Buried treasure

Finding the Walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik

Susan Heuck Allen, <e

The spell woven by Homer's account of the Trojan war has become part of our collective western mythology; its heroes are our heroes, its stories our stories. It was ever thus. Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar made pilgrimages to the site of ancient Troy; centuries later archaeologists argued about its very existence. Only visionaries and poets such as Byron believed in its reality, the ancient city brought magically to life as they gazed across the rugged landscape of the Troad.

Drawing on new research, Susan Heuck Allen's book is a judicious, gripping account of the discovery of Troy. The protagonists in this drama - Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann - represent two sides of 19th-century archaeology: the gentleman scholar and the impatient, often unscrupulous, businessman-speculator. Frank Calvert was born in 1828, into an expatriate English family in Malta. His uncle and elder brother were engaged as merchants and diplomats in the Dardanelles. At the age of 16 Calvert began excavating the plains of Troy, located on the site of the family farm. He was, like most teenagers of the period, familiar with the classics and captivated by Homer. Visitors to the farm included scholars and antiquaries, who came to see the family's growing collection of artefacts. Calvert was an eager guide and an early exponent of Hisarlik, in north-west Turkey, as the site of ancient Troy. He went on to publish several papers on the subject in both British and German archaeological journals.

Schliemann, acting on advice from a mutual friend, visited Calvert in the summer of 1868; he began excavations two years later. (Before this meeting he had never considered Hisarlik as the site of Troy.) During their long association, Calvert was to become the eclipsed partner in the enterprise. Why did he allow this to happen? Well, part of the reason lay in his unassuming personality. But there were other problems: he faced severe family and financial difficulties that prevented his financing the excavations himself. And he badly underestimated Schliemann's ruthless ambition.

Today the international committee established to debate the complex question of who owns Priam's Treasure remains vexed. Excavation teams, meanwhile, continue to search for on-site written evidence to finalise the discovery. It would be nice to think that Frank Calvert, hidden from sight for so long, will finally receive his recognition as the rightful discoverer of Troy.