Archaeology in Albania after Kosovo

By Hodges, Richard | History Today, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Archaeology in Albania after Kosovo


Hodges, Richard, History Today


NOVEMBER 1998 MARKED the fiftieth anniversary of the Albanian Institute of Archaeology. Enver Hoxhe, Albania's post-war Communist dictator, formerly opened a prototype Institute in 1948 and appointed its first director. With Soviet support the Institute grew steadily, embarking upon a programme of large-scale excavations to determine the indigenous Illyrian origins of the Albanian people. In the early 1970s the Institute was given its own building with a museum, and was provided with state funding for an annual scientific journal, Illiria.

In these years there was a sense of romantic purpose to the activities of the Institute. As many as fifty excavation campaigns were mounted in any one year, and Hoxhe himself took a personal interest in the archaeological discoveries. When Nikita Khruschev pressed Hoxhe to create a submarine base in Lake Butrint involving the destruction of the fine Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins there, he haughtily refused, condemning the Soviet leader's ignorance of history.

These active years came to an abrupt halt with the overthrow of the Communist government in 1990 and the adoption of democracy in 1991. Since then the Institute of Archaeology has suffered from a lack of funds and government support. Many of its most promising pupils have emigrated, leaving less than a third of the staff in place. Its museum is in need of refurbishment; its journal, Illiria, has been issued only intermittently; and the only funds for excavations are those provided by the small number of foreign missions now working in Albania. At the same time, the post-Communist decade has given rise to development, both unplanned and planned, on a hitherto unimaginable scale, often causing the transparent destruction of Albania's remarkable archaeological record from Palaeolithic to Byzantine times.

An unlikely outcome of the Kosovo crisis was the interest taken in Albania by Dr David Packard, founder of the newly established Packard Humanities Institute. Packard, having taught ancient Greek at several universities, is very familiar with the geography of the ancient world. Durres, ancient Epidaumos and the modern gateway for much of the aid destined for Kosovo, is Albania's second city. It boasts an impressive amphitheatre, now surrounded by illegal building which has sprung up since 1990. It is one of a number of great Greek and Roman cities in Albania that caught Packard's imagination.

Reacting to the post-Kosovo need to develop cultural initiatives, and building on the international standing of Albania's energetic minister of culture, Edi Rama, Packard has provided almost $2 million towards revitalising archaeology in the country. The funds have been directed towards three projects.

First, a new foundation will be created in Tirana working with the Institute of Archaeology. …

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