Presenting the commemorative set of stamps on Myrtis

Speech by the Ambassador of Norway Jørn Gjelstad



Your Excellency Minister Koniordou (Minister of Culture and Sports)
Member of Parliament, Mrs Kefalogianni
(Rector of the University of Athens Mr Dimopoulos)
Rector of the University of Pireus Mr Kotios and
Vice Rector of the University of Athens Mr Maravegias
President of the Hellenic Post, Mrs Stavraki
Associate Prof. Dimitrios Fatouros (UN communication representative for Greece)
Dr. Papagrigorakis

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour for me to attend this event, presenting the commemorative set of stamps on Myrtis, and participate together with so many distinguished persons.

The history of Myrtis is not only fascinating, it is instrumental in teaching us how to investigate and acquire more information of ancient history by using new and advanced methods and techniques. The cause of the Plague of Athens, typhoid fever, which until recently had been one of the greatest mysteries in Medical History, was solved by the reconstruction of a child’s cranium, and a sophisticated analysis of internal tooth substance by using modern DNA laboratory techniques.


The face of the girl Myrtis has brought to life a very important part of ancient Greek history. At the same time, the study of this young girl has given answers that can help us understand the disease that sent so many Athenian citizens to their death in the 5th Century BC.


I guess that some of you might ask: “What has Norway to do with this and the presentation of the commemorative set of stamps on «Myrtis»?
  How is Norway involved in a project that brought the Greek public a few years ago even closer to part of their ancient history?


The answer is simple as it is also complicated: Interdisciplinary collaboration and support. In recent years, it has been acknowledged that more knowledge of ancient history rests on interdisciplinary strategies, including findings and methods from professional disciplines such as genetics, medicine, economics, anthropology, biology and even climate research. An intensive exchange of information between the humanities, the natural sciences and the social sciences has created a renewed innovative and result-orientated dynamic.


 Dr Papagrigorakis did his postgraduate studies at the Orthodontics Department of the University in Bergen. His doctoral thesis, from the same University, examined the craniofacial complex of ancient Greeks. The compelling and unbeatable combination of a personal strong interest in ancient history, advanced competence in orthodontics, and a leading University in Norway with a special programme for this particular discipline led over time to impressive results. Dr. Papagrigorakis’ project brought about not only the face reconstruction of Myrtis, but also important contribution to other research work such as the “DNA examination of dental pulp incriminating typhoid fever as the possible cause of the Plague of Athens”. By such a project, we are getting closer to our ancestors, they are coming forward as fully fledged human beings and not only abstactions. This vibrant interphase between the present and the past is key to any civilization, culture or nation.


The study of history is key. It has been said that if you control the past you control the future. Our view of history shapes the way we view the present, and influences the answers or solutions we do offer to meet existing challenges or problems.

Let me also use this opportunity to draw the attention to the Norwegian Institute in Athens. This Institute was established in 1989. I am proud to say that this institute dedicates itself to research, teaching, publication and dissemination of the scientific study of history, archaeology and language of ancient Greece. It is the principal resource in Greece for Norwegian academics,and it aims to facilitate scientific discussion, exchange and education between the two countries.


We are also proud that innovative methods and other areas of science in Norway are used to help us find and learn more about our historic past, such as in the case of “Myrtis”.


“Myrtis” has travelled a lot since 2010 and has ignited the interest of people wherever she has been exhibited in Greece.  She is a project under the University of Athens and one of the Millenium friends of the U.N. We are proud that the exhibition has been held under the Embassy’s auspices. I would like to congratulate the Greek Postal Service for their initiative to print this stamp series with Myrtis, and of course Dr Papagrigorakis for all his hard work and studies that have made all of this possible.


Thank you so much for the invitation and your attention.