But Greek and international archaeologists and curators warn that the real consequences of the cuts will not become fully apparent for years and will be far more dire for ancient artifacts and historical scholarship. Over the last six months dozens of the country’s most experienced state archaeologists — those with the highest number of years of service and highest salaries, 1,550 euros a month, or a little less than $2,000 — have been forced into early retirement as part of a 10 percent staff reduction within the government’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Through regular retirements and attrition over the last two years, the archaeological staff has shrunk even more, to 900 from 1,100, according to the association, the union that represents the archaeologists.
At a time when taxes are being raised, pensions are being cut and the national unemployment rate stands at more than 21 percent, this exodus has faded quickly into the bleak economic landscape. But scholars say the cuts are beginning to cause precisely what the television ad dramatizes: the disappearance of antiquities. The primary culprits are not museum robbers and looters of antiquities sites, but two even more treacherous forces that now have fewer checks on their power: the elements and developers’ bulldozers.
In a dry riverbed one late April morning on the island of Kythira, Aris Tsaravopoulos, a former government archaeologist who was pushed out of his job in November, pointed out a site where a section of riverbank had collapsed during a rainstorm a few months earlier. Scattered all along the bed as it stretched toward the Mediterranean were hundreds of pieces of Minoan pottery, most likely dating to the second millennium B.C., some of them painted with floral patterns that were still a vivid red.