ARC Fellows: The Archaeologist and the Replica: 3D printing at Aidonia (Greece)

ARC Fellows: The Archaeologist and the Replica: 3D printing at Aidonia (Greece)

Submitted by our 2019 ARC Fellow Team:

Kim Shelton (Classics/Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology) and David Wheeler (Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology)

In April of 1993, a unique collection of Mycenaean sealstones and gold jewelry went up for auction at the Michael Ward Gallery in New York. It was soon discovered that this collection had been looted from the site of Aidonia, a Late Bronze Age (c.1500-1200 BCE) chamber tomb cemetery located in the Corinthia (Greece), northwest of the famous sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea. Though heavily looted in the 1970s and 1980s, enough material had been recovered through salvage excavations to established that, based on stylistic and technical similarities, the material on sale had indeed been looted from Aidonia. This collection, now known as the Aidonia Treasure, was then repatriated to Greece, where it is now housed at the regional archaeological museum of Nemea. Though it is indeed fortunate that this material was returned, the Aidonia Treasure represents only a small fraction of the artifacts that were originally looted from these tombs, and serves as a stark reminder of the intellectual bounty that is lost with the destruction of the original archaeological context.

Berkeley’s work at Aidonia began in 2014 when the Greek Ministry of Culture approached Dr. Kim Shelton to assist in renewed excavations at the site, which was once again the target of illicit excavations. Under the auspices of the Tombs of Aidonia Preservation, Heritage, and explOration Synergasia (TAPHOS), a collaboration between the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology (UC Berkeley) and the Greek Archaeological Service, our team works to protect and preserve what remains of the ancient site through systematic excavation and conservation, publication of legacy material from previous excavations, and public education and outreach programs. This project is already providing invaluable information on the local community at Aidonia during the late Bronze Age, and has taken important steps to ensure the preservation of the archaeological site for future generations.

As a part of their work at Aidonia, and in collaboration with the ARC fellowship program, David Wheeler and Kim Shelton have undertaken a new project to explore the use of 3D technologies as tools for archaeological research, preservation, and public outreach. Their research this semester has been specifically focused on the potential of 3D printed models for education and outreach on site and also on campus. One of the long term goals of the TAPHOS project is to establish a visitor center at Aidonia that will educate visitors on the destructive and permanent impact of looting. For security reasons, this visitor center cannot display ‘original’ artifacts, and so they want to make use of 3D printed replicas of artifacts excavated at Aidonia to empower visitors to form meaningful connections to the ancient material culture that would otherwise be lost through looting.

Our work this semester has been in part technical, experimenting with the strengths and limitations of 3D printing, and in part experimental, introducing these printed replicas into the classroom alongside images of the original artifacts and the Nemea Center’s teaching collection of Mycenaean pottery fragments. Our participation in the ARC fellows program, however, also provided us with a unique opportunity to engage with some of the theoretical questions of what makes a ‘copy’. The act of copying has been at the heart of Greek and Roman art since antiquity, and has been much discussed. However, this particular collaboration with the other ARC fellows allowed Kim and David to think more about the relationship between copy and original and the ways in which, by re-performing the original, the copy both is and is not the original artifact. In particular, they are interested in how the works of performance theorists like Schechner, Schneider, and Taylor, when read alongside Gell’s Art and Agency, can be used to think about the relationship between original and copy, the role of ‘authenticity’, and how the copy is not the original while simultaneously not not the original. The ARC fellows program has provided us with a great collaborative environment and funding to further our research in 3D archaeological methodology.

Kim Shelton is Associate Professor of Classics and the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology, and Director of the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology.  Her research is focused on Aegean prehistory, domestic archaeology, and ceramics, and has on-going excavations in Greece at the Late Bronze Age settlement of Mycenae, at the panhellenic Sanctuary of Zeus in Nemea, and at the Mycenaean cemetery of Aidonia, where the TAPHOS project is preserving cultural heritage through the excavation of partly looted and unlooted chamber tombs together with public outreach and education.

David Wheeler is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology (AHMA) whose work focuses on cultural contact between Egypt and the Aegean from the Late Bronze Age to the Archaic Period, as well as ritual performance in the ancient world, specifically the relationship between performance and space. David has worked on a number of archaeological excavations in the Eastern Mediterranean, and for the last 4 years he has been a staff member on Berkeley’s excavations at Nemea, Mycenae, and Aidonia, where he works as a field supervisor, field school GSI, and ceramicist. David’s dissertation focuses on mortuary practices in the Mycenaean world, and through his application of performance theory to tomb assemblages, funerary architecture, and cemetery placement he intends to explore how the repeated engagement with past burials structured Mycenaean mortuary ritual practices.


Note: Over the course of the spring semester, each 2019 ARC Fellows team will submit a short blog post about their project and findings. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! The Fellows Program advances interdisciplinary research in the arts at UC Berkeley by supporting self-nominated pairs of graduate students and faculty members as they pursue semester-long collaborative projects of their own design. To learn more about the program, click here.