University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Going to Gordion


By: Tom Stanley

July 13, 2016

Hi friends. Tom Stanley here, your favorite Penn Museum social media manager, reporting for summer excavation duty. Last year, I was quite fortunate to be sent on my first expedition to a beautiful corner of the US known as Wilkinson County, Mississippi, where my job was to document a portion of the first season of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project through photos, videos, and posts here on the Penn Museum blog.

Tom on excavation in Mississippi
On site at the Smith Creek mound site in June 2015. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

This year, I’m going a little further away from home—to the famed site of Gordion in central Turkey, where the Penn Museum’s Gordion Archaeological Project, our longest-running expedition, began in 1950 and is still active today. The Museum’s excavations here form the backbone of our current special exhibition, The Golden Age of King Midas, which features more than 120 objects on loan from four Turkish museums alongside items from the Penn Museum’s own collections.

Anatolia map
A map of Anatolia, showing the area of Phrygian control in the Iron Age. Map by Gareth Darbyshire, Gabriel H. Pizzorno, and Ardeth Anderson.

Gordion was the capital of the kingdom of Phrygia, which comprised much of modern-day central Turkey during the Iron Age. It was also the home of the historical King Midas—the same King Midas commonly associated with the familiar story of the “Golden Touch.” Midas likely ruled his kingdom for more than four decades during the second half of the 8th century BCE, and was frequently referenced in ancient texts and iconography.

Gordion site photo
Landscape photo of the site of Gordion in central Turkey. Photo: 1958, Penn Museum Gordion Archive, G-3312.

The Citadel Mound of Gordion encompasses 135,000 square meters (roughly the same area as 19 American football fields) and encapsulates numerous settlements built on top of each other over a span of nearly four millennia. Nearby, dominating the landscape is a tremendous earthen mound known as Tumulus MM (shown above), which was excavated in 1957 by Rodney Young, the first director of the Gordion Archaeological Project. Inside the tumulus, Young and his team discovered the intact burial of a man now believed to be King Midas’s father, Gordios—as well as the undisturbed remnants of the interred man’s funerary feast. A number of the vessels discovered in the tomb chamber are currently on display in the Penn Museum’s King Midas exhibition.

Tomb Vessels
Bronze vessels found in the tomb chamber within Tumulus MM, pictured on display in the Penn Museum’s The Golden Age of King Midas exhibition. Photo by Tom Stanley.

But there is much more work to be done at this sprawling site. Today, excavations at Gordion are directed by Dr. C. Brian Rose, Curator-in-Charge of our Mediterranean Section and curator of our current King Midas exhibition. Recent work has included the identification of various infrastructural elements through remote sensing, as well as conservation of deteriorating structures and features—all the while enhancing understanding of this ancient civilization and the era in which it thrived.

Brian at Gordion
Dr. C. Brian Rose looks for inscriptions on a beam from the roof of the Tomb Chamber at Tumulus MM. Photo courtesy of C. Brian Rose.

This year’s field season is already a few weeks underway. I’m currently in transit, due to arrive on site this Thursday. Once there, I’ll have just over two weeks to record as much of the excavation as possible—creating a photographic and videographic record of the site and the excavation in progress. Provided I can find a decent wifi signal at the dig house, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated here about what’s going on in the field out at Gordion—and hopefully illustrate why this site is still so important, 65 years after excavations began.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned to the Penn Museum blog for more updates!


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