By Elspeth Dusinberre, Department of Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder
This post is part of a series reporting on the Gordion Cultural Heritage Education Project (CHEP), conceptualized and led by Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, Deputy Director of the Gordion Project. Halil Demirdelen, Deputy Director of the Ankara museum, provided invaluable educational support. Naomi F. Miller, consulting scholar at the Penn Museum, and Janelle Sadarananda, graduate student in AAMW, provided additional adult supervision in 2015.
On Sunday July 26, I had the good fortune to join the group on their trip into the lands of the Hittites, to visit Alaca Höyük and Boğazkale for the first time in 20 years. I’m a professor at the University of Colorado; I teach this material from time to time, so it was a great opportunity to see three different experts helping the Turkish students learn about their cultural heritage. It was also really fun to spend time with the students.
We left the village of Yassıhöyük at around 8:15 am. Several of us from the Gordion team went to Polatlı to pick up the students. Then we hightailed it to Ankara to pick up Halil Demirdelen, Vice Director at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara [http://www.anadolumedeniyetlerimuzesi.gov.tr], and his intern. Halil had brought breakfast: fresh poğaças, with flaky light bread around savory cheese, soft sesame-coated simits, and fruit juice for all. It was such a typical and generous gesture—and it made me think about how sharing food with people creates community. Everyone was in high spirits and full of noisy enthusiasm as we made our way east, heading first for the ancient city of Alaca Höyük.
En route, Ayşe and Halil pointed out the different landscapes and how they are used now and explained specific places of historical significance. They are an amazing duo, with overlapping but different things to say, expressed in quite different ways. As a teacher, I loved listening to this: it meant that whatever their learning style, the students would be able to learn from these two experts.
Having spent years studying the Persian Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE)—the one that Alexander the Great conquered—I was thrilled to cross the Kızılırmak (‘Red River’), known to the ancient Greeks as the Halys. The river features in a famous cautionary tale: In about 550 BCE, soon after the upstart king Cyrus ascended the Persian throne, the Lydian king Croesus asked the oracle of Apollo at Delphi if he should invade Persia by crossing the River Halys, which marked its border. Delphi responded, “If Croesus crosses the River Halys, he will destroy a mighty empire.” Croesus thought to himself, “SWEET!” and made tracks east, only to learn that it was his own empire that would fall. The first time I saw the Halys I was moved to tears. Here’s what it looks like now:
We had an early lunch at a roadside restaurant. The food was delicious, and the setting delightful: a glassed-in porch that opened onto a small green oasis of grass and trees, with a little creek running down below and the fresh scent of moisture on the air. I was happy watching our group relax and soak in a sense of well-being. I had my first bonding experience with the girl students here, too: a surprising sense of connection developed as we exchanged smiles in the mirrors above the sinks. A highlight of the lunch stop was the wedding party in the parking lot! Young men and women danced traditional village wedding dances in concentric circles—men on the inside, women on the outside—with a drum beating a repetitive rhythm “Bom bom BOOM! Bom bom BOOM!” and the special reeded flute that sounds a little like a cross between an oboe and a vuvuzela skirling headily around the drumbeats. Just before we departed, the newlyweds left in a black limo, bride and car both decked out with red veils and gauze. Halil explained that the traditional drumbeat is meant to bestow good fortune on the couple. Ayşe commented on the mix of traditional elements such as the dancing and the color red with modern ones such as the bride’s white dress.
Alaca Höyük was first excavated in 1907. In the 1930s Turkish archaeologists resumed excavations there at the personal request and with the personal financing of Atatürk himself! Before I heard Halil explaining this to the Turkish students I had never thought about the relationship of archaeological research to Turkish national identity. Addressing primarily the students, Halil emphasized how the ancient past is directly connected to the Turkish present; to have such an important site excavated by Turkish archaeologists matters; and it matters that modern Turks should know and care about their cultural heritage, too. Much food for thought.
Alaca is not an easy site to understand, but Ayşe and Halil treated us to an expert site tour. The students paid close attention the entire time thanks to the terrific work of our leaders. Alaca Höyük preserves archaeological sequences from the Neolithic [DATES?] through the modern period, with good evidence for the Chalcolithic [DATES?], when copper tools begin to be used alongside stone and some remarkable Bronze Age [DATES?] material. Alaca has thirteen Early Bronze Age “royal grave” shaft graves, from which came the famous “standards,” and Hittite reliefs and stone sphinxes, all of which are now in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
The visit brought me a wholly new experience, too. In Naomi’s absence, I took on the role of translator for Janelle. How do you have one language come in one ear and another one emerge from your mouth? How do you listen to what people are saying, store it in your head as you say something else in another language, and draw it up again a few seconds later to repeat? How do you make clear, if Halil and Ayşe are speaking back and forth, who says what—change your tone of voice? Add a cue such as “Halil says”? Deliver a smooth, simple monologue? Poor Janelle was very nice about my efforts. I must say I had a blast.
From here we went to Boğazkale, site of the great imperial Hittite capital, Hattuša. The landscape is high and craggy, with huge knuckles of rock thrusting towards the descending blue of the sky. The grass, golden at this time of year, whispers a backdrop to the sound of sheep bells. Hills and cliffs soar and gorges plummet—it is so wild and open and free! You feel like a hawk on the wing just being there. And the air has that clean tang, with a powdering of pine trees and flowers, that you find only at higher altitudes.
We had the extraordinary honor of being given a guided tour of the museum by the Director of the German Archaeological Institute’s excavations at Boğazkale/Hattuša, Dr. Andreas Schachner. He thoroughly explained the history of the site and the area, and helped us understand the significance of each artifact. His Turkish is outstanding and it was riveting to hear him speak about these things he knows so well and brings to life so vividly.
The students were full of questions and ideas and thoughts for the whole of a very intensive tour. The museum itself is super, I thought: not an enormous quantity of material, but beautifully displayed and with terrific information about the historical and social contexts of manufacture and use.
From here we drove up into the site. Hattuša was the imperial Hittite capital and of particular importance in the 14th–12th centuries BCE; at its largest size it was almost two square kilometers with varied and sudden changes of the landscape):
Although some residences have been excavated, mostly it is the temples and the royal palaces that have drawn attention. And the waterworks. And the grain storage systems. Oh, and the fortification walls and gates, too…. It is a most spectacular site! Hittite texts speak about the “thousand gods of the Hatti-lands,” and many of which turn up in inscriptions and carved reliefs of the many temples and palaces at Hattuša. The two primary deities were the storm god (Tarqunt or Tarhun) and the sun goddess. It was therefore with excitement that we trooped off the bus to see what we could as the afternoon was drawing on. We started in the Great Temple (Temple 1 on the plan). Our guides, Ayşe and Halil, were on fire! They sparkled with ideas and information without overwhelming the students. They focused on what we could see and what the students could learn from the evidence before them. Everyone seemed to be having a great time as well as paying close attention—and this after a two-hour-long museum tour at what would usually be the end of a full day! But it felt like we were just beginning, and indeed we spent over two more hours exploring the great Hittite site.
From here we drove up the great sweeping hill of the site, stopping at two of the primary gates (the Lion Gate and Yerkapı at the south, where once the sphinxes stood). With the sun setting and colors deepening all about us, we still had time to learn about Hittite sculpting techniques, the fortification system of Hattuša, and something about the ideas and values that permeated the society responsible for creating these unforgettable monuments.
It felt anguishing to clamber back into the bus and leave the site before exploring it fully. The good news was, we were headed for Yazılıkaya! This is an awe-inspiring outdoor shrine of the Hittites, formed of natural and enhanced clefts in the rocks that have been turned into sculpted galleries with reliefs of deities and kings lining the walls. Halil outdid himself with a detailed explanation of the reliefs and their significance, and a peroration on the importance of caring about cultural heritage and the need for Turks to invest themselves in Turkish history and culture.
Despite the long drive home, the mood in the bus was exceptionally cheerful: music cards were handed back and forth to be plugged into the stereo system; animated “spot the license plate” games were played; what food we had was shared around; people chatted (or slept); the nighttime landscape and nighttime drivers caused comment. After dropping off all the students and arriving back home, it was drawing nigh to midnight. As we crunched across the courtyard gravel and crept to bed, I felt I could touch the stars in the crystalline sky. For days afterwards my heart remained in the land of the Hittites.
Supplement: Angora Goats in Yassıhöyük, Turkey, Near Gordion