Site Conservation 2016

Those of you who have attended the Midas exhibit will be familiar with the monumental Early Phrygian Citadel Gate, which is the best-preserved Iron Age citadel gate in Asia Minor, dating to the 9th century B.C. (figs. 1-4). The stability of the gate has been at risk since the early 8th century B.C., when an even larger (Middle Phrygian) gate was built directly over the Early Phrygian stone walls, but the condition of the gate’s south bastion worsened after an earthquake in 1999, which caused a large and steadily increasing bulge to develop in the limestone masonry. The only way to eliminate the bulge was to remove the eleven courses of stones that formed part of it, row by row, and to reinsert them once they had been conserved. This required the erection of a 10 m high scaffold topped by an aluminum gantry crane capable of lifting 1500 kilos, which made it possible for us to safely remove the damaged stones from the south bastion and conserve them next to their original position (figs. 1-3).

With the generous support supplied by the J. M. Kaplan Fund, the Merops Foundation, and the Selz Foundation, we made substantial progress on the repair of the facing stones and will certainly complete our work here next year. As a reminder, we had started on the project in earnest in 2015 by peeling off the modern concrete that has covered the south bastion since the 1950s, and we then removed the first two courses of stones. By the end of the 2016 season, we had removed and conserved seven courses of stones, a total of 91 veneer blocks (fig. 3). The blocks that were intact were transported with the gantry crane, while all broken blocks were removed by hand and consolidated with an epoxy resin mixed with calcium carbonate, followed by the insertion of stainless steel bars to pin the fragments together. This conservation treatment made it possible to save most of the fractured blocks on the gate, which means that only a few new replacement blocks will be needed for the south bastion’s reconstruction.

The consolidation of some of the masonry here required a less dramatic intervention. Voids behind the masonry were filled with grout, stone rubble, and mortar; open joints were repointed; and cracks in the veneer blocks were closed by micro‐injections and mortar infill (fig. 4). One of the most important by-products of this conservation project is that we are acquiring considerable information regarding ancient Phrygian building techniques. Part of the core of the gate, for example, is occupied by blocks that broke during the construction process—in some cases after the cutting of their faces was nearly finished. Many of these were simply added to the interior fill, especially at the corners, to provide greater stability for the bastion’s walls. 

Also situated sporadically throughout the gate’s core material were wooden beams of juniper intended to stabilize the fill, a practice that continued throughout the 8th c. B.C., as we realized this year when we stabilized the Middle Phrygian rubble fill that surrounds the Early Phrygian Gate (figs. 2, 5, 6). This extensive stone filling has consistently been a problem, and is related to the unusual history of construction at the site. At the beginning of the 8th century B.C., when Gordion’s rulers made the decision to rebuild their citadel with a higher and more commanding appearance, five meters of stone rubble was placed within and around the Early Phrygian Gate. As it disappeared from view, a new Middle Phrygian Gate was constructed above it. When the Early Phrygian Gate was excavated in the 1950s, the surrounding rubble was left in a dangerous and unstable state (fig. 5), and large sections of stones collapsed during the winter of 2016, thereby endangering the remains of the Middle Phrygian Gate still preserved above it.

With the permission of Ankara’s Historic Preservation Commission, we began and completed a project with two principal goals: reshaping the rubble fill so that it was stable (figs. 2, 6), and moving one corner of the Middle Phrygian Gate to a more secure location, although still within the original footprint of the gate (fig. 7). The latter activity was particularly difficult, in that it required us to dismantle the southwest corner of the gate, five courses of which were still standing, and move it to the northeast corner, although as a result, the plan of the Middle Phrygian Gate is now much clearer and easier for visitors to comprehend.

While conducting research for this project, we realized that the 8th century builders had originally laid the rubble in a series of steps, a technique that we duplicated in the course of our reconstruction (figs. 2, 6). Moreover, during the original 8th century construction, juniper logs had been placed every 1.2–1.4 m within the rubble fill to increase its stability (fig. 5). A few of these logs were as long as 2 m, and the sample that is currently being subjected to dendrochronological examination should provide the date of the Middle Phrygian Gate’s construction, or at least a date after which that construction occurred.

One regular component of our conservation program, the Early Phrygian Terrace Building or industrial district, witnessed only limited work this summer since nearly all attention was focused on the Citadel Gate. This complex contains eight adjoining rooms that were badly damaged by the fire of 800 B.C., and five of the rooms have been conserved during the last six years. In June of 2016 we documented meticulously the damaged walls of the sixth room in preparation for their stone-by-stone conservation next summer, after which they will be covered by a “soft cap” of vegetation like the other walls in the complex.

Object Conservation

In terms of object conservation, the primary reconstruction project involved a large terracotta object that was discovered in two adjacent trenches on the southwest side of the Citadel Mound, one dug by Mary Voigt in the 1990s (Operation 17), and the other by Rodney Young in 1950 (the South Trench). The object in question resembled the wooden bier that had been used for the decedent in the Midas Mound tumulus, and we therefore began to refer to it as a bier, although why it would have been deposited where Young and Voigt found it was a mystery, and as we studied it further, the nature of its original use became increasingly unclear (fig. 8).

The most distinctive feature is a rounded, trough-like depression surrounded by a broad arched ledge that is decorated with relief bosses, rows of studs, and a rope moulding. The handles on the top of the ledge are decorative, but thick loop-handles are found on its underside, with both vertical and horizontal orientations. The object has a width of .72 m and a preserved length of 1.35 m. We do not know its original length, but it probably had a flat end opposite the preserved arched one, and it may have been intended to stand upright on that end, at least occasionally. 

Based on the stratum in which the object was found, a date between 600 and 550 B.C. seems certain, and its context included a large number of vessels intended for the presentation and consumption of food, possibly tied to ritual. Since nearly two-thirds of the object survives, and its original purpose presented such challenging questions, we made it a priority for conservation with the aim of preparing it for exhibition in the Gordion Museum. An article on both the object and its context will be forthcoming from Beth Dusinberre, Kathleen Lynch, and Mary Voigt.

Positioning the large ceramic object so that the pieces could be joined required construction and testing of a variety of support systems, all of which were developed by conservators Jessie Johnson, Cricket Harbeck, and intern Julia Commander (fig. 9). A first reconstruction was carried out with the object in a face-down horizontal position on a pallet constructed of plywood and high-density polyethylene foam, but this was unsuccessful.

A second reconstruction was carried out in a vertical orientation, with the top arch nested in a large box, to allow for better alignment and maximize the horizontal join strength. This reconstruction was much more successful, and the object will be left in its current orientation until next season in order to allow the adhesive to fully set. In 2017, structural support for the large heavy object may be added by filling gaps where pieces of the object are missing, thereby making it safe for a long-term exhibit in the museum.