University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Digging Deeper at Gordion


July 26, 2016

When it comes to the Citadel Mound at Gordion—the primary focus of the Gordion Archaeological Project’s work this year—one thing is quite clear, even to a newcomer such as myself: this is a very large site. As I mentioned before, it measures 450 x 300 meters, which equals roughly the size of 19 American football fields. It’s also 15 meters high, the result of at least nine individual layers of human habitation, one built on top of the next, over a period of nearly 4,000 years. Those numbers came into much clearer focus once I was on the ground, and began to gain a better understanding of the depth and breadth of the various assignments that are underway throughout the Citadel Mound, and even beyond.

A wide view of the Citadel Mound at Gordion, with cars along the road for scale.
A wide view of the Citadel Mound at Gordion, with cars along the road for scale.

With some time to myself onsite, I was able to wander around and understand the layout of some of the elements of the site that have been illuminated through excavations in years past. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Gordion Archaeological Project was directed by Dr. Rodney Young, Curator of the Mediterranean Section at the Penn Museum from 1950 until his death in 1974.

Dr. Rodney Young, the original Director of the Gordion Archaeological Project. Photo courtesy of the Gordion Archive.
Dr. Rodney Young, the original Director of the Gordion Archaeological Project. Photo courtesy of the Gordion Archive.

During those excavations, he identified two principal Early Phrygian districts on the eastern side of the mound; one district comprised several megarons—rectangular buildings with large, deep halls behind shallow anterooms, which were used by the city’s elite, probably for administration; the other district, to the west, featured terrace buildings in which food preparation and textile production occurred.

The remnants of one of the megaron buildings at Gordion.
The remnants of one of the megaron buildings at Gordion.
Foundations from the terrace buildings at the site.
Foundations from the terrace buildings at the site.

In speaking with Brian Rose, the current project director, he mentioned an issue that had been raised by Dr. Charles Williams, an archaeologist who excavated here with Rodney Young in the 1950s and 1960s and who is a tremendous benefactor and source of wisdom and guidance to the project today. The issue: Where did the early Phrygian rulers live?

Seeking the answer to this important question, the project is currently excavating a trench on the western side of the mound, which has not yet been extensively investigated, and where the remnants of residences may well be hiding beneath the surface. The trench is eight meters deep, and has exposed artifacts left over from numerous settlements—from the Selcuk period in the 13th/14th centuries CE, back through the Roman period, the Hellenistic period, and into the Late Phrygian or Persian period, from roughly 540 to 333 BCE. As the team digs deeper, they will eventually reach the settlement layer of the Early Phrygian period (900 to 800 BCE)—the remnants of which may confirm or contradict the theory that this could have been a center of residency for those Early Phrygian elites.

A view of the excavation trench on the western side of the Citadel Mound.
A view of the excavation trench on the western side of the Citadel Mound.
Sarah Leppard, who is supervising the western trench, gives instructions to Işık Abaci (Istanbul University) and Braden Cordivari (University of Pennsylvania).
Sarah Leppard, who is supervising the western trench, gives instructions to Işık Abaci (Istanbul University) and Braden Cordivari (University of Pennsylvania).
A camel jawbone protrudes from the trench wall.
A camel jawbone protrudes from the trench wall.

On the southern side of the mound, a separate trench is in its fourth year of excavation, with the intention of exploring another gateway leading into the city, independent of the monumental gateway on the eastern side of the Mound. This had been identified before any digging began in this area, thanks to the modern miracle of remote sensing, a non-intrusive scanning technique that we’ll discuss in greater detail in an upcoming blogpost. The excavation here has exposed the monumental walls of this secondary city gate, which was initially built in the 9th century BCE; it has also revealed a pebbled surface that would have been used as a street leading into this gateway.

On the southern side of the mound, a separate trench is in its fourth year of excavation, with the intention of exploring another gateway leading into the city, independent of the monumental gateway on the eastern side of the Mound. This had been identified before any digging began in this area, thanks to the modern miracle of remote sensing, a non-intrusive scanning technique that we’ll discuss in greater detail in an upcoming blogpost. The excavation here has exposed the monumental walls of this secondary city gate, which was initially built in the 9th century BCE; it has also revealed a pebbled surface that would have been used as a street leading into this gateway.
The excavation trench on the southern side of the Citadel Mound.
Local workmen help to clear the trench.
Local workmen help to clear the trench.
Simon Greenslade, supervising the trench excavation, gives an update to Project Director Brian Rose and Deputy Director Ayşe Gürzan-Salzmann.
Simon Greenslade, supervising the trench excavation, gives an update to Project Director Brian Rose and Deputy Director Ayşe Gürzan-Salzmann.

My travels around the site led me at one point to an area that Rodney Young named the Mosaic Building, where an administrative building with mosaic floors once stood—an administrative building used by the Persians, dating to the 5th century BCE.  Here, Beth Dusinberre (of the University of Colorado—Boulder) was busy with a different kind of work, creating a hand-drawn illustration of a column base associated with the Mosaic House. Being a guy with a camera always in hand, I asked her, what are the advantages of an illustration over a photograph? Her response:

“What you see in a photo depends to some extent on the lighting, and what you’re able to show in a drawing is what you can see looking at something from all angles and with measurements. So you can show the meaningful parts, even if they don’t show up in a photograph, and make sure that they really are the obvious part of any drawing—so that they are visible to the non-expert eye, whereas something in a photograph may be visible only to an expert eye.”

Beth sizes up her subject…
Beth sizes up her subject…
…before putting pencil to paper.
…before putting pencil to paper.

A site with as rich a history as this deserves to be lauded to the public. Such is the case at Gordion, where the Gordion Museum was established in 1963 and stands at the foot of Tumulus MM, the largest burial mound and the final resting place of a man believed to be King Midas’s father. The galleries feature artifacts created at Gordion during nearly every period of habitation at the site, extending as far back as the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BCE). Their impressive collections include several objects that are currently on loan to the Penn Museum, on display in our special exhibition, The Golden Age of King Midas. I visited the Gordion Museum early in the day and had the place to myself, and naturally, took plenty of photos.

The front gallery of the Gordion Museum.
The front gallery of the Gordion Museum.
A model of the tomb chamber inside Tumulus MM, with a cranial reconstruction of the man found inside (which also appears in the Penn Museum’s King Midas exhibition).
A model of the tomb chamber inside Tumulus MM, with a cranial reconstruction of the man found inside (which also appears in the Penn Museum’s King Midas exhibition).
Certain objects usually on display here are currently on loan to the Penn Museum.
Certain objects usually on display here are currently on loan to the Penn Museum.
Items on display that could have been used in one of the Terrace Buildings.
Items on display that could have been used in one of the Terrace Buildings.

Next to the museum, I found a somewhat familiar scene. Under a protective canopy lies a colored mosaic floor, originally discovered in Megaron 2 on the Citadel Mound in 1956. It dates to the 9th century BCE, making it the oldest known colored mosaic pavement in the world. One particular section of the floor was missing, with a scale photograph in its place; this is also on loan to the Penn Museum, on display in our King Midas exhibition—the first time that a portion of the mosaic has ever left Gordion.

A wide view of the Megaron 2 pebble mosaic.
A wide view of the Megaron 2 pebble mosaic.
A photo (shown at upper left) takes the place of the section on loan to the Penn Museum.
A photo (shown at upper left) takes the place of the section on loan to the Penn Museum.
Signage informs visitors about the ongoing conservation of the mosaic.
Signage informs visitors about the ongoing conservation of the mosaic.

Beyond it, the grounds of the Gordion Museum also include a Roman mosaic from the 3rd century CE, discovered in the nearby village of Kayabaşı and brought here in 1999; additionally, visitors can see a Galatian tomb which was plundered in 1954, exposing it to potential destruction, before the Turkish Ministry of Culture intervened and found it a permanent home here in Gordion.

The 3rd-century CE Roman mosaic in the garden at the museum.
The 3rd-century CE Roman mosaic in the garden at the museum.
The reconstructed Galatian tomb on the grounds.
The reconstructed Galatian tomb on the grounds.

I was back on the grounds the following morning with Naomi Miller, a Consulting Scholar at the Penn Museum and an archaeobotanist who began working on the Gordion project in 1988. Naomi and I were following a nature tour that she developed, focusing on the area near the museum, and a nearby burial mound known as Tumulus P. A rundown of the tour is available here.

On a nature walk with Naomi.
On a nature walk with Naomi.
Naomi shows the sign marking the demonstration garden at the museum.
Naomi shows the sign marking the demonstration garden at the museum.

I shot a video of our tour, which I hope to have available for public viewing after I return home to a faster wifi connection. For now, look forward to that, and more updates from my time at Gordion, coming soon.

To learn more about the site of Gordion and the Gordion Archaeological Project, visit The Golden Age of King Midas at the Penn Museum, on view through November 27, 2016.


© Penn Museum 2018 Sitemap | Contact | Copyright | Disclaimer | Privacy |