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History Of The Excavations At The Palace Of Nestor

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In 1912 and 1926 Dr. Konstantine Kourouniotis excavated two tholos ("beehive") tombs in the region north of the Bay of Navarino.3 Both had been plundered in ancient times, but each yielded interesting overlooked objects. One contained three handsome jars decorated in the "palace style," the other a collection of Early Mycenaean and Middle Helladic pots.4 In the general neighborhood Kourouniotis observed surface indications of several further tombs of the same type.
A joint Hellenic-American expedition was formed, with Kourouniotis representing the Greek Archaeological Service and Carl W. Blegen the University of Cincinnati. The purpose of the undertaking was to explore western Messenia with special reference to Mycenaean sites and cemeteries. In 1938 the two colleagues made a brief survey of the region. They believed that the tholos tombs were royal sepulchers, and they drew the conclusion that in a region where there are many such tombs there must be a palace in which the kings lived before they died and were buried.
In 1939 more systematic explorations of the district to the east and north of the Bay of Navarino were carried out with the help of local residents, especially Charalambos Christophilopoulos of Koryphasion, who generously offered their information and guidance to places where ancient remains were known to exist. In the course often days, some seven or eight sites were discovered, all of which, on the evidence of the pottery lying on the ground, seemed to go back to the Mycenaean period. The most dominating position of all was on a hill called Epano Englianos, which commands a magnificent view: the Bay of Navarino to the south, the range of Mount Aigaleon toward the north and northeast, a wide expanse of rugged hills to the east, and more hills and the sea to the west. Two masses of hard concrete-like debris projected from the ground in the olive grove that occupied the hill.
Trial excavations were begun on April 4, 1939, and on the very first day stone walls, fragments of frescoes, stucco floors, five inscribed tablets, and Mycenaean pottery were brought to light. It became clear that a palace did exist here, just as the presence of important tombs had suggested. Explorations in the following weeks revealed that the building was of considerable extent, comparable to those already known at Tiryns, Mycenae, and Thebes.6 More than six hundred tablets and fragments of tablets bearing inscriptions in the Linear Β script were recovered during that first season.7 Plans for beginning a systematic excavation the following year could not be realized because of the outbreak of World War II, and it was only in 1952 that work could be resumed.
Dr. Kourouniotis died in 1945, and Professor Spyridon Marinatos was designated by the Archaeological Council as his successor. Rather than conducting operations jointly, he preferred to concentrate his attention on the exploration of other settlement sites, tholos,tombs, and chamber tombs in a wider neighborhood, while the Cincinnati Expedition devoted its chief efforts to the clearing of the palace and the investigation of its more immediate vicinity.

Through fifteen annual seasons from 1952 to 1966 the Palace of Nestor was gradually uncovered, while all areas on and just below the acropolis were widely explored. Financial support for the undertaking was provided by Professor and Mrs. William T. Semple until 1962, and subsequently by the Classics Fund of the University of Cincinnati, a gift of Louise Taft Semple in memory of her father, Charles Phelps Taft.
In the winter of 1960-1961 the Greek Archaeological Service erected a protective metal roof over the entire central building of the palace. It has thus been possible to leave most of the floors, hearths, and other elements uncovered and open to view by visitors whatever the season and weather.
(CWB and MR, JLD and CWS)
Blegen, Rawson, and their colleagues published their discoveries at the Palace of Nestor in a series of large, well-illustrated books: The Palace of Nestor at Pylos in Western Messenia.s The third volume appeared in 1973, after Ble-gen's death. A fourth and final volume, now in preparation, will contain the definitive edition of the Linear Β tablets found in the palace.
Archaeology has changed considerably since the completion of excavations at the Palace of Nestor. Modern approaches and techniques allow new information to be extracted from material gathered in the past. During the 1990s, members of several archaeological teams have reexamined the work of Blegen and Rawson. Architects from the University of Minnesota have prepared a complete stone-by-stone plan of the site (http://marwp.cla.umn.edu/index.html). One goal of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project has been to determine accurately the size of the town that surrounded the palace (http://classics.lsa.umich.edu/PRAP.html). And, since 1996, the University of Cincinnati and the Institute of Aegean Prehistory have supported the publication and republication of finds stored in the Chora Museum. (JLD and CWS)