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From Archaeology to Neology


YOU KNOW when you see people searching through rubbish bins? You probably have one of two reactions: pity or disgust. Save your reactions. You could be looking at me.

As you might know, I am a field archaeologist which, in lay terms, means I spent many long hot summers sifting through the rubbish of ancient civilisations. As I mature, however, I am finding this field overpopulated and I absolutely draw the line at grave robbing.

So I have founded the discipline of neology, which simply means going through what people have thrown out on the street. As a pioneer neologist, I have turned "field walking," which is an archaeological term for walking over fields in search of ancient pot-shred dumps, into the new art of "city-shuffling" which is searching for hopefully whole pots.

Members of this discipline are usually shady looking, often poorly dressed, or dressed in your favourite trousers thrown out by your spouse without your being told. In Athens , this discipline is primarily dominated by artists looking for canvasses to paint over, or for materials to use in their next creation.

Of course, all our work is based on original groundwork done by gypsies who are the artists of the field. Because of their high standard of excavation technology, ie. rattly old pickups wired together with materials found along the road, they leave with the big items such as mattresses, stoves, building boilers, fences, etc. I am left with what I can either simply carry off or cram into Pepe, my old VW. (Note: Some neologist have formed a splinter discipline called anarchaeology which involves setting rubbish bins on fire.)

In the spirit of my ancient Greek forbearers, I am searching for truth and other odd bits and pieces. I believe that the truth of a civilisation (if that's what you can call Athens today) can be unearthed, or as I prefer, "de-composed," by skilfully sifting through modern artefacts tossed into rubbish bins or more commonly abandoned along the street.

Indeed sociologists worldwide have now cottoned onto the significance of neology.

They are also going through people's rubbish with the intent of analysing them. Apparently they've been quite successful; habits, psychological profile, lifestyle and diseases have been pinpointed correctly just from sifting through the contents of bins. Even James Bond has been spotted doing a little neology and most detectives in films carefully look through victims' rubbish trying to find clues to a crime. Over-zealous fan clubs or leech-like reporters track down stars and take whatever bit of rubbish the idol throws out, ready to croon over, write about or frame anything found.

My significant finds have included working colour TVs, fridges, iron beds and paintings with added extras such as bullet holes. I have found fine antiques on their last legs, or on no legs at all.

I have built excellent bookshelves with brand new shelving left by store refurbishers. For anything needing repairs local furniture makers are usually cheap and willing to accomodate your requirements. For instance in Kypseli's Zakinthos street there's a good little shop which for 10,000 drs upholstered a couple of chairs I had recently dug up and of course on little alleys of Ermou street numerous restorers (anakenites) can be found.

My fellow neologists are a friendly lot, given to helping each other, pointing to the best dumpsters and sharing their latest finds with a glint of pride. On the other hand, the spirit of competition, as in archaeology, leads to hiding the most precious artefacts or not disclosing abundant sites until they have been fully excavated. Monastiraki on a Saturday evening is a great place to get your hands soiled. For any budding neologist, there is no substitute for pavement pounding and sometimes gut-wrenching hands-on experience. Many of our ilk have been known to hide their treasures under disgusting wet rubbish bags until they can return with retrieval equipment.

Beware! The neologist's nightmare: the city's rubbish trucks with their monster equipment. Neologists pray for strikes.

My conclusions are that the modern day culture of Athens still follows the ancient Greek tradition of throwing things. The ancient Olympic games, where the discus and javelin were thrown recklessly over the open fields of Athens , has evolved into the modern Greek phenomenon of chucking anything that comes to hand.

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