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A few words on Archaeology

Sky God slays the dragon Illuianka. Alsantepe ca. 1050 BC.
 Sky God slays the dragon Illuianka. Aslantepe ca. 1050 BCE.

The science of Archaeology, in the narrow sense, is the systematic discovery and scientific study of the physical remains left by human. On the other hand, Archaeology is a science that has to cooperate with many other related sciences and objects as well. When this man's interest in ancient remains began, we don't know for sure. For example, Fatih Mehmet II the conqueror, the ottoman sultan who captured Istanbul from Byzantine empire, was known for his interest in antique pieces, and used to collect such objects. A much earlier example comes from Mesopotamia, Nabonide the King of Babylon ( 559-529 BCE ), had a hall in his palace where he had exhibited the pieces left by the earlier civilizations. And the same king had sent out this exhibition to Our (another ancient city of Mesopotamia) to be displayed for the town people. The science of Archaeology has to deal with different civilizations and periods of time. Therefore, this science is generally classified as under the following headings.

  1. Classical Archaeology ( Greek and Roman Civilizations )

  2. Pre classical archaeology of Mediterranean and Aegean Islands

  3. Near East and Asia Minor ( Anatolia )

  4. Egypt

  5. Western Europe

  6. Asia

  7. Pacific

  8. America

1. Classical archaeology :
roughly covers from 1000 BCE through 330 CE (end of Roman Empire and beginning of Byzantine empire). Probably this period of time gives us the richest and best preserved archaeological sites, as most of the ancient cities built by Greeks and Romans still stand there. The sites of this period spread over a large area, Greece, Asia Minor, Italy, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Israel. The sites of great prosperity, Rome, Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, Pompeii, Athens.

2. The archaeology of pre classical era :
generally covers the Aegean and Mediterranean Islands such as Crete, Cyprus, Cyclades, Mitilini, Rhodes etc. These islands had carried out trading activities between different geographical locations and their sea-faring people had contributed to the development of their communities.

3. Near East and Asia Minor (Anatolia) :
civilizations show close similarities and must be grouped together. Notable sites are Jericho in Israel, Catalhoyuk , Cayonu, Hattusas, Tushpa, Zincirli in Turkey. Most of these sites are those of the prehistoric times. Also under this heading must be the biblical archaeology, as most of the sites of the old and new testaments are located in this part of the world.

4. Archaeology of Egypt :
represents a different culture, art and architecture than that of the other civilizations, so it must be one category to itself. The archaeological explorations in Egypt began and gained momentum with Napoleon's war campaigns against Egypt. As known, Rosetta stone found in Egypt was the main source for the French linguist Champelleon to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphic.

5. Western Europe :
the efforts to discover the ancient life of the western Europe generally concentrates on France, Spain and Great Britain in part.

6. Asian Archaeology :
Particularly India, Pakistan and China are the leading countries in this area, where archaeologists had directed numerous excavations. The well known sites are Mohenjo-daro and Harappa and were excavated in 1920s. Especially the objects found in India have revealed that the Ancient Indian culture had been influenced greatly by the Hellenistic culture, doubtless carried there by Alexander the great and his soldiers.

7. Pacific ocean islands :
like French Polynesia, Micronesia unfortunately have almost nothing from their early civilizations and being one of the poorest areas for the world of archaeology.

8. America :
archaeologists are still exploring this continent, and from the findings so far, we understand especially meso-american cultures had represented a high level of civilizations a long time ago. The most notable ones being Maya civilization of c. 300 BCE- 900 CE that covers part of Guatemala and Mexico today, and another one, Aztec civilization of medieval period c. 1325 Ad.

Early Excavations

Early excavations carried out by British archaeologists were just like picnic making. The workers usually did much of the work digging all day, and their masters enjoyed their picnic lunch and drink. Egypt was excavated in 1850s, however early diggings took so short time, and usually the site would be abandoned and never dug again. The most important and sensational excavation of the past was that of Troy by  Heinrich Schliemann, a shabbily dressed, old scholar who spent considerable time wandering among the ruins of Asia Minor and Greece with worn-out copies of Iliad and Odyssey. His dream of finding the king Priam's treasures turned out to be real when he discovered them near the ramp against the city wall. But he never knew that the treasures he found were not Priam's. He was so much in hurry to find them, he missed and passed the king Priam's city and found the treasures of an earlier civilization of Troy which is beneath the Priam's city. The damage he did to the site still gives archaeologists a headache today. However, he left his mark in the history rediscovering the site of Troy.

Hoyuk and Tumulus :

 

Prehistoric Hoyuk in Eastern Turkey

When you are out in Anatolia, especially in Thrace, Central or Eastern Turkey, you will notice some mounds standing in the middle of a large plain, and leaving no doubt that they are artificial mounds made by human. So, this would be a perfect beginning point to believe that there is an ancient city buried underneath covered up by the rubble on the top. The general name given to those mounds in Turkey is "Hoyuk" or as we know it in archaeological terminology a "Tel" . If you drive out in the country side, you will see many signs pointing to such sites or even some modern villages may have the same name as they cover the site of a Hoyuk. The reason that they are slightly higher than the surrounding area is that that site must have been inhabited by many succeeding civilizations built on the top of each other, and causing the site elevated. If the time and funds permit, the excavation should be done horizontally, allowing the archaeologist to uncover the city in layers and see the different phases of a city of a certain period. Only, vertical excavation helps archaeologist to find out what is the earliest civilization of that site, so he digs all the way to the bottom of the city, as usually the earliest inhabited layer may be found at the very bottom.

A Tumulus, burial mound for Thracian King

However, every mound you will see which fits the above description may not be a " hoyuk ", but a burial tomb for the local kings, which is called " Tumulus " in Turkish archaeological terminology. One difference you can notice between a Hoyuk and tumulus is that the Hoyuk usually covers a larger area and relatively flat on the top, as the tumulus is usually pointed on the top that looks like a primitive model of the Egyptian pyramids. Usually, archaeologists apply a different method of digging on the tumulus. The usual method is to dig the mound from the top, the reason being that most of the tumuluses have a burial chamber right in the center which is protected by a strong stone wall. And it is really hard to drill into the burial chamber from the side, because of that wall. Also, as usually, these burial chambers have openings on the top that eases the work of the archaeologists. So once they are inside the burial chamber, they can dig horizontally the other parts of the tumulus. One of the best known tumuluses in Asia Minor can be found at Gordion of ancient Phrygia, about an hour of drive west of Ankara. This is erroneously called the King Midas' tomb because the occupant was Gordios the legendary king of Phrygia who tied the Gordion knot. On the other hand, King Midas' tomb is located at the Midas' city on the way from Eskisehir to Afyon. The burial gifts ( silver and bronze) from the so-called King Midas' Tomb of Gordion are on display in the the museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Also, ancient writers like Strabo gives us perfect details of the locations of the cities of his time.

If you are in the Aegean and Mediterranean area, at some places you won't miss the perfectly cut stones which were the main building materials of the past. Now, you can think that you are in the vicinity of an ancient site which is most probably Hellenistic or Roman.

Another sign is the fortresses built on the top of the hills. This was a popular way for ancient people to build their cities. Generally, the fortress stands on the top having temples, palaces, public buildings inside and surrounding area is covered by people's houses. In the time of danger, or siege the whole town people gathered in the fortress to defend their cities against the enemy. As known, Greeks called these hilltops where they had their cities," Acropolis " meaning upper city. 

 

 

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Travels around Asia Minor 1976-2002
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Last Update : December, 2011