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Butrint Monastery - Lion Gate

Archaeological Adventures in Albania

Report of the lecture
given by Louise Schofield
on September 25th 2013

It is difficult to know where to start with this report.  Although Louise spoke about her subject, it felt as if the talk was much more wide-ranging, which I think was due to her enormous enthusiasm for her work.

Talking to Louise before the lecture she told me that she has been interested in archaeology since she was four years old and started excavating in her parents’ garden.  She cleaned all of her finds and set up her own little museum for family and friends.  This was clearly the precursor to the thirteen years she spent as a Curator at the British Museum, following graduation and post-graduate work.  She has since worked extensively in Albania and Ethiopia and was recently responsible for unearthing what may be the Queen of Sheba’s gold mine.  Further work is expected to prove this one way or the other.

Louise started her talk with a run through the history of the rulers of Albania since its formation in 1912.  The appointments started with an advertisement in a newspaper for a king, followed by the appointment of Willam, who lasted six months, followed by King Zog and ultimately Enver Hoxha who had bunkers built to accommodate the whole of the population of the country in the event of attack.  They are now trying to decide what to do with them, since they don’t exactly enhance the environment.

Louise was appointed to co-lead the excavation of Butrint in Albania in 2000 and, referring to the title of the talk, said she had a number of adventures in Albania, some of which were archaeological!  Butrint was the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city, a Byzantine administration and other occupations before it was abandoned in the Middle Ages.  Some of the highlights of the lecture which particularly appealed to me were:

  • The report of a ship which sank full of Omo washing powder and the resultant sudsy beaches
  • The movement problems caused when tortoises took to using the excavation’s wheelbarrow tracks to make their way more easily over the rough ground
  • The complications caused to the excavation by the fact that Butrint had been occupied over and over again, laying down a new stratum of history every time
  • The fact that sculptures were made with removable heads to enable the faces to be changed when leaders changed without the bother of making a whole new sculpture
  • Some of the aerial photographs were taken by Rocket Man using a diesel-powered jet back-pack, which led to several crash landings
  • The fact that the wooden covering on the floor of the theatre used today was nearly set on fire by candles floating on the water underneath
  • At one point Louise had to be smuggled out of Albania in the boot of a car – but she didn’t say why!

Butrint - The elegant rope ferry

Louise went back to Albania three years ago on holiday and went to the excavation where she re-met a number of her former students.  It sounds as if they have inherited her enthusiasm for archaeology in general and Butrint in particular.  I’m sure her leadership of this project and others she has led since have been as inspirational as her lecture to us.

Maggie Atkins

Our intrepid lecturer, Louise Schofield, chats with member and reporter, Maggie Atkins