7381 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 29. Number 5, December 1988 (Translated also in Greek)

Our Readers Write

I have just returned from the Second Pan-Hellenic Congress of Anthropology, which brought together about 100 scholars from Greece, the U.S.A., England, Italy, and South Africa. The Congress was held at Athens (May 27-29, 1988), but I also had a chance to visit the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic site of Petralona, which has yielded, among others, one of the oldest human remains in Europe. Unfortunately, Dr. A. Poulianos has been forced by the Greek authorities to abandon the exploration of the site that he has expertly conducted since 1965. The name "Anthropological Museum" has been ripped from the wall of the museum building at the site and replaced with the symbol of a tourist organization. By the entrance to the museum there is a marble plaque describing (I think, since it is in Greek) the purpose of the museum and stating that it was erected through Dr. Poulianos efforts. His name has been crudely chiseled off (though parts of it are still legible). There is no competent anthropologist supervising the site and the museum at the moment.

Petralona and its museum have been a focus of anthropological activity in Greece, attracting young local researchers and overseas visitors and recently serving as a venue for the Third European Anthropological Congress. I am not inclined to take sides in the scientific dispute regarding the details of dating and interpretation of some of the finds from Petralona - future research will provide its resolution. I do think, however, that it is unethical to erase facts with a chisel and to prevent competent researchers from continuing their work at the site. It is to the detriment of our discipline that such an important site is being left to deteriorate.

By the vote of an overwhelming majority, the (Pan-Hellenic) Congress on May 30, 1988, passed a resolution on the subject. As a CA Associate of more than a dozen years, and in the hope that it will at least initiate a discussion regarding the fate of an important site, I hereby submit it for publication:

The Second Pan Hellenic Congress of Anthropology expresses its appreciation of the work carried out by the Anthropological Association of Greece. The range of topics, the depth of time covered, and the fostering of interdisciplinary cooperation ensure the high quality and importance of results.

There is no doubt that all aspects of the origins of humans and of their present-day life are of interest to all mankind and that no effort should be spared in investigating them. Because of their rarity, however, the oldest fossil traces of human life are especially important. The cave of Petralona and related sites stand out as one of the foremost documents of man's origins. The (Pan-Hellenic, 1988) Congress fully endorses tire resolution of the Third European Anthropological Congress that "the exploratory work carried out in the cave for many years by Dr Aris Poulianos and his associates is highly impressive in its scientific standards, its comprehensiveness, and the amount of effort invested". Petralona is certainly only the first among many prehistoric sites that arc still undiscovered in Greece. Their exploration is necessary for the full understanding of our past.

Greece was the centre of a magnificent civilization in classical antiquity. This important fact should not, however, direct scholarly attention selectively towards the study of classical cultural remains only. Studies of human skeletal remains of classical times as well as those of modern inhabitants of the country are needed to appreciate properly the Greek contribution to the modern world.

Knowledge is among the most precious resources of humanity. It should be freely pursued and shared internationally. Therefore we view with the utmost dismay the stoppage of work at Petralona and interference with the pursuit of other scholarly goals of the Anthropological Association of Greece by the Greek authorities. The cave of Petralona, open to the public and left without proper scientific supervision, already shows signs of destruction. Evidence that has survived hundreds of thousands of years is disappearing irretrievably.

The Congress appeals to the international community of scholars to make every possible effort to protect the invaluable evidence of human origins and to enable researchers with years of local experience to continue their work in the spirit of academic freedom and to the benefit of human knowledge.


Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa 7 VI 88


The above letter has been published before the justification of the Anthropological Association of Greece in the Supreme Court (1997) and itís re-establishing at Petralona cave. Unfortunately, it is still current in 2014.