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Heinrich Schliemann and His Discoveries

Guest Author - Rebecca Graf

Looking back through history many of the discoveries and events were accidental or just plain lucky. One of the luckiest was the discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann. This amateur archeologist found a city that was believed to have been only a myth.

Sometimes a passion can be created and fostered in our childhood. One small act of receiving a book that described the story of Troy sparked an obsession with the young Heinrich. He never stopped dreaming and planning on finding the lost city of Troy. Going on such an expedition would be costly, so for several years he began to amass a fortune. When he had become a millionaire, he decided that it was time to begin the quest of what he longed for the most, Troy.

He was not on very good terms with his wife and decided to divorce her. The passion of Troy was unappealing to her. He desired to have a wife who knew Homer’s works as well as he did and believed in the existence of Troy. After writing a friend, he was introduced to his future wife, Sophie. She was well versed in Homer and would be able to understand and share Heinrich’s passion. He had pinpointed the site of Troy and needed someone by his side for the excavations.

At this time, the majority of scholars believed that Troy was just a myth, a story concocted by Homer. The thought that it could be found was laughable, and the thought that someone unschooled in archeology and without even a history background was ludicrous. This did not stop Heinrich from picking up The Iliad and search for clues of Troy’s whereabouts.

Heinrich firmly believed that Homer left hints within the text of the location of Troy. Others that also believed the city had existed had chosen a hill site that they felt was the historical location. Heinrich spent some time exploring the hill and came to the conclusion that it just could not be the site. If it was, then various scenes in Homer’s work could not physically have happened. The terrain would not allow it. So, he continued searching.

His search took him closer to the sea and to a hill that seemed to be more appropriate for such a battle Homer described. Looking at the terrain, Heinrich could see how the fighting had occurred the way it did. What is amazing at this point, is that Homer wrote his works over seven hundred years after the war and there were no written records of the account for him to reference as writing was nonexistent before the time of Homer. If he was not creating a work of fiction, he was basing everything off of oral tradition. How reliable could this be after hundreds of years? Heinrich was about to find out. He truly felt in his gut that he had found the city.

With his new wife by his side, Heinrich began excavation in 1871. His methods of archeology were very rough and condemned by modern archeologists. Gradual exposure of the side was not how he did it. He began digging shafts until he found the remains of a city. Further digging revealed many artifacts including gold jewelry. He proclaimed to the world that he had found Troy.

As experts began to look closer and continue his dig, it was discovered that though he probably had found the site of Troy, he did not find Troy. The jewelry was not that of the beautiful Helen. The site he found was much older than the city of the Trojan War. In fact, there were multiple cities that had occupied this site. Continued excavations over the decades have revealed more and more evidence that Homer’s Troy did exist just not exactly where Heinrich said.

Filled with joy at his find, Heinrich moved his attention to the other side of the war, that of the Mycenaeans. He wanted to find the home of King Agamemnon. A site had been discovered many years earlier on the island of Crete but not much had been done with it. Heinrich felt that it was Agamemnon’s home and was out to prove it. Focusing on one untouched section, he found multiple graves filled with artifacts. Holding up one gold death mask, he proclaimed that it belonged to the legendary King. His zeal could not be tempered.

Scholars have discovered that most of Heinrich’s conclusions were wrong, but all have to admit that he is one of the luckiest archeologists, professional or amateur, who has ever lived. He found a city based on clues from a story written and expounded on strictly from oral tradition. He went on a hunch and found one of the biggest finds in history, not in artifacts, but in historical knowledge. He actually did not find the Troy he was looking for, but did find the correct location. He did not find Agamemnon’s death mask, but he brought to light stronger evidence that the site was that of the great king.

Basically, Heinrich Schliemann was one of the luckiest men ever. He followed a passion and startled the entire academic world. Thanks to Heinrich’s obsession, we know that the Troy of Homer existed.

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