Kosta Lako (1949-2021): placemaker of Saranda (ancient Onchesmus/Onhezm)

Kosta Lako was one of the outstanding Albanian archaeologists of his generation. Born in the coastal port of Saranda in December 1949, he will be remembered for defining and giving shape to the rich archaeological record of ancient Saranda, Onchesmos, as well as undertaking major projects at nearby Butrint.


Kosta Lako (with cap) at Butrint 1970s; Budina is next to him

I first met Kosta in his little basement office in a back-street of Saranda in September 1993. He dazzled me with his research and thesis on Saranda, entitled ‘The City of Onhezm in Late Antiquity’, the product of many small, salvage excavations. The following day he guided me for the first time around Butrint. He drew my attention to the Triconch Palace, where he had already launched excavations but needed resources to continue them. Then, unforgettably, he found a fisherman to take us across Lake Butrint to the shoreline villa at Diaporit. About a mile out, Kosta decided to swim, and completed the trip racing the fishing boat!


Kosta Lako with Selim Islami and Dhimosten Budina, c. 1980

A member of the Greek minority, Kosta studied in the geography and history faculty at Tirana University. After graduating, he briefly taught in a high school in Saranda, before joining the (national) Institute of Archaeology team based in Saranda led by the late Dhimosten Budina. In this period, he wrote and defended his doctoral thesis. He was also an energetic field archaeologist, working at many places within the region which were diligently published in the Institute’s journal, Iliria. Apart from his excavations at Saranda, he undertook some of the largest excavations of the post-war era at Butrint, following the defenses from the Tower of Inscriptions to the city’s Tower Gate. In this period, he also reinterpreted the fortifications at Çuka e Aitoit, and carried at small church excavations at Shën Jan and Phoinike. He returned to Butrint to begin excavations around the upstanding triconch dining room of the Triconch Palace. From 1994-2002 he led the joint Albanian Institute of Archaeology-Butrint Foundation excavations at Butrint’s Triconch Palace.


Saranda, synagogue excavation 1981

Kosta was regarded by all – from archaeologists, students to fishermen - with affection for his gentle and sympathetic intellect. Students, in particular, warmed to his clear and thoughtful style of teaching. By his own reckoning, he was troubled by the harsh changes to life in Albania after the fall of communism in 1992. Most of all he was conscious of the challenges the transition posed for his parents and children. With this very much in his thinking, he moved to Athens and worked as a professional archaeologist in the city until 2017. Most summers he returned to Saranda, the city he lent history to, and collaborated on projects in its late Roman synagogue as well as at Santa Quaranta on the hill above. From a foreigner’s point of view, Kosta was a warm-hearted professional with a genuine love for the archaeology of his homeland. His humane and genial personality lent something special to Butrint and Saranda.

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