Teens and Tumuli: Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

August 10, 2015

By Ayșe Gürsan-Salzmann, Naomi F. Miller, and Janelle Sadarananda

This post is part of a series reporting on the Gordion Cultural Heritage Education Project, led by Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, Assistant 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.

Greetings from Gordion, the Penn Museum’s archaeological excavation in central Turkey! In addition to the excavation, research, and conservation projects that are typical of most archaeological excavations, the Gordion Archaeological Project also has a program for high school students from local villages aimed at developing historical, cultural, and environmental awareness. This summer marks the second year of the Cultural Heritage Education Program (CHEP) at Gordion.

Looking out over the ancient Gordion tumuli and village of Yassıhöyük. Photo by Ayșe Gürsan-Salzmann.

The ancient site of Gordion is best known as the home of the Phrygian King Midas. The Phrygians left their mark on the landscape with the construction of over 100 burial mounds (tumuli) that dominate the landscape from horizon to horizon. To broaden the students’ horizons, the CHEP exposes them to the much grander story of Anatolia through the ages, through museum and site visits.

Gordion Tumuli. Photo by Naomi F. Miller.

CHEP aims to allow students to gain awareness of the richness of their cultural and natural environment through these field trips, as well as through hands-on learning. We encourage discussion and hope to inspire in the students a sense of exploration. We also hope that experiential and on-site learning, along with engaging in conversation, will encourage the students to develop a sense of individuality and also a sense of their connection to the wider world.

CHEP blog 1 image 3
Teenagers in CHEP visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Photo by Naomi F. Miller.
CHEP blog 1 image 2
Halil Demirdelen, Vice Director at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Photo by Naomi F. Miller.

As archaeologists, the past is a dynamic part of our lives in the present, and we recognize that today is a blip en route to the future. For our goal of protecting the evidence of the past for future generations, we would like people, young and old, to understand the continuity of human concerns.

Our colleague, Halil Demirdelen, Vice Director at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, has the right idea: As we pass a ceramic brazier in the museum, he asks the students, “What is it?” The first microwave, of course. As we stop in front of the Kültepe merchant’s clay tablet archive, he asks, “Do these remind you of anything?” Holding up one of the students’ Samsung tablets, he comments, “We still write on tablets!”

IMG_2179 copy
Roman Baths of Caracalla in Ankara. Ayșe is in the middle in the blue sweater. Photo by Naomi F. Miller.

It is not always so easy to engage teenagers from any culture in such serious matters, and Turkish teens are no exception. Hands-on activities help. On a trip to the Roman Baths of Caracalla in Ankara, the appropriately named Necat Çakmak [flint] encouraged us to touch the cool marble and warm basalt columns.

Summer 2015 excavations at Gordion. Photo by Gebhard Bieg.

We have very different competencies in Turkish, from fluent (Ayșe) to fair (Naomi) to newbie and learning (Janelle). The goal of two-way cultural exchange requires communication. It turns out that a sure-fire way to get a conversation going is through selfies—öz çekim—one of the first words Janelle learned.

Selfie by Sude.
Selfie by Sude.

Another activity was visiting the excavation at Gordion. Passing through the monumental gate, we archaeologists are very aware of experiencing the same space that an ancient Phrygian did (the students may not have had that consciousness); Gebi, our photographer, suggests a photo of the students using the grinding stones.

CHEP blog 1 image 8
Students getting some hands-on experience. Photo by Naomi F. Miller.


Photo by Janelle Sadarananda
On the Tumuli Tour. Photo by Janelle Sadarananda.
CHEP blog 1 image 10
Inside Tumulus MM. Photo by Naomi F. Miller.

A few days later, after surveying the landscape from the vantage of Tumulus P, the students were privileged to get a Tumulus MM tomb tour. Tumulus MM is so big it is almost as cool as a cave. Walking to the end of a 125 m (about 400 ft) long passageway is like traveling through time, to a 2,800 year-old wooden tomb chamber. The students were able to see the enormous juniper outer casing up close. One of the students likened the visit to the tomb chamber to going to the moon!

Meeting our diverse goals and creating a positive learning experience for the students is not without its challenges. Turkish students have a different educational and classroom experience than most American students, so they are more comfortable with memorizing facts from textbooks in a formal environment. Getting feedback and engaging in discussion is sometimes difficult, but the students are learning and sharing more and more with each field trip. We look forward to more visits to sites and more hands-on experiences as the summer continues! We’ll be sure to keep you updated!

Part 1: Teens and Tumuli: Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

Part 2: Teens and Trowels, Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

Part 3: Teens and Trips: Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

Part 4: Teens and Treks: Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

Part 5: Teens and Tea: Cultural Heritage Education at Gordion, Turkey

Supplement: Angora Goats in Yassıhöyük, Turkey, Near Gordion