The archaeological site of Mycenae, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, is located in the north-eastern Peloponnese region of Greece. Inhabited since the Neolithic era, the site became the largest centre of the Mycenaean civilisation during the Late Bronze Age (c.1100-1600 BCE). This fortified acropolis site, encircled by its famous monumental 'cyclopean' walls, dominated much of southern Greece militarily and politically, as well as generating distinctive artistic styles and products. Featuring in the Homeric epics as the home of Agamemnon, Mycenae has a rich mythological past that archaeologists have taken inspiration from when naming features and finds from the site. Much of what can be seen at the site today, including the iconic Lion Gate, Grave Circles A and B and tholos tombs such as the Treasury of Atreus, date to the Late Bronze Age.
The first excavations of Mycenae were carried out by Kyriakos Pittakis in 1841, who unearthed the famous Lion Gate entrance. Pittakis was followed by Heinrich Schliemann in 1874 and Christos Tsountas, of the Archaeological Society of Athens (ASA), from 1884. Mycenae is an Archaeological Society site but Tsountas granted permission for the British School at Athens (BSA) to excavate at the site in 1920 and this was undertaken by the then BSA Director, Professor Alan John Bayard Wace from 1920 until his death in 1957. Following Wace's death, excavations continued as a joint project with the Archaeological Society. Lord William Taylour, who had excavated under Wace, became the director of the British excavations (alongside Ioannis Papadimitriou, Nicolas Vermeils and George Melons for the ASA) from 1958 to 1969. Excavations and analysis of Mycenae continue to the present day.
The archive material broadly covers BSA excavations and study seasons between 1920 and 1969, which can be broken down as follows:
- 1920-1922 – BSA excavations directed by Alan Wace
- 1939 – BSA excavations directed by Alan Wace
- SUSPENSION OF EXCAVATION DURING THE WAR
- 1950 – 1955 BSA excavations directed by Alan Wace
- 1956-1957 – Study seasons at Nauplion Museum
- 1959 - 1960 British-Helleno excavations directed by Lord William Taylour
- 1962 - British-Helleno excavations directed by Lord William Taylour
- 1964 - British-Helleno excavations directed by Lord William Taylour
- 1965 – Study season at Nauplion Museum
- 1966 - British-Helleno excavations directed by Lord William Taylour
- 1967 – Study season at Nauplion Museum
- 1968 – 1969 British-Helleno excavations directed by Lord William Taylour
- 1970-88 - Study seasons at Nauplion (EBF)
Areas excavated or re-excavated during this time include the Citadel House area, the Palace, House of Sphinxes, House of Shields (North House), House of the Oil Merchant, Prehistoric Cemetery, Perseia area, Fountain House (Hellenistic Gymnasium), Tomb of Aegisthus, Tomb of Clytemnestra, Schliemann's dump, Epano Phournos Tomb, Treasury of Atreus, Atreus Ridge, Agamemnoneion.
Excavations were conducted during the summer months, with varying numbers of excavators involved. Notable participants include Carl W. Blegen, Piet de Jong, Winifred Lamb and Sinclair Hood. Dr Elizabeth French, the daughter of Alan Wace and the donor of the archive, was present for all of the seasons between 1939 and 1969, except for 1964. Each excavation had an architect and a foreman, the latter often undertaken by members of the Dasis family who ran the Fair Helen (Belle Helene), the hotel which was the base for the excavators. Lists of the excavation participants and a summary of each season were published in the British School at Athens Annual.
Between 1900 and 1998 the bulk of all excavated material from Mycenae was housed in the storerooms of Nauplion Museum, with a few choice pieces taken to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. A lot of work was conducted during excavations and study seasons in the Nauplia storerooms. In 1952 a small room on the top floor was made available as a storeroom for the British finds. When the building was renovated individual 'cells' were made available as storerooms for the various excavations. Ultimately of all the finds not exhibited or in special storage from the 1939-1955 excavations were stored here together with those from 1920-23. Two more storerooms were allocated later for material from the Citadel House excavations. In 1998/9 all Nauplion material (both stored and exhibited) was transferred gradually to the new on-site Mycenae Museum, where it remains today along with the original object registration cards.
As well as being published in BSA annuals and the Journal of Hellenic Studies, the findings and reports from the excavations are published in the ongoing series Well Built Mycenae .