11 June 2009

Greetings from Istanbul

I just arrived in Istanbul, where I’ll be for a couple days. I’m headed to the wonderful archaeological site of Sagalassos for the summer, where I’ll be helping to start a community archaeology project. (Much more about this later!)

Since Turkey is on my mind lately, I thought I would share some photos of this amazing poster I saw in Kocaeli at the 2007 Kazı Sonuçları Toplantısı (Excavation Reports Meeting), an annual government-sponsored archaeology symposium. These were put up as part of the general décor. The man with the dramatic eyebrows is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish state. He gazes over a trippy pastiche of iconic ruins: Ephesus, Nemrud Dağı, Dıvriği, the Trojan horse, and a theater (I think from Hierapolis/Pamukkale).

This picture is mind-blowing on so many levels! Atatürk himself was something of a patron of archaeology (especially Hittite), and visited digs like Alacahöyük and Gavurkale while he was president (1924-1938). But there’s much more than that going here. With a visionary look in his eyes, he (and by extension the Turkish Republic) is claiming and supervising the archaeology of Anatolia. A less obvious aspect of this picture is that these are all sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Turkey has thousands of cool archaeological sites, but only nine are on the WHL (with 23 more on the Tentative List, mostly awaiting preparation of site management plans). Choosing these alone as the symbols of the nation’s archaeology implies that the real concern here is using archaeology to define Turkey’s place in the world. It's part of an old tale: much of Turkey's modern history has been consumed with its quest to gain acceptance as a modern European state. The lack of public knowledge about archaeology among Turks today reflects how much the nation's self-image has been created for foreign consumption.

That this image is not often crafted by archaeologists is amusingly evident in the choice to use the Trojan Horse model now at the entrance to the site of Troy as the symbol of the site. The horse is an entirely modern fiction - it represents the idea of Troy rather than anything about the archaeology of the site itself. (Unconnected aside: when I visited Troy, the first thing I heard was twittering Greek voices inside it - the Trojan Horse was literally filled with Greeks!)

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