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Exploring Ancient Turkey

Jim Leach, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

Turkish Embassy Residence
1606 23rd Street NW
Washington, DC
United States

January 16, 2013

Thank you, Ambassador and Mrs. Tan for opening your magnificent residence for a celebration of nearly 50 years of shared archaeological research.  

The National Endowment for the Humanities was founded 48 years ago to promote and support studies in the humanities.  Part of our mandate is to help propel archaeological research, which we do with a deep sense of modesty, as our nation-state is so young.  Even if we include what we know of the history of native Americans, the briefness of our existence as a people on this bountiful continent starkly contrasts with the longevity of civilization on the Turkish land mass which, with the seas that border, hold a disproportionately important record of the history of man.

Over the past half century NEH has supported more than 90 archaeology projects in Turkey, allowing American scholars to work with their Turkish colleagues to uncover the most ancient known civilizations and thereby understand more thoroughly the triumphs and tribulations of mankind’s short existence.

This evening we will hear of the remarkable work of several of the archaeologists who have helped restore what time has hidden.  They have participated in pushing back the timeline of settled civilizations beyond 8,000 BCE.  By contrast, the first Egyptian stone pyramids weren’t built until five millennia later, about 2,700 BCE.  While 10,000 years are only a tiny flash at the end of a five billion year history of our planet, it gives us a new perspective on the agriculture, trade, religion, and culture that is the shared legacy of humankind.

NEH has embarked on an initiative to bridge cultures across the world and among Americans.  This evening is part of an effort to underscore what has been learned from the last two generations of archaeological research under the seas as well as beneath the ground.

Let me simply conclude by stressing how proud we are at this modest-sized government agency to work with Turkey to uncover our shared heritage.

Thank you, Ambassador Tan, for making this evening possible.