Archaeological Overview

Archaeological Investigations at Gordion

The site of Gordion was “discovered” in November, 1893, when the German Classicist Alfred Körte visited a location on the Sangarios (modern Sakarya) river where engineers working on the Berlin–Baghdad Railroad had come across the remains of an ancient settlement. Körte identified the site as Gordion primarily on the basis of what ancient Greek and Latin writers had to say about the old Phrygian capital. Seven years later, in 1900, he returned to Gordion with his brother Gustav to carry out a single, three-month season of excavation, among the first controlled field projects to take place in central Anatolia. On the Citadel Mound they reached levels that were perhaps as early as the sixth century BCE. Of the roughly 85 burial tumuli known in the immediate vicinity of Gordion, the brothers opened five, known today as K (Körte) I–V. Tumulus K-III, now dated to the first half of the eighth century BCE, was especially rich in furnishings.

Fifty years after the Körtes’ explorations, Rodney S. Young began excavations at Gordion in 1950, under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Young’s work at the site continued over 17 seasons through 1973. On the Citadel Mound he concentrated on the eastern half, where he uncovered major portions of both the earlier and later Phrygian citadels, and also of the overlying Hellenistic towns. In the first years of excavation, the presence of still earlier Bronze Age settlement was attested through a deep sounding. Only limited investigation, however, was to be carried out in these levels. Young also opened 30 burial tumuli, ranging in date from the ninth century BCE into Hellenistic times. These included the spectacular Tumulus MM and the nearby wealthy tomb of a Phrygian child (Tumulus P), both of them from the Middle Phrygian period. A few tumuli were found to overlie earlier remains, such as Middle Phrygian houses, and relatively humble cemeteries, one of Middle Phrygian date, the other going back to the time of the Hittite Old Kingdom (17th–15th centuries BCE). To the immediate southeast of the Citadel Mound, excavations on the Küçük Höyük or “Small Mound” revealed a mudbrick fortress atop a high mudbrick bastion, probably a Lydian installation of the late seventh or early sixth century BCE. Mudbrick fortification walls extending from the bastion enclosed a Lower Town. The destruction of the bastion in the 540s BCE, after a siege, no doubt reflects the Persian capture of Gordion.

Rodney Young died in a traffic accident in 1974, and excavation did not resume at Gordion until 1988, under the direction of Mary M. Voigt. During the intervening years, the late Keith DeVries was Project Director, overseeing research and site maintenance. In 1988, G. Kenneth Sams replaced DeVries as Project Director, and assumed responsibility for conservation and for the publication of Young’s discoveries. The new excavations have sought to clarify matters of stratigraphy and to investigate areas of the site that had previously seen little or no excavation. Thus, on the western side of the Citadel Mound, the trenches of Young and the Körte brothers were revisited, while trenches taken down in the area of the main Young excavations revealed Early Iron Age levels heretofore unknown. Work in the vicinity of the Küçük Höyük uncovered dwellings of the Lower Town, and revealed grim evidence of the Celtic presence in Hellenistic times, in the form of bizarre ritual deposits of dismembered humans and animals. To the west of the Citadel Mound, survey followed by excavation revealed an extensive Outer Town dating back perhaps as early as the eighth century BCE. Archaeological survey of the region around Gordion, directed by Lisa Kealhofer, has placed the site in a broader local context of settlement patterns, while geomorphological investigations by Ben Marsh and paleobotanical research by Naomi Miller have shed important light on the ancient physical and floral environment.

A woman in a yellow hat, crouching near a stone at Gordion.

The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi) at Ankara has always played a fundamental role at Gordion. Many of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism commissars—who supervise the on-site operations of the Gordion Archaeological Project each season—are archaeologists from the museum, and these people have contributed a great deal to the work and experience of the project. The museum has carried out its own operations at Gordion, including excavations of four Gordion burial-mounds (notably the Mamaderesi Tumulus and Kızlar Kayası Tumulus A) and salvage work on the Hellenistic Tumulus O’s burial chamber.

Further reading

  • Sams, G. K. 2005. “Gordion: Exploration over a Century,” in The Archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians. Recent Work at Gordion, ed. L. Kealhofer, Philadelphia, pp. 10-21.
  • Voigt, M.M., K. DeVries, R.C. Henrickson, M. Lawall, B. Marsh, A. Gürsan-Salzman and T.C. Young Jr. 1997. “Fieldwork at Gordion: 1993–1995,” Anatolica 23, pp. 1–59.
  • Voigt, M.M. 2005. “Old Problems and New Solutions: Recent Excavations at Gordion,” in The Archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians. Recent Work at Gordion, ed. L. Kealhofer, Philadelphia, pp. 22–35.