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The Butrint Foundation: a short history

In 1992, when Albania held its fi rst democratic elections seven years after the death its communist dictator Enver Hoxha, archaeology and archaeologists were prized. Such was their status that several Albanian archaeologists soon emerged as senior politicians (notably Neritan Ceka, Aleksander Meksi, and Genc Pollo). One of the principal problems faced by Albania during the communist period was the organization of effi cient control mechanisms for all human sciences in order to provide the country with a distinctive identity. The task of historians and archaeologists was to construct a systematic and well-documented Albanian past (Bowden & Hodges, 2004: 2012). In order to counter the territorial claims of surrounding powers (notably Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia), the principal objective was to prove that the Albanians had inhabited their country from the most ancient of times. To this end, the main line of research supported by the authorities was to shape an origin myth about the Illyrians, with particular emphasis on their ethnogenesis and their ethnic and cultural links with the modern Albanian population (Vickers, 1995). Signal importance was attached to their social structures, especially with relation to a Marxist view of historical development. Hoxha himself made this perfectly clear in a speech at Shkodra in 1979:

His sentiment was soon repeated in 1988 and cast in metal in a sign above the museum at Butrint, a prized tourist destination in communist times. This pronounced: ‘Besides the Greek and Roman cultures, another ancient culture developed and prospered here: the Illyrian culture’ (Hodges, 2012a: 5).