Archaeology in Turkey - 2019 in review

 Palace of the Porphyrogenitus - Tekfur Sarayı Müzesi
Palace of the Porphyrogenitus - Tekfur Sarayı Müzesi

2019 was another busy year for the archaeologists working in the area of Turkey. Let us start the summary of this year by giving some basic facts. In 2019, 153 excavation projects were carried out throughout the country. 31 of them were conducted under the Turkish management while 122 were headed by foreign managers. The major archaeological sites where these teams worked were: Olympos, Patara, and Side in Antalya Province, Kibyra in Burdur, Laodicea on the Lycus and Tripolis in Denizli, Teos in Izmir, Antioch of Pisidia in Isparta, Parion, Assos, Trio in Çanakkale, Zeugma in Gaziantep, Anemurium in Mersin, Euromos, Stratonicea, Lagina and Knidos in Muğla, Zerzevan Castle in Diyarbakır, Silifke Castle in Mersin, Beçin Castle in Muğla, and Harran in Şanlıurfa.

The year 2019 was officially celebrated as the year of Göbeklitepe. What was done for this site throughout its year? Apparently, much energy was spent on the promotion of this site as the headlines of major Turkish newspapers announced such events as "Clothes inspired by Göbeklitepe's Neolithic animal figurines to be showcased at Turkish fashion show" or "Jewelry collection to draw inspiration from ancient figures of Zeugma, Göbeklitepe in Turkey". Moreover, Netflix announced a new Turkish series "The Gift" (Atiye), where Göbeklitepe will play the leading role in the narrative. Among other events, hot air balloon flights were introduced over Göbeklitepe. The site was also promoted on the international arena, for instance in Rome.

However, the most amazing archaeological discovery related to Göbeklitepe was not made in this location, but at Boncuklu Tarla site in the southeastern province of Mardin, almost 300 kilometres to the east of Göbeklitepe. In December of 2019, İbrahim Özcoşar, the rector of Mardin Artuklu University, announced that the discoveries at Boncuklu Tarla resemble those unearthed in Göbeklitepe, but are even 1,000 years older. While it is necessary to wait for further excavations in this site and the confirmation of the sensational dating, the discovery is groundbreaking. It could mean that Göbeklitepe, dubbed the "zero point in history", would lose its unique status because of the discovery made in the year that celebrated this site.

What made the year 2019 surprising was the fact that no new archaeological site from the area of Turkey was inscribed into UNESCO World Heritage List. This must seem astonishing as there are 78 such sites awaiting on the Tentative List to be promoted to the status of the World Heritage Site. Among these sites, there are such treasures as Gordion, the capital of the Phrygian civilization, archaeological site of Priene, beautiful Sümela Monastery in Trabzon Province, Eflatun Pınar: The Hittite Spring Sanctuary, and Yesemek Quarry and Sculpture Workshop. The full list of these sites is available on the UNESCO website.

The lack of any new additions in the UNESCO List is even more astonishing as only 18 sites from the area of Turkey have made it so far into the List. For the past few years, several important sites became the part of the list: Göbeklitepe (2018), Aphrodisias (2017), Ani (2016), Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape (2015), Ephesus (2015), Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape (2014). What went wrong in 2019? The answer may not be very pleasant for Turkey that expected that the archaeological site of Arslantepe would be added to the List in 2019.

Although UNESCO made no official statement, the year 2019 will be most possibly remembered as the year when the long-delayed decision concerning the historical site of Hasankeyf was finally made. As we write these words, this archaeological site with the history of several thousand years is being inundated by the waters of Tigris River. Despite local and international objections, the city and its archaeological sites are now being flooded due to the completion of the Ilisu Dam.

On the brighter side, in 2019, traditional Turkish archery was inscribed on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Moreover, Afyonkarahisar entered UNESCO's Creative Cities Network with its world-renowned cuisine. Finally, one site was added to UNESCO's Tentative List - the Nature Park of Ballıca Cave.

2019 saw its share of archaeologic blunders, disastrous restorations, and unfortunate incidents. The most spectacular failures were listed by Arkeofili website. Among them, the visually tragic renovations stand out: of a Roman-era bridge in Gaziantep Province and an 800-year-old gate to Alaaddin Mosque in Antalya. Moreover, Dipsiz Lake, located in Gümüşhane Province, became the victim of a legal excavation initiated with the claim of finding treasure.

Turkish Archaeological News team was rather busy in 2019. Our journey along the western coast of Turkey took us from Istanbul to Didim. We organised two walks: the first one took us to the scattered ancient ruins of Cyzicus with its forgotten amphitheatre, a real rarity in the area of Asia Minor. The second trek, from Didyma to Miletus, led along the ancient Sacred Road. Unfortunately, this unique tourist trail, once popular among the trekkers, is now in deplorable condition, with signposts gone and no clear path to follow.

TAN team also visited two newly opened museums. The first one was opened in the restored Blachernae Palace Complex. Despite some harsh criticism about the results of this restoration, our verdict is favourable as the architects achieved very impressive results. However, there are several improvements needed, including the clean-up of the surroundings.

The second new venue visited by TAN team was Troy Museum that finally opened its gates to the visitors. This impressive building stands out in the barren landscape of the Trojan plain, attracting the visitors' attention from afar. If the effect it makes on the visitors is the one that its designers aimed at, remains an open question, to be answered by the guests themselves. The detailed description of the museum has already been published on our portal.

We followed up the Trojan theme by visiting "Troy. Myth and Reality" exhibition in the British Museum. The representatives of TAN portal were among the first visitors at this exquisite exhibition that opened on the 21st of November. Some of our photographs from this event have been published in this album. If you missed it, there is still a chance to see it as it will close on the 8th of March 2020.

Turkish Archaeological News published two books in 2019. The first one is the extended and revised edition of Glenn Maffia's guidebook to Didyma "Faint Whispers from the Oracle". The second one is the updated guidebook "Gallipoli Peninsula and the Troad" by Izabela Miszczak. We can also disclose the information that three new guidebooks to the archaeological sites of Turkey will be published at the beginning of 2020.

Finally, let us also take a look at the most important archaeological discoveries in monthly reviews for 2019. For more details, please check out section 2019 in Turkish archaeology.

January 2019 could as well be called the month of restorations because the most important events reported in this month concerned numerous renovation projects. Among other events, the repair work on the roof of Istanbul's Haydarpaşa Train Station, damaged in a fire in 2010, was completed, the restoration of Bayburt Castle was initiated, and the renovation of the Stable Mansion at the Beylerbeyi Palace compound on the Asian shore of the Bosporus was completed. Moreover, 23 historical shops in Safranbolu will be restored soon. Last but not least, the renovated sections of Istanbul's Topkapı Palace were finally opened to visitors.

February 2019 was a month when many promises were made, including the extension of the Hatay Archaeology Museum and turning Tevfikiye into an archaeology village depicting the Troy era. Moreover, Turkish Police forces were busy capturing smugglers of ancient artefacts such as a collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts.

March 2019 saw the archaeological site of Arslantepe getting ready for the UNESCO World Heritage List. Meanwhile, some amazing discoveries were made in the area of Turkey, including the statue of Emperor Trajan in Laodicea on the Lycus and a large pithos found by a farmer ploughing his field in Niğde province.

The hottest archaeological news from Turkey in April 2019 was the discovery of a Bronze Age shipwreck of the shores of southern Turkey's Antalya province. Another great news was the reopening of Sümela Monastery, announced for May.

The biggest news in May 2019 was the reopening of the famous Sümela Monastery in northern Turkey, after an extensive restoration. Moreover, Uzunyuva Monumental Tomb Archaeology Park in the western province of Muğla was also opened again. The roof of the Istanbul's major landmark - the Grand Bazaar was repaired. The archaeologists started the excavations in Blaundus, and the Hittite hieroglyphs were unexpectedly found in a barn in Cappadocia.

In June 2019, the Blachernae Palace Complex restoration was completed, and the venue welcomed the first visitors. Also, an underground city partly submerged underwater and estimated to be around 5,000 years old was discovered by municipality crews trying to determine the cause of flooding in several houses in the Avanos district of Turkey's central Nevşehir province, located at the heart of the historical Cappadocia region.

The archaeologists were rather busy in July of 2019, excavating the ancient city of Hadrianopolis in Turkey's northern Karabük province, unearthing a cistern storing fresh water dating back to the medieval era in the ancient city of Tium, and continuing the research in the Ayanis castle, built by the Urartian King Rusa II on a hill overlooking Lake Van. Moreover, excavation works on Tetrapylon Avenue of the ancient city of Aphrodisias in western Turkey's Aydın province will soon be completed.

August of 2019 was a month abundant in archaeological discoveries in the area of Turkey. Possibly the most amazing one was the announcement that the ancient city of Troy might have been founded 600 years earlier than previously thought. Moreover, an excavation team was surprised when they discovered a temple in the ancient city of Priene, possibly devoted to Zeus. Archaeologists digging at the Barcın Mound found that cheese, yoghurt, and butter were first produced there 8,600 years ago, in the Neolithic Era. Finally, the remains of the memorial tomb of Azan, the founder of the ancient city of Aizanoi have unearthed.

The most exciting archaeological news in September 2019 was, most probably, the discovery that the history of the legendary Troy is longer than previously thought. Moreover, an ancient princess' sanctuary was found in Amasra, while the excavations at Boncuklu Höyük and Kahin Tepe revealed the secrets of the prehistoric period of Asia Minor. The archaeologists also struck gold at the Apollon Smintheion Temple in the Troad where they found 68 gold coins, dating back to the Byzantine era.

In October 2019, some important archaeological discoveries were made in the area of Turkey, including the finds in the sites of Arslantepe and Parion. However, the most astonishing news was the unearthing of an 11,300-year-old Neolithic-era temple in Mardin Province. The archaeologists found this temple with three mostly-intact steles and dated it to the same era as the Göbeklitepe excavation site in southeastern Şanlıurfa province. This dating was later moved back to the period 1,000 years earlier.

The most significant archaeological discovery in the area of Turkey in November 2019 was a 3,500-year-old fragmented skull and femur thought to belong to the Hittite period. It was unearthed in Sapinuwa, nowadays Çorum, an important military and religious centre of its time. This discovery will help to shed light on the human typology and anatomy of the Hittites.

In December 2019 the paper was published concerning the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük. The researchers found three 8,500-year-old-teeth that appeared to have been intentionally drilled to be worn as beads in a necklace or bracelet. Subsequent macroscopic, microscopic and radiographic analyses confirmed that two of the teeth had indeed been used as beads or pendants.

2020 was officially announced to be the year of Patara. This ancient town is best known as the birthplace of St. Nicholas, who lived most of his life in the nearby town of Myra. We shall see the effects of this site's promotion in the next twelve months.