Archaeology in Turkey - 2023 in review

The Heroon in Sagalassos
The Heroon in Sagalassos

The year 2023 was a mixed one for the Turkish archaeology. On one hand, the beginning of the year was marked by a disastrous earthquake that hit the southeastern part of the country, causing the great losses, including the damage to numerous archaeological sites and museums. On the other hand, in September 2023, UNESCO announced of the entry on the World Heritage List of two new items from Turkey, including the famous site of ancient Gordion. The other entry were the Wooden Hypostyle Mosques of Medieval Anatolia.

The top archaeological discoveries from 2023 were presented in the text by Hürriyet Daily News, and included:

  • Boar statue in Göbeklitepe
  • An unusual grave in Sagalassos
  • Temple dedicated to Anatolian Goddess Kubaba in Osmaniye
  • A monumental human statue in Karahantepe
  • Head of Alexander the Great bust found in Prusias ad Hypium

The Turkish Archaeological News team published many new texts in the past year. Our publications included a series of articles devoted to the archaeological finds on display in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara from Alacahöyük, Aslantepe, Carchemish, Çatalhöyük, and Gordion. Continuing the topic of archaeological museums, we also focussed on the finds from the area of Turkey currently located in the museums abroad. We showed the treasures of Ephesus in the Ephesos Museum in Vienna, more Ephesus finds in the British Museum, the artefacts from Miletus in the Altes Museum in Berlin, and Pergamon finds in the Pergamonmuseum - das Panorama in Berlin. We also showed several archaeological museums located in Turkey, including the venues in Amasra and Amasya.

Our texts devoted to archaeological and historical sites and cities were aimed mainly at several important locations, such as Ephesus and Pergamon, but also smaller ones, like Kaleköy (near Kiraz), Hasanaliler Church, Oluz Höyük, Uzunköprü Bridge, and Comana Pontica.

Last year we started the series of texts describing the archaeological site of Ani, located in the eastern Turkey, where many magnificent buildings from the Armenian Bagratid kingdom are still standing. So far, we published the articles about the Cathedral of Ani and the Church of Saint Gregory of Tigran Honents. Moreover, we also featured the text about the Menüçehr Mosque in Ani, most likely the first mosque built by the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia.

Another important site that was our focus last year was ancient Pergamon. Our texts showed the Acropolis and the Asclepieion of that city.

We tried to diversify the published content last year, so we presented archaeological sites and historical cities from different regions of Turkey. Thus, from the Black Sea coast region, we showed you the beautiful city of Amasya, from the Mediterranean region - the ancient archaeological site of Anemurium, and from the Central Anatolia - the Hittite sanctuary Yazılıkaya located near Hattusa. The Aegean Turkey was represented by the site of Aphrodisias and its splendid museum, as well as the Basilica of St John in Philadelphia (now Alaşehir).

Our special correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia, continued his series of publications devoted to the magnificent Temple of Apollo in Didyma and its surroundings. Last year, he focussed on the theme of the Repatriation of Anatolian Antiquities and the various aspects of promoting Didyma by the local authorities. He also discussed the subject of protecting our ancient heritage from vandalism.

Finally, let us look at the year 2023 in monthly summaries.

In January 2023, an exciting new project was announced, promising to provide the text of almost 2000 Hittite tablets, deciphered using artificial intelligence. Secondly, great news from Iznik (ancient Nicaea) where a new Archaeological Museum is getting ready to open. In the same town, Byzantine artefacts were found under an orchard by an unsuspecting farmer. Finally, as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, an exhibition, displaying Ottoman and Republican-era objects, was opened at the Presidential National Library in Ankara.

In February 2023, all other news from Turkey was overshadowed by the tragic earthquakes that shook southern and central parts of the country, as well as northern and western Syria. As we write, more than 51 thousand deaths have been confirmed, including more than 44 thousand people who perished in Turkey. The terrible loss of life, and the devastation that affected around 14 million people, was accompanied by widespread damage in the area. Below, you will find the links to many articles dealing with the damage to Turkey's historical heritage, including the historical sites and buildings, and archaeological sites, such as Arslantepe, Hatay Archaeology Museum, and Gaziantep Castle.

In March 2023, the news concerning archaeological activities in the area of Turkey was dominated, unsurprisingly, by the stories related to the February earthquakes that shook the south-east of the country. However, several important discoveries were also reported, including the new rock paintings from the prehistoric era found on Mount Latmos. Moreover, the Belgian archaeologists digging at the site of the ancient city of Sagalassos unearthed a most unusual burial. The burial was sealed with two dozen bricks and an additional layer of plaster. Topping everything off, around three dozen bent nails were sprinkled around the edges of the tomb, possibly as magic talismans meant to keep the deceased person trapped inside.

In April 2023, still recovering from the disastrous earthquakes, Turkey was preparing for the possible disasters of this kind to hit the country in the future. Towards this goal, it was reported that the restoration and strengthening works against possible earthquake risk in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, which have been going on for about three years, mostly came to an end in April 2023. Moreover, nearly 400 small artefacts from the Hatay Archaeology Museum, some of which got damaged during the Kahramanmaraş-centered earthquakes in February, were sent to the Kırşehir Museum for protection against aftershocks.

In May 2023, some 400 shops started to operate in the historical Uzun Çarşı, one of the symbols of the quake-hit southern province of Hatay. The archaeological excavations were carried out around the country, for instance in the southern province of Osmaniye's Kadirli district, where the mosaic depicting the Trojan War hero Aeneas was found in the ruins of a Roman villa. The excavations also began to unearth 2,600-year-old archaeological remains on the Sedir (Cleopatra) island in the Gulf of Gökova.

The most important archaeological discoveries announced in June 2023 from the area of Turkey included a Pan statue from the Roman period that was recovered during excavation works carried out at Saraçhane Archaeology Park, where the Church of St. Polyeuctus is situated. In ancient Greek mythology, Pan was the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, rustic music, and companion of the nymphs. He was imagined to have the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun.

July 2023 saw the opening of a new season of archaeological excavations begin in ancient Aizanoi and Bathonea, located in the Küçükçekmece Lake basin in Istanbul's Avcılar district. The works continued in the ancient city of Comana Pontica in northern Tokat province, providing insights into the gastronomic heritage of the region. Moreover, the 8,000-year-old numeral stone, which is thought to have been used while calculating, was found during the Yeşilova Höyük excavations carried out in the Bornova district of Izmir.

August 2023 saw the final stages of the extensive landscaping restoration of 2,000-year-old Roman baths in Yozgat province. The renovations also continued in a Lycian settlement of Tlos where the ancient theater was prepared to host the performances in 2025. Meanwhile, the excavations at Tepecik Mound in Aydın province, located in the western part of Turkey, revealed a structure believed to have been used as a palace or temple in the 13th century BCE. Finally, in the excavations carried out in the ancient city of Olba, located in the Silifke district of Mersin, a female statue believed to belong to the 2nd century CE and two frieze fragments depicting mythological scenes were unearthed.

Without a doubt, the most interesting event in the field of history and culture of Turkish lands in September 2023 was the announcement by UNESCO of the entry on the World Heritage List of two new items from Turkey. This honorable distinction was awarded to the archaeological site of Gordion, located near Ankara, and five wooden mosques from the Middle Ages, located in various locations in Anatolia.

The most exciting archaeological discoveries announced in Turkey in October 2023 were a 3,000-year-old necropolis found in Batman Province, a 5,000-year-old Mother Goddess statuette unearthed in Yeşilova Mound in Izmir, and 2 cuneiform inscriptions and a new Urartian temple revealed by the excavations at Körzüt Castle. Moreover, Zeytinburnu Mosaic Museum opened in Istanbul, and it was announced that street and house ruins from the Early Byzantine and Late Roman Period, unearthed during the excavations at Marmaray's Sirkeci Station will be opened to visitors by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Finally, thirty-seven pieces of historical artefacts returned by Switzerland will be exhibited at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara after the completion of conservation and restoration works.

In November 2023, several major archaeological discoveries were announced in the area of Turkey. In the southeastern region, in Zerzevan Castle, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of the entrance gate to a Temple of Mithras. In Cappadocia, the largest floor mosaic of Central Anatolia Region was unearthed during the excavations carried out in Örenşehir District. In the same region of the country, a 4,300-year-old braided mat was found in the Kültepe Kaniş Karum ruins. Finally, an ivory-decorated piece, estimated to be approximately 2,800 years old, was found during the archaeological excavation in the Hattusa ancient city in Çorum Province.

In December 2023, some significant archaeological discoveries were announced for the area of Turkey. In the southeastern region, a rare 800-year-old bronze talismanic healing bowl was discovered in Hasankeyf excavations. In the Aegean region, a workshop dating back 8,200 years, showing the village life, pleasure, eating and drinking culture of the people of İzmir, was unearthed in Yeşilova Mound. Finally, in the Black Sea region, during ongoing excavations in the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium, archaeologists uncovered a beautiful mosaic featuring a duo of lions.