“We have a picture of the Acropolis as the Periclean sanctuary including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the little Nike temple, and the Propylaea. However, what we all realize the first time we go up there, especially as an American School group, is that there are layers of history embedded in the fabric of the Acropolis.”

Encouraged by her Bryn Mawr advisors and peers, Nancy Klein began her longstanding relationship with the American School in 1988. “At the time, there was a Bryn Mawr tradition to go to the American School. Two others and I attended as Regular Members that year and Bruni Ridgway (then Rhys Carpenter Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College) was the Whitehead Professor in the fall,” said Klein. “Jenifer Neils (Case Western Reserve University) was the Whitehead in the spring and John Camp was the Mellon Professor. That was my jump into this extraordinary program.”

Klein spoke highly of her experience as a Regular Member and remembers most how the year was a major developmental phase. “It was a year where you go from being a student in a seminar room to being on site,” recalled Klein. “I had begun excavating with Jim Wright in Nemea in 1985 and it was the transition to seeing the professional and the Athenian side of what a career in archaeology could be.” Klein then returned to the American School for a second year as an Associate Member sponsored by the Gorham P. Stevens Fellowship. “It was absolutely amazing,” expressed Klein. “Stevens was one of the leading architects in the history of the School, especially for the Athenian Acropolis. And it was so special to be able to join in the line of many students who had been supported by the fellowship.” 

Continuing in her pursuit of architectural studies and interest in the Athenian Acropolis, Klein submitted a permit to look at material on the Acropolis for her dissertation on early Doric architecture. While Klein was granted permission to view the material, it was only for her dissertation as a German scholar had publishing rights.

“After completing my dissertation, I went on to work at Kavousi Vronda and its Late Minoan IIIC settlement became my priority,” said Klein. But then in 2001, Klein received a phone call she couldn’t believe, “A Greek colleague with whom I had worked with as a grad student called me to say the scholar who had the rights to work on this material had decided they will not continue their work and ask if I would be interested in applying.” Developed out of that moment is Klein’s current project on the small limestone buildings from the Acropolis.

Klein in store room of the Acropolis Museum. December 2017.

Using Archaeological Excavation to Study Architecture

“The first publications in 1904 gave a representative sample of blocks and then beautiful reconstructions of the buildings’ façades. But now from an archaeological view point you realize the evidence is more elusive. In using excavation to find architecture and presenting a catalogue of blocks, I can talk about the specifics. For example, how many buildings, how big they were, and what are their distinctive characteristics.”

To enrich our picture of the Acropolis sanctuary, Klein aims to use archaeological material to answer questions of social history and religious practice through her research. “Thinking about these questions pushes us to reexamine what we think we understand about social history. For example, who paid for the buildings’ construction. Was it the polis? Was it a tyrant such as Peisistratos or his family,” questioned Klein. “Moreover, how does architecture give a visible tangible expression of faith and identity and social history in Athens?”

The primary body of material that Klein will be sharing are the blocks in the storeroom of the Acropolis. “Fragments from the small buildings, constructed in the 6th and early 5th centuries but demolished or dismantled at a later period, some following Persian destruction, were reused in the deep layers of fills and in the foundations and walls of the Acropolis. After excavation, they’ve lived in storerooms and reconstructions in both the old and new Acropolis Museum.” 

Typically, when looking at the material in the Acropolis Museum, Klein is accompanied by a representative from the ephoreia, conservators, and guards. She physically examines the blocks in search of tool marks and details of construction and then proceeds to document by measuring, photographing, and drawing each block.

Working with archaeological and excavation material, however, has posed challenges for Klein. “There are no detailed excavation records from what is called the Big Dig, Panagiotis Kavvadias’ 19th c. excavation,” explained Klein. “We do have phenomenal archival photographs, day books, and records from other archaeologists and visitors, so my approach has been to try and go back to historical accounts and tease out any information about find spots.” Klein has also made excellent use of the American School archives. “With the help of Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, I have been looking at material from the archives of William Bell Dinsmoor. Dinsmoor worked on the Acropolis from 1907 forward and in the process, made notes and drawings that overlap with the material I’m studying. With the generous permission of Tessa Dinsmoor, I will be able to use Dinsmoor’s observations to fill in important information.”

Klein with ASCSA Director Jenifer Neils' dog, Atticus.

The Athenian Intellectual Candy Shop

From participating in excavations to conducting her own research, Klein has revisited Greece almost every year since her first experiences in 1985. To Klein, being on the ground in Greece is not just about convenient access to the Acropolis, it is also about being a part of the intellectual community at the American School. “I enjoy being in Athens not just to focus on my work but to participate in all the programing of the ASCSA and foreign archaeological institutions,” said Klein. “Just in my short month now, I’ve had the ability to attend anything from an epigraphy workshop to a lecture on Prehistoric Crete. It may not all be directly related to my work, but you never know. It’s truly the intellectual candy shop of Athens.”

When recalling her various times in Greece, Klein also stressed how grateful she has been to not just the members of the American School but also to its staff and directors. “With the perspective of 30 years down the road, I am so appreciative of those who have continued to manage, promote, and develop the School as an institution which doesn’t just continue doing all the good things it did in the past but is actively maintaining its relevance.”