Heinrich Schliemann is known today as a pioneer of modern archaeology due to his numerous famous discoveries and his methods of excavating archaeology. However much controversy has risen over his name as an archaeologist due to his deceitful past, mistakes and misinterpretations of his discoveries, his modern yet destructive excavations, making people question whether he can or cannot be accurately named a ‘pioneer of modern Archaeology’. To clarify this, the most accurate term for pioneer is considered the noun, “One who is first or amoung the earliest in any field of inquiry, enterprise, or progress. 1”
Those who believe that Schliemann is a “natural prehistorian2” base this on Schliemann’s passion for Homer’s Troy, his use of modern archaeology methods and his numerous famous discoveries. When considering the mistakes Schliemann made in naming his findings including his misrepresentation of Priam’s Treasure3 and the layer of Homer’s Troy 4, we have to remember that ‘there were no written references to Troy from the Late Bronze Age, and until the scant knowledge of Adjacent Anatolian Civilizations 5’ so for the Homer passionate, businessman these discoveries were more than remarkable for proving pre-history.
Even professional archaeologists including Manfred Korfmann6 laud ‘Schliemann’s technique of deep digging and his focus on pottery as a cue in his excavation project as important innovations’, believing that although Schliemann may not have been the only one archaeologist of the time using such modern methodology, but certainly one of the first and hence contributed to the change in archaeological excavation methods.
Controversy has come of some of Schliemann’s methods of excavation and dating archaeology as those who have more contemporary beliefs, and people in the current time looking back at Schliemann, recognize the new methods of Archaeology he conducted to have benefitted archaeologists, however in contrary, archaeologists of the time whom deemed more traditional did not approve of Schliemann’s methodology.
Schliemann’s modern methodology shocked contemporary colleges including Ulrich Wilamowitz Moellendorff who was surprised by Schliemann’s rejection of classical philology and the Winckelmann tradition of scholarly archaeology, resulting in the image of Schliemann’s credibility. Some of these negative opinions may have established from Schliemann’s destruction during excavating, however as Geoffrey Arnott 7 phrases it, Schliemann’s “archaeological techniques were at first primitive and amateurish, although they improved as he gained experience”.
This change was evident through his “timely publication of results8” of his hand drawn sketches, and later photographs of each of Schliemann’s finds which he began to log after each discovery from 18729. Schliemann’s team of specialists who accompanied him on his excavations, was also modern for the time as Schliemann chose individuals on their specialty including draughtsmen, photographers, surveyors, a physical anthropologist, people who could comment on the ancient history, numismatics, local flora and plant remains10.
This allowed Schliemann to find “clues about the climate, the location of rivers, moors and mountains, or archaeological hints in the Iliad or Odyssey,11” using “all these indications to show his unprecedented belief in the historical accuracy of Homer’s poetry, and correlate archaeological objects with Homer’s descriptions12”. Kathrin Maurer sums up Schliemann’s modern archaeological motives when stating: “These spectacular strategies communicate a spacial and commodified view of history informed by modern tourism.
Schliemann’s approach to history, thus, broke with the historicist tradition of “grand narrative” in representing the ancient Greek past and opened up new non-narrative conceptions of history in the field of archaeology13”. Schliemann’s dishonesty, excavation damage and incorrect judgements are criticized by many including accusations of Schliemann to be “a complete stranger to every scientific treatment of his subject”14.
Many negative opinions of Schliemann have formed around his personality traits and personal background15, posing suspicions on the accuracy and predictability of his discoveries and theories, as well as his personal approach to archaeology. Many faults in Schliemann’s work have been found including in his diary entries where he is caught telling fibs such as finding the jewelry he claimed to be Priam’s treasures, inside of the citadel wall of Troy II when he actually found them outside the wall16.
He accounted the help of his wife in the discovery of these jewels in his diary where he said; “It would have been impossible to have removed the Treasure without the help of my dear wife who stood by me ready to pick up the things which I cut out into her shawl and to carry them away”17, however it has been proved that his wife was not present and in fact in Athens18. Schliemann’s dishonesty may not have made huge impacts on his discoveries however when added up with his criminal record for lying to fix his divorce and U. S citizenship in 186819 and for smuggling Priam’s treasures out of Turkey against the Turkish Government consent20.
Although Schliemann’s dishonesty and “egocentric and boastful21” personality is not the only reason people belief of Schliemann as a defective Archaeologist. When conducting his excavations, Schliemann made great damage to potential evidence including what Professor Schmidt describes as “incompleteness and manifold uncertainties” 22 of Schliemann’s excavations for the ceramic discoveries at Troy as well as Schliemann’s analysis of small utensils which Professor Gotze complains to be “unverifiable figures referring to the individual objects” 23.
When Schliemann dug on the southern half of Hisarlik for a trench, he ‘hauled out hundreds of tones of earth’24 which went through levels of Homer’s Troy. Schliemann dug, some say “too fast25”, and as a result caused damage to evidence which may have been crucial. An example of this was Schliemann’s excavations at Lion Gate where he dug behind the gate and on his way destroyed the beginning of a ramp and chariot way to the citadel, while he continued to dig further through the layers down to the level of the circle of slabs26.
Manfred Korfmann has excavated Troy from 1988 until present27 and has admitted “We haven’t found any mistakes. We have found nothing that Schliemann missed28”. It is evident from this statement that the discoveries of Schliemann at Troy, regardless of his few mistakes and lies, were those the most important and relevant in unveiling the history of Homer’s Troy.
When in question of whether Schliemann’s untruths and faults are significant enough as to outweigh his momentous discoveries, consideration must be paid to the universal human characteristics of “a flawed human being, sometimes confused, sometimes mistaken, dishonest, inadequately equipped, who sets all his energies to one great end and who, despite of his faults, changes the picture in a whole subject and leaves behind a lasting legacy of information and enthusiasm. ”