Denfeld News

June 13, 1976
Duluth News Tribune

City man digs Greece
By Janet Burns

Nichoria, Greece, may well be the next well-known site in that ancient land — more famous than Corinth, where St. Paul preached in the marketplace, or Olympia, where the first Olympics were held.

And it will be largely due to the effort of Dr. George R. Rapp Jr., dean of UMD’s College of Letters and Science, and an established archaeologist.

And it can be no accident that fall quarter will see the introduction of a series of courses in archeology for the first time. But more about that later.

Rapp, a native of Duluth, graduated from Denfeld High School nearly 30 years ago, went away to college and returned only last year, except for visits. He has most recently been acting chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics of the Twin Cities campus.

First of all a mineralogist, Rapp is the publisher of the only complete encyclopedia of mineral species in the English language — and it’s an impressive tome!

But for the past decade Rapp has been an archaeologist. In fact, Since 1966 he has been associate director and chief scientist of the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition.

One book has been published with Rapp as editor on the UMME’s early explorations in the Pellopenese, the southwestern peninsula of Greece on which Nichoria is located. The first of four books on the actual seven-year excavations there will soon be ready for publication.

The large acropolis uncovered there has revealed remnants of the late Bronze Age (2500-1100 B.C.), the Dark Ages of Greece (1050-750 B.C.) and the Byzantine (565-1240 A.D.) Earliest remains are those of a royal palace and a king’s tomb. From the Byzantine comes a church standing atop other ancient ruins.

The site was selected from others in the Pellopenese, for a number of reasons, says Rapp.

One was not only that broken Bronze Age pottery had been found there, but the earliest testing revealed the acropolis, the fortified hill of an ancient Greek city.

The excavation was expected to “work out for this particular settlement and its immediate environs a minutely detailed reconstruction of as much of the physical and man-made environment as was possible.”

The approach was selective since few expeditions have the time or finances to dig up a complete site.

Rapp believes that concentrating on artifacts in a “dig” is not the only way to go. “Most reconstructions are biased by this heavy input of data about manufactured items.”

Rather a greater percentage of the time was spent on the physical, geographical, climatological, agricultural and botanical setting to draw a picture of the total environment of the ancient site.

Which brings us to one of the most fascinating discoveries made there by the summer crews of 30 Americans and 45 Greeks.

The legend of Atlantis, the mysterious “Lost Continent,” may not be just a myth but a land mass destroyed by a catastrophic eruption about 1450 B.C. Present theories lend to the suggestion that the physical remains of Atlantis are made up of the Mediterranean islands of Crete and Thera.

It’s at Nichoria that discovery of volcanic ash, thought to be remains of that eruption, may help to firm up the date for the volcano’s destruction of Atlantis. That ash was found by Rapp’s expedition in the same layers of soil where pottery dating back to 1450 B.C. was discovered. If the theory is correct, there could be buried cities of the Atlantean-Minoan civilization on the island which lies about 150 miles southeast of Athens.

A mystery which has occupied much of Rapp’s time and will continue to do so is the source of the tin mines which produced the metal used produce the bronze which gave the era its name.

Tin is after all, Rapp says, a reasonably scarce metal and nobody knows how the people of that time conceived the combination of tin and copper to make bronze.

Rapp has been all over the world in a hunt for the answer. Searches are being pursued now in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, “not easy places to get to,” Rapp concedes.

Samples have been collected from most of the known sources of tin throughout the world. He’s been from Thailand to England. One of the most promising places, Rapp says, is Thailand.

In December, on a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Duluth archaeologist will be in Troy on his quest and also where the Egyptian geologists have found evidence of ancient mining.

Another major area of investigation has been the study of coastal changes in the past few thousand years in the area of important “digs.” A study has revealed that the narrow pass where the Spartans held off the forces of Xerxes is now a broad agricultural plain. Sedimentation has pushed the sea back a mile. The topography of the battle site will be submitted shortly for publication, Rapp says.

Only last week Rapp brought back to Duluth a collection of scientific samples from Troy. Two grants, one from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will enable Rapp to work on 350 samples excavated by the late Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati. Laboratory study will reveal more about the life and environment of the city of the Trojan horse. Carbonized seeds and plant materials will be studied and dated by the use of Carbon 14.

At present, Rapp is supervising two projects being conducted by two doctoral candidates. One is in Israel at a metallurgical site of the Bronze and Iron ages, the other at a Bronze Age site on the island of Cyrus.

It’s no wonder that Rapp starts many of his days at 5:30 a.m. “They’re all 16 or 18 hours,” he says.

Now he’s announced a series of courses in archeology taught for the first time this fall.

And he preceded it by teaching a topics course in geological archaeology during the spring quarter to 87 students. One lecture must have been more than interesting — on King Solomon’s mines, long thought to be in Africa. Now, Rapp says investigations are going on in southern Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In the fall, Rapp hopes to offer an “Introduction to Archeology” with “Prehistoric Archeology of the Old World” due to be taught in the spring. Courses in “Prehistoric Archeology of the New World” and “Archaeological Methods” will follow.

“We also want to organize artifact studies and probably excavation sites of early man in northern Minnesota,” Rapp says. He means those sites that are 8,000 to 10,000 years old—some of which are in the Superior National Forest.

This area is largely unexplored as far as archeology is concerned, Rapp states, because there has been the most interest in mineral deposits. Even the Twin Ports have sites around Island, Boulder and Fish lakes, revealed by the explorations of Elaine Redepenning of Duluth.

Also slated for the fall is the opening of an archaeometry laboratory in Old Main on the old campus where materials and artifacts from here and around the world can be studied.

Joining Rapp in the laboratory will be Dr. Stanley E. Aschenbrenner from the Twin Cities campus, who worked in Nichoria with Rapp; John Gifford, a doctoral candidate with experience in Turkey and Cyrus, and Dr. Arthur Aufderheide, Duluth pathologist.

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