Students, professors and archaeology enthusiasts from the surrounding area packed into the Round Room to hear Dr. Michael Laughy’s lecture, “Archaeology of the Athenian Agora: Excavations in the World’s First Democracy” this past Monday.
The lecture, sponsored by the Western Illinois branch of the Archaeological Institute of America, focused on the excavation in the Agora, which began in the 1930’s and is the longest running continuous American excavation. Laughy, a research fellow at Monmouth College, worked on the dig for 15 years.
Assistant professor of environmental sciences Katie Adelsburger is more of a geo-archaeologist but still went to see the lecture.
“It’s more of the classical and historical side [of archaeology]”said Adelsburger, “but it’s still fun to hear about archaeology.”
Her research usually deals with times before the written record, so she liked hearing about the details of day-to-day life in a different culture.
An agora was the town square and center of civic activity in ancient Greek city-states, but the most famous agora could be found in Athens. Ancient manuscripts mention the Athenian Agora over 700 times.
Not only was the Agora a center of political activity in the city, it was also home to for everything from street markets to philosophical teaching to street jugglers. Buildings in the Agora also housed the judicial, legislative and executive branches of the Athenian government.
The dig on the agora started in the 1930’s when John D. Rockefeller donated the funds to sponsor the excavation. This fact surprised sophomore Amber Hogan.
“I didn’t think he was interested in that kind of stuff,” Hogan said. She has been interested in archaeology and Greece since she was “a little girl” and was delighted to find a lecture that united her two interests.
A passion for archaeology and Greece also brought senior Cat Erickson to the lecture. “I studied abroad in Athens last fall term and I miss it horribly,” Erickson said. She actually visited the Agora site when she was in Greece, but she was there in the off-season, so she was glad to have the opportunity to hear about the site from someone who knew it so well.
A favorite audience topic was the ostraca. If the Athenian people thought someone was a danger to the state, they held a citywide vote. Citizens would write that person’s name on a fragment of pottery and the “winner” of the vote would be banished from Athens for ten years without a trial. It did not take long for some citizens to take advantage of this system and exile their political enemies, so the Athenians eventually ended the process, but the pot fragments still remain.
Laughy was especially excited to find these pieces since they gave them a deeper picture of the political process and gave them more names to add to the history books. Sometimes the targets of ostracism were not mentioned in other sources but obviously somehow made names for themselves.