Back to top

History of the Nemea Excavation

Prior to the University of California, Berkeley’s (UCB) excavation of Nemea in 1973,  exploration of this site goes back to at least 1766, with limited excavations in the 1800s and in 1912.  During the period of 1924 – 1927 the University of Cincinnati took on a more in depth and aggressive excavation of Nemea.  It was during that period, that Carl W. Blegen and Bert Hodge Hill, of the University of Cincinnati, excavated the Basilica and Xenon, the Bath, some of the prehistoric settlement on Tsoungiza, and determined the location of the Stadium.  Additional excavations by other researchers took place in the 1930s and in the 1960s by Charles Williams.   UCB’s excavation of Nemea came about when in the late 1960s Sanford Elberg, Dean of the UCB Graduate Division conducted a review of the Classics Department's Classical Archaeology Program. One of the recommendations that resulted from this review was the need for the program to become actively engaged in excavation.  After extensive analysis of potential archaeological sites, Nemea, specifically, the Sanctuary of Zeus, was recommended as the site that would best strengthen not only the graduate program in Classical Archaeology but also that of the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology, by providing students a guaranteed opportunity for hands-on excavation experience and the possibility of new material for theses and dissertations.

To make excavation of the Nemea site a reality, UCB faced various challenges.  Two of these challenges included permission to excavate the site and acquisition of relevant archaeological land.  Under Greek law, the only American entity authorized to conduct archaeology in Greece is the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).  UCB therefore submitted a proposal to ASCSA, which was approved with the caveat that a Field Director be hired.  In 1973 with the hiring of the Assistant Professor Stephen G. Miller as the Nemea Field Director, UCB had its permission to excavate in Nemea.

The next challenge was that in order to ensure that UCB would eventually be able to excavate the entire sanctuary, UCB needed to acquire privately held land, in accordance with Greek law. It was under Professor Miller’s leadership, that UCB was able to raise the funds, mostly through donations, to acquire the necessary land, which it gave to the Greek State, with the stipulation that UCB retained scientific research rights including excavation.  As a result of Professor Miller’s and UCB efforts, students and faculty from Berkeley and other institutions have been excavating in Nemea for over 35 years.

For more detail information on the history of excavations in Nemea, please refer to:

For information on the Nemea Center’s current research and future excavation please refer to: