Fond Memories of Erik Hansen

In: Acta Archaeologica
Marie-Louise Bech Nosch
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It was in the 1990s when I first heard of Erik Hansen. I was studying in France and had received a small scholarship for the French School at Athens, École française d’Athènes, to pursue my studies in ancient Greek history and make use of their magnificent library.

Are you Danish? they asked me. Then you must know Hansen? Well, yes, I knew of Mogens Herman Hansen, the Danish scholar who revolutionized ancient history with his ground-breaking research on Athenian democracy and demography. His seminal works were taught to us in France, his name pronounced “Mogẽs Ermã Ãsén.”

It was only later, after frequent mentions of “Ãsén” and his drawings, his precision, his excellent skills in French and modern Greek, his technical precision and mastery of proportions and dimensions, and the frequent mention of Le Trésor de Siphnos that I realized that another Hansen was in focus: Erik Hansen.

Over the past 25 years, our ways have crossed in many surprising ways. Erik Hansen was an old friend and colleague of my uncle, actually my mother’s cousin, Niels Bech (1923–1997). He was of the same generation of adventurous Danish architects working for French excavations in Greece, and specializing in the measuring, documentation, drawing and analysis of archaeological architectural remains. Uncle Niels had also participated in expeditions to Ghana exploring the Danish colonial monuments of Christiansborg and was a lecturer at the University of Kumasi 1971–1973. With the fellow students Otto von Spreckelsen and Gregers Algreen-Ussing, they were a generation of Danish architects formed by modernism but fascinated by cultural heritage. I inherited Niels Bech’s large collection of books on archaeology and architecture, and his pencil, pen and pastel renderings of landscapes, houses, and walls on three continents. It was during my own excavation work in Delos with a French team directed by Alexandre Farnoux in 1995 that I realized that my uncle Niels had also worked a summer in Greece. In the library of the excavation house at Delos, I found his legacy to the island: his drawings of La Maison des Comédiens made in 1964 in Delos.

Then for a decade, I did not have much contact with Erik. I knew from friends and colleagues in France, Denmark, and Greece that Erik and Kickan were very active, travelling and finishing the large collaborative projects.

Erik’s drawing technique was exceptional and internationally renowned; he founded a new tradition in architectural drawings for classical archaeology: precise, analogue, inked. The next generations of archaeologists and architects would instead embark on another digital training on computers and use sophisticated graphical programs coupled with GIS. Thus, during Erik’s long work life, he created and consolidated a new concept of architectural drawings and was the forerunner in its execution, and he also witnessed how he in his later years was surpassed by technology. The large ink-drawn papers, meticulously drawn and sent by surface mail as large sacred scrolls between Athens and Christianshavn, were now surpassed by digital images, exchanged and discussed several times a day between archaeologists, graphical offices, and editors.

With EfA director and friend Dominique Mulliez, in the last phases of the editing of Erik’s work on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi in 2009–2010, we endeavored to merge Erik’s skills and methods with the new technologies. I became the intermediate agent between Erik and Dominique, between Christianshavn and Athens, between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Erik would review the first proofs of texts, drawings and maps of this book, make penciled and inked corrections on paper, and walk to my office. I would then scan his corrected proofs and email them to Dominique, who undertook the changes with his technical and editorial staff in EfA. A few days later, the next batch of proofs would arrive in my computer inbox; I would print the revised proofs for Erik and send them by surface mail – or bring them over by foot – to nearby Christianshavn. The best of two worlds and in a friendly collaboration.

Erik was from another generation and of exquisite elegance and intellectual curiosity. Even if he did not use computers or cell phones, he was not blind to the potentials of new technology, and he was happy to accept and use it with the help of his friends and colleagues.

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