Greece Blog: National Archaeological Museum

Cyclades Islands Figurines at National Archaeological Museum

June 7th, 2017

Today was our second day in Athens. The time difference is still taking its toll on some of us but none the less it was a pretty great day. Today we headed to the National Archaeological Museum where our lovely tour guide Anna gave us the grand tour. Many people may or may not know about Greece’s rich history. The Greeks have been around since ancient times and we know this because of all the archaeological discoveries that have been excavated around the country. We started off our tour by discussing the different areas of Greece. Most people, myself included, only think of the Greek islands as Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete when in fact there are so many more. The mainland is also quite bigger than you realize and I did not know all the different regions of Greece but when looking at a map you can really see all the different areas of Greece. The earliest findings in Greece date back to the Paleolithic Era. This means that there were people inhabiting the area we know as Greece around 2.6 million years ago.

After we had discussed some of the background information of archaeological sites in Greece, we moved on to talked about the Cyclades. As I mentioned above people do not always realize how many islands make up the Greek islands. The Cyclades is the name encompassing all the islands near the edge of the mainland of Greece, including Santorini and Mykonos. Anna mentioned to us that the Cyclades islands had marble on them. The Greeks used marble for many different purposes like building, art, and other things. On display in the museum we saw many figurines and household items that were found in the Cyclades islands. They started off by shaping the marble into a violin like shape. Then after they had gotten the right shape they used paint made out of clay to paint on the human features. Majority of the figures are women. These women figurines represent the symbol of fertility and are dedicated to the mother god. Most people know the Greeks believed in many different Gods and they would create things for them. These specific figurines show the mother protecting her baby and they also symbolize livelihood. Figurines that depicted harp and flute players were found in the Cyclades as well which shows that even in this prehistoric time music was a part of the culture.

We then moved on to the Mycenae culture during the Bronze Age. This site was excavated by Schliemann, who wanted to prove that Homer’s epic poems were real and not myth. He decided to excavate in Troy which then led him to Mycenae. He there found that Homer’s tales were factual and people had been living there. Some of the things that were discovered in Mycenae were royal tombs and grave circles, which are basically cemeteries. The Greeks did not mummify their people instead they buried them. However, the Greeks did bury their people with items. One of the main things that were discovered in the graves was gold. They made gold plates to put over people’s faces and bodies. They also buried gold jewelry, other gold tokens, swords, and daggers. Because they did not yet have iron all of the swords and daggers were made from silver and gold. One interesting thing that Anna shared with us that the gold was not Greek gold. The gold actually came from Egypt. She explained to us that the Greeks had gone to support the Egyptians in a war and help them fight so in return they came back to Greece with all of this gold.

We then moved on to the Iron Age. Obviously, from the name this is when iron was discovered, but Anna explained to us that this was sort of a dark age. This was not a time when art flourished. They also called it the geometric period because on urns and vases there would be a lot of shapes and geometric patterns. Another interesting part of the Iron Age was how much the Greeks were influenced by the Egyptians in their art. A lot of the statues had similar features to the items Egyptians would make for the pharaohs and put in their tombs.

In a different exhibit we got to look at some discoveries from Santorini. Anna showed us some of the frescos that had been found on the walls of ancient homes in Santorini. She explained to us how you did not have to be a wealthy high and mighty person to have frescos painted on your walls, it was just something everyone did. She has also told us how they usually depict nature. We saw a fresco with two antelope, which is interesting because there are no antelope in Greece. This influence comes from Africa, which shows how innovative Greek culture was because they were moving around to all these places.

Today we got to take a look into Greece’s past. As a place that has had civilization in it for so long there is so much we can learn from the people of the past. This visit to the museum was a great way for us to learn more about where the Greeks come from and how their culture has been built. We now can understand how the Greek past influences their culture today. Obviously they had a lot of different influences such as the Egyptians and their culture was shaped based on their interactions with other civilizations which can still be felt today. 

Sara Weldon

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