An Interview with Dr Konstantine Politis
We are delighted that world-renowned archaeologist Dr Konstantine Politis is leading our extraordinary small-group trip to Jordan in October 2018. Here he talks charismatically about the spectacular sites we will visit, his own groundbreaking work in Jordan and the Middle East, and the stunning night’s sky in the Jordanian desert.
What first drew you to archaeology?
Well, that goes back a very long time. I remember digging in my grandparents’ garden, basically, and just liking to be in the dirt. They’d have little bits of pottery in the garden and that’s what excited me as a child.
When did you first go to Jordan and why do you find it so special?
That was a long time ago now – September 1984. First of all, I was working in the Jordan Valley – and that’s a very special place. Even if you’re not religious, you see the sunsets, you see all this ancient and biblical archaeology and it’s pretty inspiring. Quite literally the sunsets there are very different from anywhere else and it has such an amazing landscape. Jordan is very rich in all periods of history, whether you’re interested in pre-history, early man or up until the Ottoman Empire and the later 20th century. It’s a very rich cultural part of the world and it’s spiritual too.
What’s the most significant excavation you’ve done in Jordan?
That’s easy. In 1986 I was involved in survey work in the south of Jordan and we discovered a site which we thought was important, and we excavated it with the British Museum’s support. We uncovered the site that is now fully acknowledged, published, and even on CNN and Discovery programs, as Lot’s Cave, which was a biblical site where Lot took refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That is, for the moment at least, my major contribution.
But I am working on a major site nearby that is also becoming increasingly important. It’s one the earliest sugar cane factories in the Mediterranean and mainland Europe, so that’s the up and coming second most important project in Jordan.
How about elsewhere in the world?
Excavating in Athens, in the ancient market and city area called the Agora, was probably the most exciting, even though it wasn’t my discovery. It was earlier in my career – 1980 – and when you’re working in the centre of ancient Athens, for an archaeologist it just feels important. There was also a week where we were excavating and picking up pieces of broken columns, burnt and full of ash, and it was identified afterwards as the original Parthenon on the Acropolis, which the Persians burnt when they attacked Athens. it’s a spectacular moment to handle pieces that were burnt by the Persians two and a half thousand years ago.
Can you tell us about some highlights of the trip?
Well I’d like to say the highlight will be visiting my site – and we’ve built a museum next to it too – so it’s very exciting because all these objects are things I found myself and with my team, so I am certainly excited to show cazenove+loyd guests that, and with the context of the Dead Sea, it’s a unique kind of area, important to all three major religions and physically very attractive. Aside from the Dead Sea, the obvious thing is Petra, and it is a truly spectacular site. There are other monuments from the classical world where buildings are cut into rocks, but as a whole, the colours, the sandstone and the spectacular desert scenery make it one of the greatest sites in the world.
What do you think will be the be the most memorable moment for guests on the trip?
Just driving into the Jordan Valley and seeing the scenery is spectacular, and Petra again is truly a spectacular site. I think those two things should be really very memorable moments for guests. But we are seeing some other extremely special things. For example, on our night in the desert, we will be able to see a full ceiling of the brightest stars. The night’s sky is simply stunning there and that is something that stays forever in the memory.