Mycenae Excavation and Publication Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Mycenae Excavation and Publication archive comprises material relating to British School at Athens and British-Helleno excavations at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mycenae between 1920 and 1969. These excavations were conducted under the site directorships of Alan John Bayard Wace (1879-1957) and Lord William Desmond Taylour (1904-1989). Excavation and study season records in the archive include:

  • Excavation notebooks
  • Site albums
  • Pottery notes
  • Pottery drawings and sections
  • Maps
  • Photographs and negatives
  • Administrative materials

The archive also contains manuscripts and material generated for publications relating to these excavations, particularly the Well Built Mycenae series and the Archaeological Atlas of Mycenae .

Administrative / Biographical History

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 .

Arrangement

The archive is arranged in eight series as follows:

  • 1. Excavation and Pottery Notebooks
  • 2. Maps, Plans and Drawings
  • 3. Photographic
  • 4. Administrative and Study Materials
  • 5. Well Built Mycenae Publications
  • 6. Mycenae Survey and Archaeological Atlas Publication
  • 7. Further Publications
  • 8. Miscellaneous

The arrangement by the donor, who amalgamated and maintained the records, has been retained where possible. The material has mostly been grouped by type and chronological order or else by project.

Conditions Governing Access

The Archives are open by appointment to researchers on Mondays, 10am-4pm. To arrange a visit and to discuss the material that you wish to consult, please contact the Archivist at least two weeks in advance by email Faculty of Classics Archives . On account of prior bookings, public and University holidays and staff availability, you are advised to apply as far in advance as possible.

Acquisition Information

The archive was transferred from Dr Elizabeth B French to the Faculty of Classics in August 2013. There have since been accruals in February 2014, May 2014, March 2015, March 2016 and December 2016.

Other Finding Aids

Complete box lists and incomplete card indexes are included within the archive and are currently being utilised for cataloguing. Cataloguing to series level is available on a local database held in the Archives office.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for reproduction must be made in writing to the Faculty of Classics. The Faculty reserves the right to refuse reproduction on copyright, conservation, data protection or other grounds.

Appraisal Information

Ongoing appraisal and cataloguing to file level is being undertaken currently by the repository.

Custodial History

The archive was formed out of the excavation records kept by the excavation directors, Professor Alan Wace and Lord William Taylour. Wace's daughter, Dr Elizabeth (Lisa) French, has amalgamated and maintained these records whilst also incorporating materials generated by projects analysing the excavations, such as publication and researchers' study materials.

In 1983 the archive formed the basis for the Mycenae Project, led by Lord William Taylour, Professor Ken Wardle, Diana Wardle, Rayna Andrews and Lisa French. It was sponsored by the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham and funded by the Manpower Services Commission. Photographs, site notebooks and and small finds indexes were sent to Birmingham and cross-indexed to produce a master index of all small finds (available in the archive for use by researchers). This project also included an outreach element, using the archive as a basis for producing an exhibition aimed at children entitled 'Homer's Heroes: Daily Life in Mycenaean Greece'.

At this point as many earlier records as possible were concentrated in Birmingham for digital indexing, with more material following in 1989 in order to facilitate access to the archive once Lisa French relocated from Manchester to Athens to take up the role of BSA Director.

The bulk of the records held by Lisa French and Ken Wardle were deposited with the Faculty of Classics in August 2013, with accruals in February 2014 and May 2014 with the following exceptions:

  • 1. Marked copies of publications of all periods, which remain with Elizabeth French.
  • 2. Microfilms as well as scans and copies with Ken and Diana Wardle, to enable work to continue on the WBM Fascicules.

A few additional items held by Professor Kim Shelton concerning the Tsountas House Area were deposited in March 2015. Rayna Andrews, Production Editor for the Well Built Mycenae series, holds the original negatives. These are expected to be deposited with the archive in the future.

Accruals

Further accruals are in progress.

Related Material

Mycenae Excavations: Further material relating to the 1920-1939 excavations is held in the archives of the British School at Athens. This includes plans, maps, photographs and negatives, watercolours and four notebooks.

The professional papers of Alan Wace and Elizabeth (Lisa) French are also held by the Faculty of Classics archives repository and are available to researchers.