diaries etc in the future.
As indicated the database is primarily an inventory, but it can also be used to assist scholars in the study of material in the Nauplion Museum storerooms from the Swedish excavations in the Argolid. To facilitate such a study further, material from the same excavations stored in other collections and museums has been added.

Where is the material stored?

The Swedish excavations at Asine, Dendra/Midea and Berbati in the Argolid can be divided chronologically into fieldwork carried out before and after the Second World War. Material excavated after the War is without exception kept in the storerooms of the Nauplion Museum; material excavated before the war is divided between several collections in the case of Asine and Dendra, while all extant material found at Berbati is in the Nauplion Museum only.

As was the rule before the War, objects considered as having an intrinsic value were not kept in the provincial museums but were, for security reasons, moved to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Thus, the finds from the Dendra tombs are now stored both in Athens and in Nauplion. Asine is a more complicated case, as material from the excavations 1922-1930 is kept not only in Greece (Athens and Nauplion) but also in Sweden (Uppsala and Stockholm).

In the Swedish National Archives a document signed on 16 December 1931 by the then Greek Minister of Education and Religion, Giorgios Papandreou, affirms the exchange of archaeological materials between our countries. Most of the finds from Chamber Tomb I:1 at Asine, together with most of the sherd material from the excavations, were to be shipped to Sweden in exchange for prehistoric material from Swedish Museums. The exchange took place. We do not know the whereabouts of the lithic material shipped from Sweden to Greece - it may have been lost during the War - but we do know the whereabouts of the Asine material in Sweden. The finds from Chamber Tomb I:1 (a few pots are in Nauplion) are in the collections of the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm and the sherd collection is in the Asine Collection of Uppsala University. The rest of the finds are either in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens or in the Archaeological Museum in Nauplion.

The status of the material after the Second World War

During and after the War, the basement of the Vouli next to the museum was used for the safekeeping of archaeological material. In 1953 or 1954, the then mayor of Nauplion asked the museum to empty the basement, and representatives of the schools active in the Argolid were asked to sort out their archaeological material. The late Professor Åke Åkerström did this for the Swedish Institute at Athens and he passed on information to me, which is pertinent to the collections.

What those who went into the storage found must have been chaos, for masses of archaeological material had lost its provenience and could often not be identified as coming even from a specific excavation, where publications did not exist. It turns out that some material was also lost. We do not know exactly what had happened: the storage may have been broken into. It is probably also true that many of the sacks that pot sherds then were sometimes stored in had rotted and broken and the contents had spilled out. When all identifiable material had been taken care of, several tons of non-descript pottery fragments were dumped into the bay and what looked worthwhile keeping, was stored for the future. Out of this material the Study Collection of material in the Leonardo was created, representing all periods from the Neolithic to Late Helladic IIIC.

Concerning the Asine material specifically, it was at a later date exposed to yet another misfortune. A great number of pots, both from settlements and graves, were mended after each excavation season (see O. Frödin and A.W. Persson, Asine. Results of the Swedish excavations 1922–1930, Stockholm 1938) according to standard methods for that time. Animal glue was employed and plaster was amply applied, where fragments were missing, in addition to reinforcements of netting and iron rods. In some cases whole pots were created from only a few original fragments and reinforced plaster.

The Asine material was stored in a room into which water seeped through the roof and walls of the building over the decades, and the screws attaching the shelves to the walls rusted. The shelves collapsed and most of the mended pots were reduced to broken fragments. In the summer of 1971, Prof. Åke Åkerström, together with the then assistant of the institute, Mr. Alvar Vidén, through a gargantuan effort once again brought chaos to order. However, the many broken pots could not be mended and many of them are still in fragments and can be difficult to identify from the publications.
Beginning in 1992 the storerooms, where material from the Swedish excavations is stored, have now been completely cleaned and reorganized in order to make the material more available. In 1999 re-conservation of the broken Asine pots began. As funding becomes available the old Asine material will undergo conservation anew and some of it will be exhibited in the museum. It will be a lengthy process, as the pottery is in bad condition and conservation is time-consuming when carried out according to today’s standards. Another warning: recently treated vessels can be difficult to identify in the old publications.

What material can presently be found in the database

All material from the Swedish excavations so far published, is included in the database, whether in Nauplion or in the other stated museums. This further holds true for all material in the new exhibitions in the Nauplion Museum and a small amount of material, which received NM inventory numbers a long time ago. On the other hand, there is still inventoried material (which was entered into the Museum inventory ledgers a long time ago), which has not yet been included in the database, as it came to out attention only recently. This is the material which we had largely thought of as lost during the Second World War, but which has, to our great satisfaction, resurfaced in the basement storerooms of the Leonardo.

How to use the database

As pointed out above the database is above all an inventory and has not been created primarily as a research tool. The reasons should be obvious. There was no standardized way of recording material in the old days and therefore exact proveniences are mostly not extant. This is not to say that the database cannot be used as a research tool. It records the material excavated by Swedish archaeologists and stored in the said museums and thus anyone who wishes to study this material can refer to it, when applying for permits to do so. This is particularly important for applications, where it is required to list each individual object to be studied. The database will further greatly facilitate work both for the staff of the Museum at Nauplion and at the Institute. Museum inventory numbers have been included where extant, following the museum standards of ascribing numbers to complete or nearly complete objects and objects of particular value.

In the Nauplion storerooms material is stored according to excavation site. The material can be searched by site, period, museum inventory number etc. as is self-evident from the database itself. For material excavated or collected during fieldwork carried out from the 1970s onwards proveniences are given. Reference only to the primary publication is stated.

To the database

Athens, November 2003
Berit Wells

Member of EUNIC GreeceMember of EUNIC Greece