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Dr. C. Brian Rose reports on Gordion Excavations in Central Turkey

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Dr. C. Brian Rose reports on Gordion Excavations in Central Turkey

By Brian Rose, James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania;
Co-Director, Gordion Excavations

Located in central Turkey, 60 miles southwest of Ankara, Gordion is remembered primarily as the capital city of the Phrygian king Midas or as the location of an intricate knot ultimately cut by Alexander the Great (Figure 1). But during the early first millennium B.C., Gordion also served as the center of a kingdom that ruled much of Asia Minor and continually interacted with Greeks, Assyrians, and Persians.

Gordion’s historical significance derives from its very long and complex sequence of occupation, with seven successive settlements spanning a period of nearly 4500 years, which include a monumental citadel and nearly 100 equally monumental burial mounds that surround it.

The site was initially discovered during the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad railroad in 1893, but systematic excavations were not launched until Rodney Young of the Penn Museum inaugurated a comprehensive campaign that lasted between 1950 and his death in 1974. Renewed excavations on a much more limited scale occurred between 1988 and 2002, and began again during this past summer. In the course of June, July, and early August we worked in more than 10 different sectors of the site, and there were over 35 scholars and scientists who were members of the team at various points, including six Penn graduates and undergraduates.

Our most important focus was on architectural conservation and restoration since most of the excavated buildings are over 2500 years old, and the activities were conducted under the auspices of Penn Design’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. Much of the work occurred in the Terrace Building (9th c. B.C.), which was an industrial district dedicated to food processing and textile production (Figure 2). The walls of these buildings were heavily damaged in a large fire that swept through Gordion’s citadel in 800 B.C., and the stones had become badly cracked and splayed. In the course of the summer, we completed the repair of fractured blocks and installed stainless-steel cables within the walls to reinforce their stability (Figure 3). As in earlier years, the tops of the conserved walls were covered with a “soft cap” of shallow rooted grass framed by mudbrick, which hinders the movement of moisture into the masonry.

Conservation work also continued on the pebble mosaic discovered by Rodney Young within one of the monumental public buildings, or megarons, on the east side of the citadel mound (Figure 4). This is still the earliest pebble mosaic ever to have been discovered (9th century B.C.), and it features elaborate polychromatic geometric designs that resemble a cluster of small carpets. When the mosaic was uncovered in the 1950s, it was cut into sections for transport to the Gordion Museum, but those panels are now desperately in need of conservation and restoration, and we were able to move forward with the necessary treatment to stabilize the pebbles.

The other major conservation project was the Early Phrygian Gate at Gordion (9th c. B.C.), which is the best-preserved Iron Age city gate in Asia Minor (Figure 5). After the Turkish earthquake of 1999, however, a bulge developed in the masonry of the gate’s South Wall, and it has gradually become worse. We therefore developed a four-year restoration program, which began this summer, and will correct the damaged wall and ensure its stability in the event of another earthquake.

We also installed over 100 meters (330 ft.) of new stone staircases on the visitors’ circuit (Figure 6), and replaced half of the old barbed wire fence that encircled the site with nearly 400 meters (1300 ft.) of a new galvanized steel fence, thereby making the site look less like a war zone and more like a museum. Placed around it are eleven new bilingual information signs that will enable visitors to delve deeply into the full history of Gordion’s settlements (Figure 7).


We began a new campaign of excavations this summer with the intention of refining our understanding of the citadel’s development during the first half of the first millennium B.C. Our targeted excavation site was one of the least investigated areas of the citadel: a monumental street running directly through the mound, which appears to have served as the city’s principal thoroughfare for nearly 600 years (Figure 8). Remote sensing near the entrance to the street yielded indications of a monumental structure composed of stone and mudbrick, and this was the area where we positioned the trench. The most significant discovery was a freestanding wall on top of a stepped stone glacis or terrace wall (Figures 9, 10, 11). This structure runs for a length of 9 m. across the trench, from southwest to northeast. It clearly continued beyond the limits of the trench: the remote sensing results demonstrate that it stretched for at least another 20 m to the east, and c. 10 m to the west. In other words, it was enormous.

Both the glacis and the freestanding wall above it were constructed with large rectangular white limestone blocks. We revealed 13 steps of the glacis although it probably continues down around 3-4 m. (10-13 ft.), which means that the glacis and the wall it supported rose to a height of nearly 10 m (33 ft). This is clearly part of the citadel’s fortification system, and possibly connected to a gate.

This was not an easy trench to excavate, since it lay on the south slope of the citadel mound, and we owe a major debt of thanks to the trench supervisors, Sarah Leppard and Simon Greenslade, as well as their assistants, Penn graduate students Lucas Stephens and Kurtis Tanaka, Mehmetcan Soyluoğlu of Ankara University, and Hüseyin Erol of Hacettepe University (Figure 12). Remote sensing and surveying activities were immeasurably aided by Penn graduate student Patricia Kim and Penn undergraduate Julia Hurley, and you can see the entire excavation team in Figure 13.

We hope to be able to share our results with more of you during this year– both in lectures in the U.S. and at Gordion itself. You’ll find the latest information about the project on our website:

    • Figure 1
    • Figure 1. Aerial view of the citadel of Gordion.

    • Figure 2
    • Figure 2.  The Terrace Building at Gordion during conservation, looking northwest. Photo by GGH.

    • Figure 3
    • Figure 3. Angelo Lanza consolidating one of the wall blocks of the Terrace Building with steel cables. Photo by Brian Rose.

    • Figure 4
    • Figure 4. Conservation of the pebble mosaic from Megaron 2 in the Gordion Museum. Photo by Meredith Keller.

    • Figure 5
    • Figure 5. Sondage at the Early Phrygian Gate Building, looking south. Photo by Brian Rose.

    • Figure 6
    • Figure 6.  The new stairs of the visitors’ path near the entrance to the site. The Early Phrygian Gate and Middle Phrygian glacis or terrace wall are at upper left. Photo by GGH. 

    • Figure 7
    • Figure 7.  One of the new information signs on the Gordion citadel, with the Sakarya River in the background. Photo by Brian Rose.

    • Figure 8
    • Figure 8.  Panoramic view of the citadel mound of Gordion. The new trench is visible at the left, next to the blue tent. Photo by Richard Liebhart.

    • Figure 9
    • Figure 9.  Color phase plan of the Phrygian settlements at Gordion. The street is visible at the left. The plan was researched and drawn by Gabriel Pizzorno and Gareth Darbyshire. 

    • Figure 10
    • Figure 10.  The new trench during excavation. From left to right are Mehmetcan Soyluoğlu, Sarah Leppard, and Kurtis Tanaka. Photo by Brian Rose.

    • Figure 11
    • Figure 11.  The newly uncovered glacis, probably of Early Phrygian date, with Sarah Leppard at right. Photo by Simon Greenslade.

    • Figure 12
    • Figure 12.  The newly uncovered glacis, with Penn undergraduate Julia Hurley and Penn Museum research associate Gabriel Pizzorno at the top; trench supervisor Simon Greenslade in center, and Penn graduate student Kurtis Tanaka at bottom.

    • Figure 13
    • Figure 13.  The 2013 Gordion staff in front of the new pottery depot or Çanak Palas, with Tumulus MM in the distance. Photo by GGH.

    • Gordion Map
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Edited by Naomi Shavin.