Czech archaeologists abroad

30-12-2003

Welcome to Czech Science. For the last time today, Charles University Professor Jan Bouzek will talk about Czech archaeology, focusing this time on its achievements outside this country.

In the 1880s two Czech brothers, Karel and Hermenegild Skorpil took part in excavations of ancient sites in Bulgaria and contributed significantly to the establishing of archaeology in that country.

"In the 19th century, two thirds of the founders of Bulgarian archaeology were Czechs. It was the beginning of archaeology there and later [the cooperation] continued. So I think it is a country where the Czechs brought more than in other parts of the world and what really is significant and apparent."

At that time Czech archaeologists were also interested in the prehistory of the Middle East. One of them, Professor Bedrich Hrozny, decoded the Hittite script in 1915.

"I think the 19-century Alois Musil who was related to the great [Austrian author] Robert Musil made really important discoveries in the Arab Desert of the Umayyad and the early medieval cities. And of course, it was Bedrich Hrozny, the decipherer of the Hittite script. Also his excavations were important but his decipherment of the Hittite script is something that stands out. It is one of the best achievements of Czech archaeology in general."

Throughout the 20th century, Czech excavators continued research in the countries of the Middle East, including Iraq. Professor Bouzek worked there in 1976.

"We had some service there and I was one of the few people who worked there. I was able to do some studies, which I later published, on the Hatra sculpture and something on the Seleucids. We deciphered the chronology of the Hatra sculpture. It was from the Roman period but it was never part of the Roman Empire. For many years there was a visiting professor, Professor Matous who made the Czech translation of Gilgamesh which is very good. He worked there for several years at Baghdad University, he had his students there and he contributed much, he also published a large part of the old inscriptions, tablets and so on."

Understandably, since war broke out in Iraq earlier this year, the archaeological community in the whole world has been worrying about the fate of the museum collections and open air monuments.

"I must say that as far as archaeology is concerned, the former Iraqi government was rather generous and they carried out interesting excavations all the time. Now the reports are very different. At first I was shocked that much was destroyed but probably it was not so much because people were able to rescue it. It seems that a much worse situation is in Mosul where there was a very good collection and as concerns the ruins, it is certainly not as bad in Afghanistan where most of the ruins were looted and the museum destroyed completely. So I hope it is not as bad."

30-12-2003