University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Writing the History of Gordion – Katherine Ku

October 23, 2017

This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Yassihöyük, Turkey, to work as the registrar for the Gordion Archaeological Project. It was an incredible experience to become part of the story of such an important excavation – almost like becoming part of the history of the very place I was studying. Beyond this, I was able to explore a field that had intrigued me since I was a child, flipping through Egyptology books and admiring the little statuette of Athena my parents had brought home from a trip to Greece.

Working at Gordion was everything that I imagined it to be – from the dirt that was always in my socks to the opportunity to work with incredible archaeologists and researchers. I was fulfilling my dream of becoming (at least almost becoming) an archaeologist. It was even more amazing that I was getting my first experience in the field at a site of such importance, both now and in ancient times.

2017 Gordion staff (Photo by Gebhard Bieg).
Gordion itself is famous thanks to one of its rulers – King Midas who had the legendary “golden touch,” but archaeologically, it was one of the biggest urban centers of its time in Anatolia. Excavations we conducted on the citadel mound revealed bustling commercial centers and mighty city walls. This past summer, excavation efforts focused mainly on the Early, Middle, and Late Phrygian periods on Gordion’s citadel mound in two areas: Area 1, part of the city’s fortification gate and Area 4, a trench closer to the center of the mound. This summer’s excavations yielded thousands of pounds of pottery and tile and some amazing finds, including a monumental stone lion, a complete pithos, a gorgeous little master cup, and many more objects.

My job as the registrar was to input these finds into the excavation database along with their descriptions and measurements, then organize the depot so that we’d be able to find these objects when we chose to. While the objects were memorable, I distinctly remember the first time I initialed a database entry. Because the database was relatively new (its use started with the most recent round of excavations run by Dr. Brian Rose), my initial only followed those of the past three or four registrars, but I felted connected to the excavation. Writing “KK” next to each entry made me a part of Gordion history, just like Ellen Kohler (though I don’t claim to be nearly as impressive as her) and Rodney Young are a part of the site’s history.

The Gordion citadel mound from the top of conservation scaffolding (Photo by Katherine Ku).

Halfway through the season, my friends and I found ourselves flipping through a scrapbook from several decades ago, which featured some familiar faces we recognized from today’s excavations. However, in the faded photos, the green truck that now sat rusted and out of commission in a corner was in its prime and the rose garden we were so used to seeing everyday had not yet been planted. Things had changed since then, but we were continuing to make Gordion history as a new group returned to the site every summer.

From inside of a hot air balloon (Photo by Katherine Ku).

As corny as it might sound, Gordion is not just about unearthing the stories of ancient peoples, but about writing the stories of modern ones, whether it be dancing at a village wedding or going on a hot air balloon ride over the site. Yes, I’ll definitely remember the literal tons of tile that came out of Area 4 two weeks before the end of the season, but I’ll also remember sitting on the balcony watching a lightning storm with the rest of the staff and searching for a pair of lost glasses in the stone alcoves of Midas City. When you’re working at an excavation with a group of archaeologists, it’s easy to lose track of the present, but stopping once in a while to look around instead of underneath the ground can present us with unforgettable memories and experiences.


Katherine Ku is a sophomore pursuing a dual degree at Wharton and in Mediterranean Archaeology in the Department of Classical Studies. She is from Cerritos, California.

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