The Agora in Ancient Athens

If the photograph above reminds you of the PHI Stoa there is a reason. This is the Stoa of Attalos in the Agora of Athens, built in the second century B.C. by King Attalos of Pergamon. It was faithfully reconstructed in the 1950s by The American School of Classical Studies in Athens, funded by the Rockefeller family.

The Agora of Athens was the center of the ancient city—a large, open square, below the Acropolis, where the citizens could assemble for a wide variety of public and private purposes. The Agora was the focal point of their varied activities and here the concept of democracy was first developed and practiced.

The systematic excavation of this important site was entrusted by the Greek State to the American School of Classical Studies, which began excavations in 1931, funded largely by the Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon, Kress Foundations, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In recent decades the the Packard Humanities Institute has provided the major support.

Since 1931 hundreds of scholars, workers, specialists, and students have participated in the excavation, conservation, research, and publication of the site and its related finds. Collectively, they are responsible for one of the most productive archaeological projects in the Mediterranean basin. Over forty volumes and hundreds of scholarly articles have been published, adding much to our understanding of all aspects of ancient Greek history and society.

Click here for the Agora website.


Herculaneum (near Naples in southern Italy) was destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. While smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum is much better preserved because of the nature of the pyroclastic volcanic flow that buried it. The upper floors often survive, and organic matter is preserved better than almost anywhere in the ancient world, including wooden furniture, bread, figs, olives, fishing nets, ropes, and papyri.

Systematic exploration began in the 18th century through a large network of underground tunnels. The primary goal was to find statues, frescoes, and other artwork to enhance the prestige of the aristocracy. From 1927 to 1962, Amadeo Maiuri conducted a series of open air excavations that revealed most of the ancient site now visible.

In the popular imagination, excavation seems like the main task of archaeology, but study and conservation can be even more essential. Italy has so many sites of cultural significance that it is very difficult to maintain them all. In 2001, therefore, PHI created the Herculaneum Conservation Project, in collaboration with the local Italian Soprintendenza. While funded by PHI, most of the project team is Italian.

Our project has tried to address the most pressing threats to the site, by regular maintenance and especially by dealing with water damage by improved roofing and drains. In the course of our work, we have made many new archaeological discoveries. We try to involve the local community closely in our activities.

Herculaneum does not have a museum on site. Many artistic treasures found before the 20th century are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, including the remarkable bronze statues from the Villa of the Papyri. But Herculaneum provides abundant evidence for the “daily life” of the Romans, including furniture, jewelry, food, cooking and storage vessels in clay, bronze and glass, lamps, tools, water systems, fishing equipment, wall painting, and many other objects of a type not normally exhibited in a “fine arts” museum.

PHI is therefore exploring the opportunity to design and build a new museum adjacent to the excavations and to create a master plan that provides convenient access for visitors, integrates the ancient site with the modern town, and preserves the opportunity for future excavation.

Click here to read about conservation at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Click here to read about our Herculaneum Conservation Project.

Zeugma on the Euphrates

Zeugma is an ancient Roman city in Turkey. In the spring of 2000, Zeugma was about to be buried by a newly constructed dam—a Turkish Pompeii about to be buried by water rather than a volcano. Only a few months remained, but the challenge seemed intriguing.

PHI organized a massive rescue archaeology project in the summer of 2000. Under the very able leadership of Rob Early, Oxford Archaeology, a British firm providing archaeological services under contract, fielded a remarkable team. Dr Olcay Ünver, head of the South-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP), arranged to set up a large camp at Birecik, where our team lived and worked during the hot summer months as the dam was slowly filling.

The actual digging is only the first step, and numerous experts in special fields must help conserve, study, interpret, and publish the finds. Our three-volume report is also available on our web site.

Click here to see a review in the Times Literary Supplement.

Click here to see the full 3 volumes.

Click here to learn about the conservation of Roman mosaics at Zeugma.


Despite its rich archaeological heritage and its position between Greece and Italy, Albania was an extremely closed society during the Cold War. With the end of the communist period, PHI saw an opportunity to encourage and support the development of a capable and modern tradition of Albanian archaeology, enriched by collaboration with non-Albanian colleagues.

PHI has provided significant support for the Butrint Foundation, an international organization founded in 1993 in the UK by Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover. The foundation aims to conserve, preserve, and develop the Butrint site in southern Albania (across from the Greek island of Corfu).

Click here for the Butrint Foundation.

PHI has also provided more general support for archaeology in Albania, including the conservation of Gjirokastra, an outstanding example of an Ottoman merchant town and one of the few still surviving in the Balkans.

Click here to learn more about Gjirokastra.


The Merowe Dam Project at the 4th Cataract of the Nile, upon its completion in 2008, flooded an area of approximately 100 miles in the Nile Valley.

PHI supported six rescue archaeology projects at that time, by UC Santa Barbara, the University of Chicago, the British Museum, The University of Warsaw, Humbolt University Berlin, and The Museum of Fine Arts Budapest.

The salvage excavations in the 4th Cataract have been significant in revealing that the region supported a respectable population during most major phases of Nubian history, something previously regarded as unlikely by some scholars. In particular, the evidence suggests that the first Kingdom of Kush, based at Kerma, extended not just northward to the 1st Cataract at its greatest extent, but also far upstream. (University of Chicago)


The ancient Greeks founded colonies all around the Mediterranean Sea, and even in the Black Sea. They created town centers, but much of their life was spent in the countryside. In the early days, archaeologists were especially eager to find impressive temples, statues, and works of art. But now we are also interested in learning about daily life amoung the rural population. PHI has supported a project, led by Professor Joseph Carter at the University of Texas at Austin, that studies the broader context of two Greek colonies, one at Chersonesus in the Crimea and one at Metapontum in southern Italy.

Click here to learn more about Chersonesus.

Other Sites in Greece

PHI has also supported excavations at Isthmia and Lefkandi in Greece.

Click here to learn more about Isthmia.

Click here to learn more about Lefkandi.


For many years PHI provided the major support for the Mihai Eminescu Trust, which is dedicated to the conservation and regeneration of villages and communes in Transylvania and the Maramures, two of the most unspoilt regions of Europe.

Click here to learn more about this project.