At his grave at his funeral, the American envoy Henry Snowden said the last words: “He was a real American pioneer”. Perhaps the word pioneer also fits the way he approached archaeology. In many respects he is at the beginning, venturing into new territory. At that time there was no prehistoric archeology in the Mediterranean area. The archeology practiced there focused on the visible archaeological sites and on the recording of architecture and art. He was suddenly someone who actually started digging down a hill and he was venturing into whole new eras. He was the first to face such a challenge and also had to find an appropriate methodology for it. At that time, prehistoric archeology was not a subject, you could not study it.

He is the first to make such a large cut through a settlement hill. Actually, he might be working here with his previous Mecklenburg experience. If you wanted to slaughter a large burial mound, then you made a cut through that mound to get all the way down. He proceeds in exactly the same way with this settlement mound. Somehow he has in his head that the oldest is at the bottom and that he has to go in the middle. That’s where he thinks the palace is. On his way down, he ripped away and removed in incredible haste many layers that later actually contained the epochs that were particularly relevant to him. At the beginning he had a wrong assumption, he thought he had to go down and only understood that in the course of his almost twenty years of research in Troy.

Yes, I am always fascinated when I read in his reports “and the find fell from a height of five meters into the ditch”. Suddenly there is the awareness that it is important at what height something is found. He already recognizes that certain finds are concentrated in certain areas, which is not that easy, but it will take some time before we understand what we call stratigraphy today, i.e. the sequence of layers. The same finds are higher in the middle than at the edge. It’s not a simple top-down business, you always have to think in terms of this three-dimensionality of the hill. He understands that over time. His observations show that stratigraphy is the key to understanding a historical building process.

Yes, what is special about him is that in his archeological life he had the opportunity to explore other places and then make comparisons that could serve as a check and, as it were, created a network. The obsession to say I’ll dig up the Homeric site of Troy and then look for the places from which the Greeks came, namely at Mycenae, Tiryns and Orchomenus, gave him the chance to compare the finds. This led to a tremendous advance in knowledge. In Tiryns he understands the connection between findings and finds by stating that a wall cannot be older than the oldest shards surrounding it. The find material dates the layer or the building findings. This is the first new finding. And the second lies in his following reflection: I have to relate the shards that I find in Mycenae to those in Troy and if I find the same type of pottery in both places, then the building phases that belong to them are of the same age .

In doing so, he developed an instrument for relative chronology. I can’t do that with one place alone, I’m poking around in the fog. With the Mycenaean pottery, he can identify the stratum in Troy that chronologically matches Mycenae. This is also the key to finally understanding that the layer, which he initially took to be evidence of the Trojan War and which he also found in what he also called the Treasure of Priam, was much older than the Mycenaean epoch.

This is the decisive difference between Schliemann and the classical archaeologists. This is the reason for the widespread rejection that Schliemann is currently experiencing in the German professors’ fraternity. These are not prehistorians, they are all classical archaeologists. They talk about the architectural design of temples, the stylistic knowledge behind them and the works of art that are displayed there. In principle, this is architectural and art-historical research aimed at clarifying the great epoch of Greek art as the origin of all culture. But Schliemann wants something completely different. It has a thoroughly cultural-historical question. He wants to know how people lived, which contacts existed, which exchanges. That is why he is so meticulous in the description of ceramics in his very extensive publications on his excavations, so intensively trying to interpret such inconspicuous objects as spindle whorls, to interpret the signs on them, because he believes that this is a key to understanding this culture receive. That’s a whole different way of thinking.

What distinguishes Schliemann is that he is interested in an overall picture, and I believe that when we call him a “treasure digger”, we are sitting on one of the pictures he himself created, which, however, satisfies our longing for gold much more than Schliemann’s watch is I keep noticing how little he cares about the gold and how important the other small finds are to him. He has to go far to even find people who have already dealt with it. That is why contact with Rudolf Virchow, who is pursuing the same questions, is so important. Two like-minded people met and it is no coincidence that they met through the interpretation of vessels.

Many archaeologists can still take an example from Schliemann that they can hardly match, because he usually submitted his excavation report the year after. He wrote a lot of books and published everything that was important to him. He also spared no expense in equipping the publications as extensively as possible – after all, they were all his own resources. Schliemann illustrated the first volumes with photos, thousands of prints were glued in there, a very modern approach.

Documenting what he was doing was extremely important to him. He was always looking for publicity and if he found something new, it was reported in the newspaper three or four days later. He has contracts with the “Augsburger Allgemeine” and the “Times” in London, he has also promised them exclusive reporting. There were regular sequels. That was not without danger, because when he immediately interpreted his finds, these views were quickly spread around the world. But the public was his sounding board.

First of all, it is of great quality. What he wrote is closely observed and reliable. As can be seen in the travel reports, he is a good descriptor who also notices inconsistencies. It has little of the quality of today’s excavation reports, they are more detailed and versed today, but what always convinces me and what today’s excavation reports often lack is the orientation to the question – what does that tell me now?

Schliemann is actually groundbreaking for his time, this is the dawn of a new era. He opened doors, he discovered and defined the Bronze Age of the Aegean and much of that is still valid today. What still impresses me is the scientific nature of his questioning. One might assume that with his attachment to Homer everything is very mythical, but what he then wrote down was always very close to the found object. What is special about him is his great ability to learn. He wants to win the best and the newest, both personally and technically, but at the same time you can tell that he is always pursuing a question. That’s why he found the right spots, even if the details were incorrect from today’s perspective.


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