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Archaeology Blog: Back in the Trenches

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1044826_284063198406330_1967207058_nI write this page to educate people on archaeology and history but there is nothing more educating than experience. My first week back at the site of Antiochia ad Cragum has been revealing and fun. Revealing because you realise that even those people with the enthusiasm to actually go on a dig for the first time come with so many preconceptions which is something I often forget because I have now been digging so long. Fun because I’m back in the trenches with awesome eccentric people, archaeology breeds eccentricity and craziness.

After flying into Istanbul for a few days we are now in Gazipasa in Southern Turkey after a long commute down to Antalya and then through Alanya on the bus for three hours. The Antiochia ad Cragum Research Project is a joint venture between field school students, specialists and enthusiasts like myself, staff from the University of Nebraska, Clark University and Ataturk University. So despite having been at this dig before, it is a whole new assortment of faces and experience levels. Most common experience level being zero. But that is good too, we get to mould minds and they get a life changing experience because that is often what archaeology is. It gives you a new appreciation of history, hard work, team work, new cultures and the wind on a very hot smouldering day where you feel like you are dying but somehow manage to get through it before falling into the pub for beer.

This year we are focusing on the agora down by the larger bath house inside the city gates. The area has not previously been excavated and has grown over significantly. The bath house itself is the realm of the Ataturk University team led by Professor Birol Can. This year they are extending the excavation of the mosaic (which you can see in the news) which is one of the biggest in the area. So far they have uncovered approximately half of it in previous years and half of a pool with a marble base. The mosaic also appears to extend outside the doorway that was discovered at one end of the mosaic last year. It will be a while until they are in a position to excavate more of the area inside the bathhouse itself but so far they have uncovered an inscription on the wall which I will be translating and hopefully preparing for publishing later in the season. Which is exciting because Bean and Mitford have previously published most of the inscriptions on the site so a new one is awesome. Additionally I personally am working on two dice oracle inscriptions in the block field near the temple on the site and a Latin milestone which has somehow made its way into the early Christian church outside the city gates. But first the agora…

We spent the first two days of the dig clearing a forest of brush that covered the area of the agora. The Turkish workmen, led by the SuperTurk Rahmi, were an amazing asset considering they had a chain saw and superhuman skills that makes me believe that they are in fact aliens from the planet Turkjeon. Underneath the brush you could already see columns from the original structure scattered throughout the area. As brush for gradually removed more features came to light including a possible temple area and a raised walkway area. A number of decorated marble blocks could also be seen after the central area of thick bush was removed. After the bush was finally removed and the tedious dragging of trees and twigs back and forth to the spoil pile finally drove us all mad, the digging could finally begin.

Out of the group this year digging in the agora there are only three members who are actually archaeologists: Myself, my partner Rob and Helen who is an Australian archaeologist from Melbourne dipping her toe into Classical archaeology. And thus the three site supervisors were born! So far we have begun opening five trenches. Three are located on or next to the possible temple mount, one has been placed on the walkway to the side of the main area up several steps and full of roots, and the last is located in the main open area where the marble carved blocks were located previously. This year the field school students appear to be an excellent bunch. They have already proved to be hard and diligent workers in the initial brush clearing stages and they have enthusiastically thrown themselves into the trenches. While some have admitted that they never expected this and expected brushing of small rocks, none have taken a step back and are instead asking intelligent questions for the most part and are keen to learn which is great and somewhat unusual. Hopefully the heat won’t kill any of them before we get the work done…

The Clark University students are up in the block field and going slightly mad in the heat but have already made a great start into drawing and mapping the blocks from the temple for future reconstruction. And with that I end my first blog back in Turkey. Let the archaeology continue. 🙂

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Archaeology Travel Blog 2013

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Last year I spent a number of blog posts telling you about the archaeological adventures I was on in Turkey and this received some great comments and record views so I thought I’d continue the exercise this year!

This June and July I will be back in Turkey spending time digging at Antiochia ad Cragum and exploring Istanbul, Izmir, Pergamum, Perge and many other sites. So keep a look out for upcoming posts.

This year I will be joined by my anthropologist partner so I’m sure there will even more archaeology and anthropology related information for us to share with you. For instance, if you are ever in the Basilica cistern in Istanbul and are knowledgeable enough to ask yourself where is the third Medusa head, there were three Medusas? We found it! It is sitting basically forgotten in the garden of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums with out note or description.

If you have anywhere you know brilliant to visit in Izmir, we have never been there before so past the knowledge along!

Archaeological Travel Blog: Istanbul Part 2

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So the second day of my whirlwind trip to Istanbul begun with breakfast again with the amazing view of the Blue Mosque before heading out to the archaeological museums. The museums of course are what I really came to see and I will be spending much time there at the end of my trip too but first for the scouting and the touristy part!

The archaeological museums in Istanbul are located behind the Hagia Sophia near Topkapi palace but I was surprised to see such a lack of people visiting them despite this prime location. They really were amazing. A fantastic collection of Mesopotamian, Greek and Anatolian artefacts in a number of buildings, nicely set out and easily accessible. And yet the museums always have parts of them closed because of the lack of funding and visitors. Such a shame. In fact it only sees around 200,000 visitors a year which isn’t all the much when you think how much it has and how big the complex is.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum - Court and ent...
Istanbul Archaeological Museum – Court and entrance

There are three main museums in the complex: The Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art AKA the Tiled Kiosk. They house over a million objects representing civilizations that have had interactions with the area. The complex was established in 1892 as part of an effort to modernize the Ottoman Empire. The collection includes the ornate Alexander Sarcophagus which was once believed to have be prepared for Alexander the Great himself. Other famous pieces include The Kadesh Peace Treaty of 1258 BC, signed between Ramesses II and Hattusili III, the oldest known peace treaty in the world. It also includes the Lycian tomb, the glazed tile images of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, statues of the Roman Era, Sidon sarcophagi, Troy exhibit, and artefacts from the early civilisations of the area.

Admittedly though the best thing was locating the inscriptions I needed to look at later in the trip for my research work. Yay!

Next stop, after a very late lunch, The Grand Bazaar! And my goodness was that an experience. For those of you unfamiliar with it, The Grand Bazaar was founded in 1461 by the Sultan Mehmet II designed as the trading heart of the Empire. In addition to shops, banks, storerooms and cafes, it used to hold accommodation, baths, mosques and schools, but is today mostly a mass of shops. It has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and fires but is still going strong.

Why I say this was an experience relates to the people you meet inside the bazaar. Notably the male shop owners shouting things you would certainly not hear in polite society. But as long as you are prepared for this it isn’t too bad. And I did like the comments referring to us three girls and one guy as Charlies’ Angels. I’m sure it was not original but it was amusing. Especially when we explained that the male in our party was more like Bosley than Charlie.

Just don’t buy anything in the Bazaar. They will charge you out the ear and while bartering is fun it can be long and unnecessary. Just go to the next street over beside but outside the Bazaar and buy what you want for a fraction of the Bazaar price. Trust me we checked.

Next Stop: Dig site. Near the town of Gazipasa in Southern Turkey. Check out the FACEBOOK page for more regular updates!

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Archaeology Travel Blog: Istanbul pt. 1

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Hi everyone from Turkey! That’s right I finally got here after talking about it for months on end, having visa issues and permits being delayed. Been here four days and we have managed to pack in so much into a limited amount of time. If you don’t remember, I’m in Turkey to do some research for my PhD in Istanbul and also some archaeology down south at Antiochia ad Cragum, a Roman pirate port with temple complex, roman roads and mosaics. Very exciting.

First thing one realises in Istanbul is that there are some things that we’re going to have to get used to…for a start the driving. Cars have priority and within thirty minutes of arriving I was fearing for my life as the airport shuttle played chicken with every other car, truck and bike on the road. But eventually I made it to the Hotel in Sultanahmet in one piece where I met two of the girls and one of the guys also going on the dig. Awesome hotel in the middle of the old city with Hagia Sophia on one side, the blue mosque on the other and within walking distance of anything and everything. Definitely recommend the Star Holiday Hotel to anyone going to Istanbul. Well priced and amazing views.

After having a good Turkish dinner (gozleme in Turkey! For my fellow PhD Y3A colleagues) and a broken night due to the sounds of the gulls which are in abundance in Istanbul and the mosques which hail late at night and around 5am in the morning, we started our sightseeing.

First stop on my grand one day tour of Istanbul: Hagia Sophia! And my goodness is it worth the visit as the first and best site we saw in Istanbul. For those of you unfamiliar here is a little bit about the site:

Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s foremost architectural wonders. It was originally a church which burnt down in 404 AD and then secondly destroyed in the Nika Riots of 532 AD. The third church to stand on the site was inaugurated by the Emperor Justinian in 537 and is that which remains to be seen today. It has survived countless wars, conflicts and earthquakes and was converted into a mosque in 1453. Today it is classified as a museum, as it has been since 1934, which means that no head scarves are necessary and anyone can see the wonders inside.

On going into the site one is firstly struck by the many cats around and then one enters the entrance hall and glimpses the huge hall that comes after. It really is amazing, not to mention enormous! After getting over the initial wow factor, actually that wasn’t really possible, I was struck by the interesting combination of Islamic and Christian elements left over from the conversion in the fifteenth century. The dome in the centre of the roof is of course the highlight with beautiful arrays of designs and colours, but I was also fascinated by the wall paintings in the upper galleries and the ceiling paintings in the side galleries where earlier work had clearly been painted over with the conversion to Islam. I soon realised that with Hagia Sophia if you want to really experience it you must look past the big and focus on the details; the chip marks where crosses had been defaced, the Greek graffiti and stone mason marks hidden in the corners and the cracks in the floors. Amazing site, still can’t get over it, the history just hits you right in the face and it is fantastic!

After spending the majority of the morning in Hagia Sophia we moved on to the Basilica Cistern when we realised that the tour groups were on the rise in Hagia. The Basilica Cistern is a vast underground water-storage tank (if you can really call it that) just across from Hagia Sophia. It was created in the reign of Constantine and was later expanded by Justinian in 532 to ensure that Constantinople was always supplied with water. It once was capable of holding 18 million gallons of water! The roof of the cistern is supported by 336 pillars over 8ms in height and also contains two medusa head statues which came from older Greek buildings and are believed to have been from the Hellenistic period. It was also used as the set of one of the earlier Bond films apparently. It is full of fish the size of my lower leg and quite happy in their little microenvironment and is just beautiful when the columns are lit up by ground lights. It is also apparently a stage for some musical performances but none were playing when we were there. While a little soggy, the cistern was a fantastic and different following to Hagia Sophia.

Site number three was unfortunately a little disappointing because it had the potential to be amazing. Topkapi palace was built by Mehmet II as his main residence in 1459-65. It was also Mehmet’s seat of parliament and a college for training officials and soldiers. While the government later moved in the 16th century, Topkapi remained as a palace until Abdul Mecit I moved the Sultan’s main residence to Dolmabahce Palace in 1856. The palace includes imperial gates, courtyards, throne rooms, a harem, treasury, barracks, salons, apartments, baths and halls. It has the potential to be a fascinating site but there were two main issues: firstly and primarily the tourists. The number of people at the palace was just overwhelming, you could hardly see in front of you and the lines to get in to any of the buildings were worse than Disneyland. After what seemed like an eternity we managed to get into the Treasury to find that more people standing in front of the exhibits completely obscured our views. Problem number two: no signage. Seriously how were we meant to know what anything is without anywhere to get a map, no signs and not even the occasional arrow. It was frustrating to say the least. The most interesting thing we did find though was the stone throne outside where the sultan used to watch the sports. A beautiful piece of stone work, inscribed and decorated, and yet hidden in a corner and ignored with a worn label next to it. Topkapi, I’m sure is amazing, but with that many people and no idea where anything is it was a waste of 25 TL and we saw nothing. A shame but well it’s all part of the experience. Fortunately the rest of the sites that day made up for it.

After a late lunch and a short break we headed to our next exhibit on the Istanbul trail: the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was commissioned by the Sultan Ahmet when he was only 19 years old. So great was his enthusiasm for the project that at times he even worked alongside the labourers. His aim was to surpass the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Well he tried, didn’t quite succeed with the latter at least. The mosque was finished in 1616 and is celebrated as one of the best working mosques in the world known especially for it’s blue Iznik tiles in the interior. The mosque is a fantastic opportunity to experience the culture and mix with the locals but the tourists really stand out. Still I found wearing a head scarf a surprisingly nice experience, makes you feel like you belong there in the culture. The building itself was spectacular too with giant columns and beautiful stained glass windows.

So much to write, so little time. Signing off for now. More of Istanbul and the archaeological site to come.