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Bridging Cultures Through Archaeology: Exploring Ancient Turkey

January 24, 2013 | By NEH Staff

Six thousand years before ancient people erected the Stonehenge ring of giant pillars in England, their distant ancestors built twenty circles of similar megaliths on a hill in Eastern Turkey. The site called Gobekli Tepe is the oldest known building project in the world, the  starting point for tracing the development of mankind from a society of hunters and gatherers to modern life.    

This panorama of history was showcased at an event and gala dinner at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on January 16, 2013, featuring three prominent archaeologists, University of Pennsylvania professor C. Brian Rose and Texas A&M professors Cemal Pulak and Deborah Carlson.  The panel was moderated by Joseph Schwarzer, an early participant in the field of nautical archaeology, which originated in Turkey. “Bridging Cultures through Archaeology: Exploring Ancient Turkey” is the first in a series of programs designed to highlight the results of NEH-funded scholarship. 

The role of the National Endowment for the Humanities in populating this timeline begins at the site of Catalhoyuk, dating from about 7,500 to 5500 BCE, where excavations reveal the earliest signs of animal husbandry and of urban planning, and extends through Troy-- site of many Trojan wars-- King Midas’ capital at Gordian, and under the sea to the hundreds of shipwrecks.  Research over nearly 40 years has helped to elucidate the shared history of humankind through international cooperation with Turkish scholars. 

The endowment played an important role in funding early research in the relatively new field of nautical archaeology.  In helping fund archaeological research by George Bass, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, the endowment supported the discovery of information  about international trade in the era of King Tut, about the beginning of the free enterprise system, the dating of Homer's Odyssey, chronologies of Egyptian dynasties and Helladic cultures, and the histories of technology, economics, music, art and religion.  

From its origins off the coast of Bodrum, Turkey, where the Museum of Underwater Archaeology in a former Crusader castle now houses many hundreds of artifacts hoisted from the seabed, the discipline of nautical archeology has now spread around the world.  It is an important part of American historical research, revealing information about Civil and Revolutionary War vessels as well as coastal trade and maritime culture.