Fortress of Refuge for Olympic Beauty Destroyed
By Quake, According to New Findings by UC Archaeologist

[late Bronze Age silver earring][reinforcing stonework with italcement]
Bronze Age earring/reinforcing ancient stonework

Dec. 30, 1998
Contact for photos or information: Marianne Cianciolo
(513) 556-1826 (O)

Cincinnati -- The late Bronze Age citadels of Tiryns and Mycenae are well-known tourist stops in the Greek Argolid. A third, at Midea, is a fortress that, according to legend, has connections to the beautiful woman to whom the Olympic games trace their origin.

Sometime near 1200 B.C. something destroyed all three palaces. While scholars have debated whether war or natural disaster caused the destruction, evidence from Midea points to an earthquake, according to University of Cincinnati archaeologist Gisela Walberg, director of UC's Midea excavation team. On Wednesday, Dec. 30, Walberg reported on excavations at the site during the Archaeological Institute of America annual conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington DC.

Walberg began excavations at Midea, about 55 miles southwest of Athens, in 1985. She works with Midea excavation head Aikaterini Demakopoulou, retired director of the National Museum in Athens. Since 1989, the project has been funded by UC s Louise Taft Semple Fund.

Unlike Tiryns, where a new palace main hall (or megaron), was built after the destruction below the site's main hill, and Mycenae, where there is no evidence of building a new megaron, Walberg has discovered that the Midea megaron was rebuilt on the same spot and restored to its original state, after a brief interruption in habitation. Only the interior plans were changed, she said.

"Excavations at Tiryns have indicated it was probably an earthquake that destroyed these three sites, but now we have one more piece of that puzzle," said Walberg, who holds UC's Marion Rawson Chair in Aegean Prehistory.

"The fact that the megaron at Midea was rebuilt in the same fashion as it was before the destruction makes it likely that it wasn't invaders, but rather the same people, who restored it," she said. "We have also found evidence of collapsed walls and fire that point to an earthquake."

A new book by Walberg about the excavation findings up to 1991 is expected to be published in early 1999. In addition to the excavations, the team is working to restore the site's architectural remains; the conservation process sometimes involves injecting the ancient structures with a bright pink substance called italcement that fades over time to match the aged stone.

Among the most significant finds in the last decade of research, Walberg said, are:

  • The main palace hall, with the first wall discovered in 1991.

  • A system of aqueducts and cisterns built to take advantage of the slope of the hillside and to get water from the hillside above and the top of the hill. The system represents the most complete and earliest remains of a water collection system on the Greek mainland. The water collection system remains found by Walberg's team at Midea date back to the 16th century B.C. while the cisterns and aqueducts at the other Greek sites are from 300 years later in the 13th century B.C.

  • Three nodules, or lumps of clay bearing seal impressions. Two of the nodules are inscribed with the most ancient form of Greek known, called Linear B, and may have recorded some of the bureaucratic activities of the palace.

  • A niche containing sword pommels, found in the south wall of the megaron.

  • A gilded silver earring. Silver is more rare a find than gold from that period because silver corrodes more easily, Walberg said.

    To fans of Greek mythology, Midea holds interest as the site where Hippodameia, the beauty behind the Olympic legend, is said to have taken refuge and eventually died. The Olympic games, founded in 776 B.C., are fabled to have been founded in honor of her and her husband Pelops, who had won her hand in a dangerous chariot race, the precursor to the games. According to yet another myth, Midea was constructed for Perseus, the Greek hero known for slaying the Gorgon Medusa, and is one of two walled cities attributed to him.

    Walberg plans to return to Midea in summer 1999 from June to August.

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