Website Pulls Together the Strands of Turkey's Past

Each civilization left something of itself in Turkey's many layers of history, and while 3,000 sites have been officially registered with the government, the exact number is not known and could be much higher.

Urbanization and the pressure of growing population threaten many of those sites, as was seen last year with the "emergency archaeology" needed to save precious Roman mosaics at the ancient city of Zeugma from a newly built dam. The Zeugma crisis highlighted the need for the country to take stock of its archaeological heritage and preserve its many treasures.

The TAY project (The Archaeological Settlements of Turkey) project is doing just that. Over the last eight years, TAY archaeologists have worked to systematically create an online database of Turkey's archaeological sites.

TAY is not just an index, but an interactive collection of inventories, maps, photographs, and sketches compiled by each site's primary researchers and excavators. Detailed information and interpretation of the findings is available on the TAY project website to help archaeologists excavating other sites in Turkey organize and interpret their findings.

Race Against Time?

During the 2000 season, archaeologists surveyed a total of 352 sites says Dr. Mihriban Ozbasaran, one of the lead scientists on the TAY project, which is sponsored in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE).

"Almost all of them are under threat from urbanization, or agricultural activities, dams, or illegal digs. Some of the sites are completely destroyed."

By putting the existing inventory of archaeological sites on the Internet, and also compiling a written record of the sites, the project leaders are conducting a sort of "librarian's excavation," making information such as animal remains or pottery sherd found at a site, easily accessible for comparison to other sites.

Through a growing number of references to TAY and citations in scientific papers, the project's leaders know that the site is being used intensively by both Turkish and foreign archaeologists. "It is not just archaeologists, but archaezoologists, botanists, and students of history and anthropology" who are logging on, says Oguz Tanindi, another scientist on the TAY Project.

Through TAY, scientists of many disciplines can now search for similar artifacts found at other sites, obtain sketches of those sites, and artifact inventories—without leaving their office.

The project was necessary, says Ozbasaran, because of the tremendous amount of cultural information that has emerged from Turkey. Until the TAY project began, "chronological and processual interrelations between cultures were not clear." The TAY project aims to document those interrelations.

A Model for Others

While Zeugma has received a lot of attention in the press, the TAY project "has visited and documented more than 350 'Zeugmas' just in the northwest region of Turkey," says Ozbasaran. "It is not only Zeugma but hundreds of settlements that are being destroyed, and will be destroyed soon" if they are not reported to government officials who make decisions about construction and public works projects, she says.

The project leaders estimate that TAY will take another three years to complete the data base for known archaeological sites in Turkey, but the project will not stop there. Because the database is online, the information can be continually updated as new finds are made and new sites discovered.

"It is a model that can be easily applied to other fields and other countries," says Ozbasaran, who hopes especially to see similar projects develop in the nearby Mediterranean countries.

Such a database is necessary to understand the many layers and cultures that have shaped Turkey's history, says Ozbasaran. "Protection and conservation of our archaeological heritage is not possible without complete, accurate, accessible, and updated documentation. We have to know what exists before we can protect it."

(c) 2001 National Geographic Society


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