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GNN Junior: Ancient Access

Posted on July 20 2020

GNN Junior: Ancient Access


Explore More of the #SummerofWhere

By Becky Sicking

Stairs allow people to walk up different floors inside buildings. They are often placed at entrances too, especially if a building is up on an angle, such as up a hill. But not all people are able to climb stairs. In this case, ramps provide a way for people to enter without needing stairs. A ramp is a flat slope, or an angled surface. It is set on one level on one end and on a different level on the other. Ramps are easier for some people to walk up, and people easily can use a wheelchair or a walker on them.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires buildings to provide access for everyone. According to the ADA governmental website, “The Americans with Disabilities Act . . . was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive [complete] pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits [bans] discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.” As a result of this legislation, many, many buildings have ramps at their entrances.

The need for accommodations, or help, for all people is not new, however. Greek artifacts include sculptures and vases with men or women leaning on canes or crutches. People were differently abled thousands of years ago, too.

The architecture of ancient Greece is well known. Classical Greek architecture includes massive stone columns. The Parthenon and the Acropolis are famous examples of Greek building design. Greek-styled columns are even added to new buildings today. But did the ancient Greeks consider everyone, as the ADA does, when constructing public buildings? Debby Sneed, an archaeologist with California State University, Long Beach, wanted to know the answer.

To answer that question, she thought about what she already knew about classical Greek culture. Asclepius was the god of healing in ancient Greece. Sneed hoped to find her answer by looking at sanctuaries, or holy buildings, devoted to this god. There are several sites throughout the country. The results of Sneed’s work, done along with fellow scientists, were recently published in a report on ramps in ancient Greece.

Sneed noticed that the sanctuary to Asclepius at Epidaurus, near Athens, had a wide ramp made of stone at the entrance to the temple. There were two more ramps that went through the gates of the sanctuary. There were even ramps to smaller buildings beside the main temple. These ramps were not new discoveries. The sanctuary at Epidaurus dates to around the fourth century B.C.E. The ramps had been visible for some time. However, no one paid attention to this detail. Sneed explained, "Archaeologists have long known about ramps on ancient Greek temples, but have routinely ignored them in their discussions of Greek architecture.” At some excavation sites, the ramps were not even noted in publications of these digs.

The ramps were important, though. Evidence shows that 60 percent of the bodies excavated from an ancient Greek cemetery had arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation in joints that often happens when people age. It can affect knees, making it painful to walk.

Many people may have needed help in order to visit temples and sanctuaries, especially those for Asclepius. Wheelchairs were not invented yet—it would be another 1,000 years before they appear in history. Instead, people used crutches, or some might be carried into the sanctuary on a stretcher. Tall, stone steps would be difficult to climb for people carrying someone. Even those who were able to climb stairs can walk up a ramp quickly and easily. Fortunately, the Greeks thought of this.

It is amazing to think that the architects of ancient Greece were concerned enough to accommodate everyone. But that is just what they did!


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