Excavations in the Athenian Agora by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens commenced in 1931 under the supervision of T. Leslie Shear. The systematic excavation of this important site was entrusted by the Greek State to the American School of Classical Studies, founded in Athens in 1881. Negotiations began in 1925, soon after the Greek parliament voted not to undertake the project itself, largely because of the huge costs of expropriation. The area in question covered some 24 acres and was occupied by 365 modern houses, all of which had to be purchased and demolished.
Edward Capps, chairman of the Managing Committee of the American School, was the guiding spirit behind the project, and T. L. Shear was appointed the first field director. Shear assembled a staff that includes some of the best-known names in Greek archaeology: Homer A. Thompson, Eugene Vanderpool, Benjamin Meritt, Dorothy Burr (Thompson), Virginia Grace, Lucy Talcott, Alison Frantz, Piet de Jong, and John Travlos, among others.
Actual work of excavation began in May of 1931, funded largely by John D. Rockefeller. Since then, several dozen more houses have been cleared, bringing the total to more than 400. The enterprise has been a huge one, both in terms of money and time. As is often the case with American cultural projects, the funding has been provided almost exclusively from private foundations and individuals: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Kress Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities have all participated. In recent years the work has been sustained by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Packard Humanities Institute.
Since 1931 hundreds of scholars, workers, specialists, and students have participated in the excavation, conservation, research, and publication of the site and its related finds. Collectively, they are responsible for one of the most productive archaeological projects in the Mediterranean basin. Over forty volumes and hundreds of scholarly articles have been published, adding much to our understanding of all aspects of ancient Greek history and society.