Review of Delos: A Database of Archaeological Images

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Delos: A Database of Archaeological Images

Delos: A Database of Archaeological Images is a CD-ROM which commemorates the sesquicentennial of the French School at Athens by focusing on the French excavations at one of the most famous sites in Greece. Over 1500 black-and-white photographs from the archives of the French School make up the heart and soul of this important collection, while new image maps, plans, architectural restorations, and extensive descriptions of the monuments allow the user to explore the archaeological site in many different ways.

The single CD is cross-platform and can be used by both PC and Macintosh computers with very modest requirements (PC: minimum 486/33 processor, Windows 3.1 or greater, and at least 8 megs RAM; Macintosh: 68040 processor, System 7.1 or greater, and at least 8 megs RAM). For this review, I tested the program using a Dell Pentium II/233 with 64 megs RAM and a Macintosh 603e/200 with 32 megs RAM. The program worked equally well on both platforms. The Macintosh version required no special setup. The PC version prompted the user to run a quick Setup program and to change the monitor setting to 256 colors.

Upon opening the program, the viewer is presented with an attractive Summary (title) page. At the bottom of this first screen are several options, providing links to

The Summary page also provides the starting point for the two key features of the CD: the "Tour of the Archaeological Site" and the "Thematic Search".

When the "Tour" is selected, the program automatically zooms in through a series of maps of the Cyclades, Delos and the surrounding islands, and finally to a general plan of the site which highlights the major archaeological zones (the Sanctuary of Apollo, The District of the Lake, the Stadium District, the Inopos District, Mt. Cynthos, the Theater District, South of Delos, as well as the Hippodrome, the "Replat Temples," and the Islands Near Delos). This plan is an image map which links to detailed plans of each of these areas. For example, selecting "The Sanctuary of Apollo" calls up an accurate site plan nearly identical to that in the Guide de Délos, except that the CD version omits a scale and a north arrow. (North is to the left.) The buildings and areas are identified by numbers, corresponding to the system used in the Guide, but here moving the cursor over the number reveals the name of the monument or area. Another click takes the user to a plan of the specific building and a selection of plans, drawings, photographs, and textual descriptions.

The basic organization and wealth of material included in each section can be illustrated with the example of the Oikos of the Naxians (Guide de Délos #6). The default plan of the building is the third architectural phase ("State III"), but the user can select plans of 2 earlier phases as well ("Old State" and "State II"). In addition to the restored plan, a menu at the bottom of the screen presents the options of viewing

The wealth of information contained in this one entry alone is quite remarkable, and naturally invites the viewer to explore even further. Going back to the plan of the Sanctuary of Apollo (link at the upper left), the viewer can choose the Naxian Colossus (Guide de Délos #9). Here the entry is presented in consistent manner, with a restored plan of the base and part of the Oikos, and menu options for an actual plan, photographs (several views of the base and inscription), drawings (a plan, a view from the northwest, and even a drawing of the plinth and foot of the Colossus by Cyriacus of Ancona), and textual description. A curious omission, however, is a link to the actual fragments of the Colossus itself which, as the text informs us, are now located in the Artemision. Here the "Thematic Search" function of the CD (accessed by a link at the lower right corner of the page) is a useful feature -- but one which also highlights a rare shortcoming of the CD.

The search can be conducted in two modes: for images or for text. Up to three search criteria can be entered. An image-based search for "colossus" (or "colossus" and "naxian" and "apollo") results in a link to the base, but not to the statue itself. A text-based search results in links to the entries for the base of the Colossus (#9), the Base of Philetaerus (#10 -- but curiously using the Latinized spelling instead of "Philetairos" as in the Guide), the Artemision (#46), and the Terrace of the Lions (#55), but not to a separate entry for the sculptural fragments. Perhaps there was no photograph of the famous statue among the 1500+ images in this collection. But one wonders why some other illustration (even a modern photo) was not added (as was the case with the models of the sanctuary, aerial views, and plans from the EAD or BCH). Why was Cyriacus' drawing of the foot and plinth included, but not the traveler's sketch of the torso with the head still intact?

On the whole, the search feature seems to work extremely well both in "image" and "text" mode. The user, however, must be careful to pay attention to possible spelling variations. For example, a text-search for "Nikandre" (one of the very earliest examples of Greek marble sculpture from the site) revealed nothing. But a search for the preferred French spelling "Nicandre" resulted in an entry for the Artemision (where the statue was originally dedicated). Neither spelling located any images of "Nicandré" herself -- another important omission from a work as wide-ranging and comprehensive as this CD is in other respects. A few other spelling errors can be detected here and there (e.g., "Iponos District" instead of "Inopos" [#89-101,111,112], "daggar" instead of "dagger" [#6 bibliographic note 1]. Sometimes the French word is retained instead of being translated (e.g., "ilot" instead of "islet"[#128 text]).

The black-and-white photographs in this collection, selected from the archives of the French School at Athens and mostly dating from the late 19th century through 1918, are absolutely spectacular and truly do give the impression that you are looking back in time to the actual moment of discovery by the archaeologists of the "Great Excavations." The images range from the crystal clear detail only a high quality glass-plate negative can provide to the kind of impressionistic faded edges and imperfections evocative of a time long ago. The experience is not only extremely informative, but also, well, extremely fun. For scholars who may wish to use images in their own research, the photographs are numbered for reference to the collection of the French School.

The target audience for this CD seems to be precisely the same as that for the average Archaeological Institute of America lecture tour -- a mixed audience of educated lay people, students, and professional archaeologists and educators. Anyone interested in the history of archaeology in the Aegean, travel, or Greek religion will find something to explore here. Since the textual descriptions of the monuments are translations of the most recent edition of the Guide de Délos, the information is accurate, up-to-date, and extensive. Furthermore, the bibliographic references really do make it a valuable and convenient reference work for scholars and students. It should be noted, however, that the text does not represent the entire Guide de Délos , but has omitted the introductory chapters on geography, history, cults and legends, architecture and topography, sculpture, painting, pottery, epigraphy, and coinage. In fact, the CD contains no in-depth introduction to the site, the history of excavations, or the history of the photographic collection at all (apart from the graphic time- line in "History" [above] and a very brief "Welcome" and overview of the program contained in a separate README document). As someone interested in the history of classical archaeology and the use of archival photographs as well as the archaeology of this important Greek sanctuary, I feel that such an introduction would have made a very valuable and appropriate addition.

The usefulness of the CD for students and teachers is also slightly diminished by the fact that it is not possible to print or download images or text. The self-contained program (created in Macromedia software) does not even allow the text to be selected with a cursor and cut-and-pasted into a separate word processing document -- thereby requiring students who wish to take notes to do so the "old fashioned" way! Teachers cannot download individual images to import into a separate presentation program, such as Microsoft Powerpoint. (It is possible to "screen capture" images, edit and save them in Adobe Photoshop, and then import them into Powerpoint, but with a small loss of quality.) While the "Diaporama" feature of the CD does make an attractive slideshow, not every lecturer will want to present the material in exactly the same way or spend class time "touring" the site to find specific images. I know that I would have found it more useful to use the Delos CD as a source of images and plans for my lectures on Greek sanctuaries, while assigning the "site tour" and text to my students as a homework reading.

In conclusion, Delos: A Database of Archaeological Images is a beautifully produced, easy to use, and extremely interesting collection of archival photographs combined with recent and authoritative textual descriptions, plans, and restorations. This wonderful resource will certainly be of interest to anyone with an enthusiasm for classical archaeology, ranging from the armchair traveler to students, professional archaeologists, historians, and classicists. Although the CD would have benefited from a more detailed introduction to the site and to the history of the "Great Excavations" -- which are so well documented visually -- the authors have created a fitting tribute to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the French School at Athens and its important contributions to the field of Greek archaeology. This CD is a work of both substance and style. It provides both an excellent model and a challenge to the other foreign schools in Greece to make available the wealth of historical information hidden away in their own archives and storerooms.

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