Hunting for Knowledge and Fame

Hunting for Knowledge and Fame

The treasure discussed in this article is not of monetary nature. The hunters active in this particular field strive for excitement, thrill, knowledge and fame.

The days when a researcher, an archaeologists, or a collector - often all in one person - travelled to a foreign country of ancient high cultures, easily got an excavation permit from the local ruler who did not care for the "old stones", employed hundreds of local people to dig for small money, excavated large structures, and shipped anything remotely moveable to the museums of his home country are long gone.

In the Near East this transition phase was at the turn of the 19. to 20. century. Between 1860 and the First World War every decade brought a stricter attitude of the local governments. Before this transition period there were the "Wild West" days of archaeology. When it was over the authorities insisted on observers and all sorts of restrictions. After World War 1 governments almost never issued export permits for antiquities on a large scale.

Those who want to excavate today in foreign countries must usually accept that they are not allowed to keep and export finds. This in turn makes it more difficult to raise the necessary funds. At the same time the local archaeologists have often very limited funds so little progress is made without western financial initiative. One common way to deal with that situation are cooperations between local and foreign universities or other institutions. But also persons not associated with universities can go that way and be very successful at it. The rest of the article describes that in more detail. The intention is to show what a single person can achieve in this field. A concrete example is given.

Actually, one of the most prominent gatherers of world class sites, finds, knowledge and fame is not paid by any university but basically a private person. It is the Frenchman Franck Goddio. Mr. Goddio demonstrates what a determined searcher can achieve though not being an employee of a research institute. In terms of thrill, knowledge or fame he is one of the most successful explorers today in his chosen field.

Mr. Goddio founded a foundation and won the support of strong sponsors. In cooperation with local governments, many institutions and experts he managed to find many sunken vessels as well as making very relevant ancient discoveries in the Alexandra, Egypt, region. The results of this work are published in the form of books and exhibitions. When this account is written in August 2006 some 500 of the most impressive Egypt artefacts from the Alexandrian coast are on display in a Berlin exhibition.

By university education Mr. Goddio is not archaeologist. He was expert for international finances working for federal institutions in France before turning to water salvages and underwater archaeology. Among the official archaeologists there is a tendency to look down on the archaeological efforts of non-archaeologists. If this outsider is unusually successful that does not make things better, sometimes even worse. No university world wide can claim such success as Mr. Goddio as far Egypt underwater archaeology is concerned. So Mr. Goddio is criticised by the archaeological establishment. And he always will be as long as he is successful no matter how many archaeologists he employs or how careful all finds are recorded and published.

In my opinion Mr. Goddio's archaeological knowledge is at least sufficient - probably much better - since he has been very passionate about archaeology for years. Besides, he always worked with specialised archaeologists. Very special archaeological questions will usually be handled by other members of the team anyway. Archaeological knowledge can be bought relative cheaply while the ability to organise, to raise funds on a large scale, to negotiate, to convince, and to reconcile different interests is seldom found at that level of expertise. Here Mr. Goddio benefits from his former work as international finance expert.

As archaeology became more mature in the last 150 years it saw the same development as other fields of knowledge. The first steps are made by few pioneers. At that stage single individuals rule the scene. When I try to recall important archaeologists virtually all names that come to my mind are from the pre World War 1. There are pioneers like Schliemann or Hiram Bingham as well as protagonists of the more methodical approach developed in later decades like Leonard Wooley or Flinders Petrie, to a lesser degree T.H.Lawrence, the later "Lawrence of Arabia".

The more mature the science became the more institutions took over. Today the individual archaeologist remains usually anonymous in the background, his name just known in circles of specialists. The only internationally popular archaeologist who comes to my mind is Zahi Hawass of the Egypt supreme council of antiquities though he is probably better known for his skilled use of the media than for his own archaeological work.

In this overwhelming anonymity outstanding personalities like Mr. Goddio are inspiring. He demonstrates what can be achieved by a single person though the pioneering days of archaeology are over.

To close that article it should be mentioned that even private explorers without funds or connections can still make a difference when they stay local. Granted, nation wide fame cannot be gathered here but as far as knowledge is concerned they can make a difference. On the local level often extremely little is known about former times that even private metal detector searchers can make finds and discoveries that give a boost to local knowledge. In many cases there are hardly any excavations and all theories on the past are based on some 150 or 200 chance finds reported in the last 100 years. As far as local archaeology is concerned the pioneer days are not over yet.

Printable version