June 13, 1976
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,”
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”
“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
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.