New Professors Unearth History in Turkey
by Megan Hockley
Elmali, Turkey, an agricultural community, features a 15th-century mosque and open-air markets. Many of the women walking down the street with covered heads. The “county seat” of a rural area, Elmali is a fair-sized country town that Pedar Foss, classical studies professor, calls conservative.
“It is surprisingly similar to Greencastle,” he said.
Foss and wife Rebecca Schindler, also a classical studies professor, spent the summer in Elmali working on an archeological excavation before moving to Greencastle as the newest members of DePauw’s classical studies department. Last year they taught archaelogy at Stanford University.
“[Greencastle] is a neat place and a strong community,” Foss said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to move again for a while.”
Schindler and Foss have worked to excavate in an area of southwestern Turkey called Lycia for the past three years.
“This is an area that has not been well excavated,” Schindler said. “We don’t know too much about the history of Lycia. One of the goals of the project is to build a chronological picture of this region … of the people who lived there over a 5,000-year period.”
At this point, the workers are concentrating on excavating a “mound” 40-feet high and three football fields in diameter. Over time, humans living in the area have built the mound, according to Foss.
Schindler’s job was to dig in the dirt. She is especially interested in understanding what was going on the early Iron Age, around 1000-500 B.C.
“This was the time leading up to the great Persian wars with Greece … we’re not sure who controlled this area, but whoever was there was in contact with both [Greece and Persia],” Schindler said.
Some of the most interesting finds of the summer were a Greek Orthodox Church from the ninth and 10th centuries and a gold coin.
The coin was found eight feet from the surface of the earth. From symbols on the coin, researchers discovered that it was made in Athens in 407 B.C.
“Athens didn’t normally mint gold coins … [They were] usually silver,” Schindler said. She went on to explain that the coin was made during the Pelopennesian War. During that time, the Athenians were so desperate for funds that they melted down the gold and silver offerings in the city’s temples and shrines.
“This is as rare an ancient coin as could be found,” Foss said.
Foss headed up a survey walking team that scoured the countryside trying to find new sites outside the mound. The team walked seven or eight miles a day and made several discoveries over the summer.
“We found an entire town we didn’t know existed, six Roman roads, at least three farmsteads and a couple of cemeteries,” he said.
The team is careful to map everything with the Global Positioning System, which uses satellite technology. Foss said that most of the technology used is cutting edge.
Schindler uses computer-aided design software to draw their finds that are recorded carefully.
“When you dig, you destroy if you don’t replace what was there with information,” Foss said. “You get one shot in archeology. You have to be careful about recording everything.”
Luckily, disastrous earthquakes that shook Turkey in August did not disturb the excavation site in Lycia, located 400 miles south of Izmit. The death toll nears 17,000 with thousands of people still missing, according to a report on CNN.com. Tens of thousands were injured.
“It knocked out the power in all of Turkey and phone service was interrupted,” Schindler said. “More disturbingly, several of the Turkish students and staff on the dig had relatives who were killed.”
Although away from Turkey, their connection to the project is far from over.
“We’ll never understand the whole thing, but the project will hopefully go on for nine or 10 years,” Foss said.
Later this month they will be present their work, which will be open to campus. Other plans include publishing their work interactively on the World Wide Web, according to Foss.
The couple will return to Turkey every summer to continue working with the project and will take two DePauw students each year to assist them. Foss said the trip will not be limited to students in classics courses, as archaeology is interdisciplinary by nature.
“Archeology is really a diverse discipline and you have to look at things from so many angles, using different techniques, from different perspectives,” Foss said. “When you’re an archeologist, you’re a detective … the picture you’re trying to reconstruct is so colorful and so surprising. You never know what you’re going to find. Archeology forces you to ask a lot of questions and only provides partial answers. That’s what makes it tantalizing.”