Walls, Walls Everywhere, and None of Them in a Line – Kurtis Tanaka

November 20, 2017

Returning to a project after a few seasons absence can be at once rewarding and disorienting; rewarding to see the progress and preliminary results made in the meantime, disorienting to pick up where you remember leaving things when last you were there. Certainly this was my experience at the Gordion Project this summer, to which I had returned after spending three seasons in northern Greece. I could barely believe my eyes when seeing how the small 10×10 m trench we had begun digging four years ago had expanded into a massive 30×40 m (or there about) open area with a wealth of incredibly preserved fortification walls and other features, a true testament to how much a few archaeologists and a small team of tireless workmen can accomplish in a few weeks over the summer.

The author excavating timbers from the Middle Phrygian Period (Photo by Simon Greenslade).

I should probably back up a bit and explain what we were doing and why. Gordion, of course, is one of the Penn Museum’s oldest and longest-running projects, and in this current excavation campaign, we are seeking to explore how access to the Gordion citadel mound from the lower town was managed. Using a combination of remote sensing techniques we opened the trench four years ago over what we thought was a gatehouse (it wasn’t, but that is another story), and have continued expanding the excavation area in the seasons since. Though the finds from the trench have been modest (even when it comes to that great archaeological survivor, pottery, there is astonishingly little), the surviving fortifications revealed in the trench have provided a wealth of information on the use history of this area from the Early Phrygian period (beginning ca. 950 BCE) to the Late Phrygian period (ca. 540 BCE) and even into Roman times. Indeed, last year the team uncovered a street leading from the lower town up to the citadel mound, with amazingly preserved walls lining it, a veritable Phrygian boulevard. These walls and their relationship to the rest of the known fortification structures around the citadel, however, proved to be a vexing topic, impressive though they were. Walls would seem to start and stop, reappear on a different axis and then disappear again, probably the result of later robbing out of the blocks during the Roman period. How they all related given their different phasing and the fact that the all seem to be on their own axes required some imagination when trying to reconstruct how the gate area functioned as a whole. The work, of course, is still ongoing and continued excavation will hopefully help us piece together our errant walls.

Work already in full swing as the sun rises (Photo by Simon Greenslade).

Other surprises still abound, however. The Phrygians often used juniper timbers in construction, and this season we found four large logs, remarkably well preserved, in a line next to one of the walls. Excavating these 2,900-year-old pieces of wood was a time-consuming process, but after a week of painstaking work, we were able to reveal and lift them whole out of the trench. What, exactly they were doing next to the wall and how said wall relates to the others is still, naturally, an open question. We might, however, have a bit of comparanda that may clue us in: more timbers were found by another one of our walls, perhaps put there for a similar purpose. What that purpose might be will have to wait another year, however, for as always happens on excavations, big finds tend to crop up at the bitter end, and these were found on the next to last day of the season. So we’ll just have to wait to see what answers, and new questions, arise next year, at Gordion.

The Area 1 team pauses for a group photo (Photo by Sarah Leopard).