Monday, August 1, 2011

Discrimination Rears Its Ugly Head


‘Made-in-Turkey’ archaeological digs raising concerns
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Işıl Eğrikavuk
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry has recently turned the licenses for a number of archaeological digs over from foreign to Turkish teams. Although the ministry says the implementation is due to the lack of work at the sites, some claim otherwise, saying there is more to archaeology than digging the ground

When German archaeologist-businessman Heinrich Schliemann found the ancient city of Troy in today’s province of Çanakkale nearly 150 years ago, initiating the first archaeological excavation in Turkey, he could scarcely have thought other non-Turkish colleagues would one day be prevented from digging in the country’s soil.

Although many of Turkey’s myriad archaeological sites – such as Ephesus, Antioch, Troy, Knidos, Alacahöyük and Hattuşa – were initially found and dug by foreign archaeologists, recent announcements from Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry suggest this will soon change. The recent cancellation of several licenses for important digs that had been run by foreign scientists for decades, has precipitated a new debate on how to evaluate archaeological studies.

“Some of the foreign-run excavations are going well, but some groups only come here, work for 15 days and leave,” Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said regarding the reason for the canceled licenses. “We are not going to allow that. If they don’t work on it, they should hand it over.”

Among this year’s canceled licenses are Xanthos, Letoon and Aizonai in the provinces of Antalya, Muğla and Kütahya, respectively. The excavations had been conducted by French and German teams for many decades.

“What I am told is that there hasn’t been enough study in the area in recent years, that’s why the excavation was handed over to us,” Burhan Varkıvanç, the new head of the excavation team in Xanthos told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Archaeologist Sema Atik, who took over the excavations in Letoon, gave a similar answer.

“As far as I know, this policy is something the ministry is giving a lot of importance to,” Atik said. “My team was asked to take over the excavations a few months ago and we accepted it.”

Rising quality of Turkish archaeology

Haşim Yıldız, the adviser for a restoration team in Hierapolis, an ancient Greco-Roman city on top of the Pamukkale travertine falls in the Aegean province of Denizli, said the reason behind the takeovers was the rising quality of Turkish archaeology.

“In the past, Turkish archaeology was not so developed. That’s why many of the excavations were being run by foreign teams,” Yıldız told the Daily News. “Now, Turkish archaeologists have the same knowledge and techniques.”

Yet, according to Professor Mehmet Özdoğan, former chair of the Department of Prehistory at Istanbul University, the idea of handing over one’s project to another team is unacceptable.

“Archaeological excavations have their own momentum, you cannot measure a team’s work by how much time they spend on the site,” Özdoğan told the Daily News. “The fact that their field study may not last for a long period doesn’t mean that there is no work being done on the site.”

‘Science does not have a nationality’

Necmi Karul, chair of the Istanbul Archaeologists’ Association, gives another perspective.

“Science becomes much more productive when it is universal,” Karul said. “Canceling licenses due to lack of work on site will only turn Turkish archaeology upon itself. The ministry should think of other ways to increase productivity,” he told the Daily News.

According to Karul, the number of foreign archaeologists in Turkey has been decreasing over the past 15 years.

“Science doesn’t have a nationality. If we create such an impression, many other good archaeologists will give up the thought of working in Turkey. Turkey has thousands of archaeological sites, the ministry should support more excavations,” Karul said.

There are currently 201 excavation projects in Turkey, according to data from the ministry. While 122 of them are run buy Turkish archaeologists, 48 are run by foreign teams.

Many excavations in Italy and other EU countries are also run by foreign teams, said Alessandra Ricci, assistant professor of archaeology and art history at Istanbul’s Koç University.

“Archaeology should be about collaborations beyond borders,” Ricci told the Daily News. “Archaeology is not just about how much earth you are removing, but it also requires data processing, conservation and research. All of this work should be evaluated together, and it should be considered as a healthy [overall] exchange of scholarship.”

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