Site Conservation 2018

As many of you know, we have had the good fortune of excavating at Gordion since 1950, revealing a wide range of discoveries and monuments that span nearly four millennia. The most prominent of these is the “Early Phrygian Citadel Gate,” which provided access to the citadel’s eastern enclosure.  It still stands to a height of 10 m and is the best-preserved gate complex so far known from Iron Age Anatolia (9th c. B.C.; figs. 1-5, 7). Since we have recently excavated a second citadel gate on the mound’s south side (the South Gate in Area 1), we will now refer to the Early Phrygian Citadel Gate as the “East Gate.”

The excavation of this gate in the 1950s revealed a wide corridor with two flanking stone bastions. The central passageway, measuring nearly 9 m in width and 23 m in length, is unusually large by comparison to those of contemporary citadels. Above the battered or inclined stone walls there must have been an additional story of mudbrick, which probably raised the total height of the gate to approximately 16 m. In terms of size, construction technique, and state of preservation, Gordion’s East Citadel Gate is unique among the ancient monuments of Turkey.

After the gate was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1999, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism asked us to develop a program for emergency intervention. Supervised by Elisa Del Bono and Angelo Lanza, this five-year project was designed to consolidate the damaged stones of the gate. That meant removing the upper twelve courses of stones that had sustained the greatest damage, 112 blocks in total, and reinserting them once they had been conserved. This phase of the project was completed this year, and you can see the upper section of the gate’s restored face in fig. 2.

Nearly all of these were the original stones that were lifted during the dismantling process; only nine were new blocks added to replace irreparably damaged originals or missing masonry, especially along the upper rows of the bastion’s northwest corner. The reconstruction was carried out with the aid of a mobile telescopic crane that lifted the blocks from our scaffolding to their original position (fig. 3). 

Behind the conserved facing stones we inserted stone rubble embedded in lime mortar, while micro-injections of grout stabilized the fractured blocks left in place. To further improve the stability of the reconstructed stones, 2.5 m long stainless-steel straps were installed to anchor the facing stones to the core of the wall (fig. 4). The final row of reconstructed stones was lifted into place at the beginning of August, so the lofty bastion once again rises to its original preserved height.

The stones of the East Gate had been laid in discernible courses, but with considerable variation in the height of the stones in each row. Smaller “chinking” stones had been slipped into the resulting interstices to create a smooth face, all of which would have been camouflaged originally by a layer of mud plaster. Many of the smaller stones have fallen in a succession of earthquakes during the last 2800 years, so repointing was an essential component of the conservation project (fig. 5). This will be completed next year, at which time we will place a protective “green” cap with shallow-rooted plants on the restored bastion and remove the scaffolding.

This project has been both difficult and time-consuming, and its successful completion is due to the phenomenal skills and diligence of the architectural conservation team: Elisa Del Bono, Angelo Lanza, Giuseppe Bomba, and Renzo Durante, assisted by Mehmetcan Soyluoğlu, Ali Can Kırcaali, and Emre Uzundağ. We were able to inaugurate the project due to the generous support we received from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Merops Foundation, the C.K. Williams II Foundation, the Selz Foundation, and the U.S. Department of State/American Embassy in Ankara. It is difficult to find the words to thank them adequately.

Object Conservation

Gordion’s object conservation was supervised by Jessica Johnson and Cricket Harbeck, assisted by Jessica Abel, H. İbrahim Dural, and Emre Uzundağ. About a third of the department’s time was devoted to the treatment of the 33 pebble mosaic panels from one of the most prominent megarons on the citadel (Megaron 2, ca. 825 B.C.; fig. 6). This is the earliest pebble mosaic floor that has ever been excavated, and it features a series of polychromatic geometric designs that most likely echo the kinds of textiles that would have been produced in the adjacent Terrace Building Complex. From what we can tell, this type of highly decorative floor was invented in Gordion in the second half of the ninth century, and then spread to areas under Assyrian control approximately a century later, during the reign of Midas.

The best-preserved sections of the mosaic were cut from the original floor seven years after its excavation, then set in concrete with rebar backing, and ultimately exhibited in the Gordion Museum in 1983. Such treatment of an artifact would be anathema to conservators today, and we needed to formulate new strategies to ensure the preservation of the panels.

Work on the mosaic has been continuous since detailed condition assessments were made in 2010 by the Penn Architectural Conservation Lab team. The primary goals of the 2018 season were to reattach loose pebbles and improve the appearance of the mosaic patterns by removing concrete over-grout, algae, and general soiling. The concrete was removed mechanically with fine chisels, scalpels, and dental tools, while surface dirt and incrustations were reduced by brushing and vacuuming, followed by a gentle cleaning with sponges and tap water. This season, the conservation team completed ten panels and conducted preliminary work on six others. With the help of Elisa Del Bono and Angelo Lanza, we also began to develop a new grout using a custom-made resin/sand mixture.  It is anticipated that work will continue for the next two seasons, after which the mosaic will be newly installed in Gordion’s site museum, which will be significantly expanded within the next few years.