Archaeology in Turkey - 2018 in review

2018 was the year of Troy
2018 was the year of Troy

2018 was a busy year for archaeologists working in the area of Turkey. Almost 350 archaeological excavations and around 50 rescue missions were carried out, with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism that provided 26 mln liras. Below you will find an overview of the most important discoveries in the country.

First of all, 2018 was officially announced as the year of Troy. Unfortunately, almost the whole year passed before the long-overdue Troy Museum was finally opened to visitors. Moreover, the modernistic building of the museum was welcomed with mixed comments, ranging from highly positive, praising the design as referring to the massive red walls of ancient Troy, to downright critical, concerning the huge mark that the museum leaves on the landscape of Troad. However, it is a very unusual building with the height equal to the original dimension of the Troy tumulus before it had been excavated. Disappointingly, most of the exhibits displayed there are the objects well-known from the collections of the Archaeological Museum of Çanakkale where they resided prior to their transfer.

Appropriately, in the context of the year of Troy, the archaeologists made some discoveries at the site. In September, the head of excavations, Rüstem Aslan, announced that the excavations carried out at the Byzantine-period cemetery uncovered evidence suggesting the site may have been used as a sanctuary.

Not surprisingly, many groundbreaking discoveries of 2018 were made in Istanbul, the sprawling metropolis under constant reconstruction. They included not only relatively recent Byzantine period of the city's history but also revealed much older past of the area, reaching back to the Paleolithic. Near the historical Haydarpaşa railway station, currently under renovation, the remains of the ancient walls of Chalkedon were revealed, along with the still-functioning Byzantine fountain.

Moreover, also in Istanbul, during the subway excavations in Beşiktaş neighbourhood, cairn-type tombs dating back to the early Bronze Age were found. Among the objects discovered in these tombs, two figurines drew special attention of the researchers who compared them to similar statuettes from the Balkans and stepped of central Asia. Finally, Beykoz district of Istanbul revealed even older findings when Paleolithic-era stones shaped as a human face were excavated.

The archaeologists were also working hard in other regions of Turkey. In Antalya Province, a Viking sword was found, attracting much publicity from the press. However, the discovery itself is not as sensational discovery as the media led us to believe as the Vikings were excellent seafarers and also served the Byzantine emperors as the famous Varangian Guards. They even left the famous runic graffiti carved in the parapet of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

Also, Antandros excavations continued, revealing a 2,200-year-old stele, dubbed as "the first gazette" by enthusiastic journalists. Actually, the finding is a 22-lined decree issued as a statement praising a commander, sent to Antandros by the Pergamene king Eumenes.

Meanwhile, in the far south-west of the country, in Siirt Province, Bronze Age tombs were found. The necropolis, dating back to the period of 3100-2800 BCE, contains at least three graves where 11 people were interred along with many grandiose burial gifts.

A striking finding was made in Mersin Province where the researchers working in the area of the ancient city of Soli/Pompeiopolis excavated an impressive bust of a Roman statesman. However, the identity of the person portrayed remains unknown.

In the European part of Turkey, the remarkable discovery was made in the ancient city of Heraion Teichos in Tekirdağ Province. The archaeologists unearthed a 2,2000-year-old healing centre, as attested by the presence of numerous medical instruments.

Finally, the end of 2018 brought another great news as the stolen fragments of the famous Gypsy Girl mosaic from Zeugma were returned to the museum in Gaziantep.

Turkish Archaeological News team had a very active year that started with the publication of two new books. The first one, Faint Whispers from the Oracle, devoted to the Apollo Temple in Didyma, was written by Glenn Maffia. The second one, The Secrets of Mount Nemrut, looks closely at the mysterious remains of the Commagene Kingdom in eastern Anatolia and has a special chapter Alper K. Ateş, the astronomer from ISTEK Belde Schools Science Center and Observatory.

TAN team also went on a tour of Turkey in the summer of 2018. The highlight of this trip included a very long walk along the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople and visiting less-know historical sites of the city such as Binbirdirek Cistern. Moreover, TAN team explored the Roman-period sites of Ankara and discovered historical monuments of Konya.

Due to unusually low water levels, TAN team was also able to see much of ancient Miletus where due to the prolonged drought the terrain usually inundated was revealed, and the same situation repeated at Ephesus where the marshy ground around the Temple of Artemis was almost dry. We also revisited an ancient oracle of Claros and freshly refurbished Teos that we remembered as a totally neglected site, but now the site pleasantly surprised us with walking paths and new excavation carried out before our own eyes. Another treat was exploring the secrets of Hierapolis, including the newly-discovered Plutonium, the grave of St. Philip and a church.

One new addition to the UNESCO's World Heritage List was made in 2018 and, as a result, the year 2019 was recently announced to be the year of Göbeklitepe, the site hailed as the world's oldest temple. The site is awaiting a record number of tourists, but the preparations carried out in 2018 already aggravated some researchers who cried their outrage as concrete was used copiously at the ancient site. Hopefully, we will be able to check the state of this site personally in 2019.