In case you missed the previous posts:
Part One: Another Year, Another Dig: Archaeology Professor Jennifer Ross Writes from Turkey
Part Two: Good Teamwork, Good Archaeology: Professor Jennifer Ross Writes from Turkey
Part Three: Ethics and Archaeology: Professor Jennifer Ross Writes from Turkey
I’ve been supervising work in the same trench at Çadır Höyük since 2005. It’s about 10 by 8 meters (33 by 26 feet) in size, and has now been dug to over 5 meters (16 feet) in depth. I didn’t do all of that, but I’ve been here for the majority of the work in this particular location.
Archaeologists choose places to dig for a variety of different reasons. Our site was thought to be at risk of flooding in the 1990s when the Turkish government put in a new dam far down our valley. The government therefore asked our team—led at the time by Dr. Ron Gorny of the University of Chicago—to retrieve whatever data they could before the site was submerged. But while we’ve had water come close to the base of the site, the current lake edge is several kilometers away, and we’ve therefore been able to continue digging for all this time.
The site is a mound (höyük in Turkish means “mound”), created over time by repeated construction in the same place. We believe that the first settlers, currently estimated to have arrived around 5500 BC, chose the location to put their houses because there was good agricultural land, plentiful water, and a river running nearby that served as a trade route for goods moving through the region, like certain kinds of stone, eventually metal, and a variety of other materials. Over time, levels of occupation accrued, like a layer cake, eventually producing the present-day mound.
A mound, though, is difficult to dig, because the only way to get into the remains of the ancient town is by excavating both down from the top and in from the sides. At the very top of our site is a Byzantine occupation, dating from the 6th century AD to at least 1100. Archaeologists in past decades tended to be uninterested in the Byzantine remains of the Turkish countryside, considering how well preserved the period was in places like Istanbul and in Greece. But our Byzantine specialist, Marica Cassis of Memorial University in Newfoundland, has successfully argued that what went on in cities like Istanbul was very different from life in the countryside, where our site was. Thanks to excavations on the summit of the mound, and in a lower settlement on a terrace next to the mound, we now have a significantly better idea about how Byzantine villagers lived, and how they adapted to the political and religious changes that dominated their centuries.
My trench, USS (Upper South Slope) 4, has remains of the Iron Age, dating from 1200 to 400 BC. Because it holds a “continuous sequence” (an apparently unbroken series of occupations) that span this nearly 1000-year period, the site is unusual for the region, and the evidence that comes from the trench is invaluable for reconstructing historical, political, social and technological changes over that time. The Iron Age began when the great empire that ruled Turkey during the Late Bronze Age, the Hittites, fell to a variety of forces. At many Hittite sites, there was a gap in occupation, suggesting that residents abandoned their homes due to fighting or instability. But something different was happening at Çadır, and while the inhabitants may have felt some rumblings of trouble (the Hittite capital is just 70 kilometers away), they adjusted quickly and continued to thrive.
When we reached the Late Bronze Age levels at the bottom of my trench last year, we had accomplished our goals for this part of the site. Therefore, I have not been digging in the trench this year, but rather completing some drawings and studying the finds. I’ve also had the opportunity to “float”—to invade the trenches of other supervisors in order to “help” them (I hope) with problems of excavation or interpretation. We have always made an effort to make sure our students work in each trench at the site, as every area has its own questions to answer, and every supervisor can teach different techniques of excavation. I’m lucky to also have colleagues open to welcoming me into their trenches and time periods, to share their experience and understandings of the mound. As usual in archaeology, our collaborative work is the main way our knowledge of the past can increase.