Ethnic Identity and Archaeology in the Black Sea Region of Turkey

Article excerpt


While many scholars treat archaeology as if it were simply an objective search for remains of past civilizations, it is clear that, in all parts of the world, its practice has been shaped by philosophical processes as well as socio-political and economic developments (Trigger 1989). It is obvious that archaeological studies continue to be influenced greatly by contemporary political, economic and social circumstances and that any true objectivity in interpretation is achieved only with great difficulty or even not preferred anymore (Shanks & Tilley 1987). In many areas of the world a principal focus of archaeology has been the identification of ethnicity in the archaeological record. The importance of nations, national unity and self-determination first led historians, then archaeologists, to search for the greatness of their forefathers in textual and material records of the past (Trigger 1989: 174). This quest for a common ethnic identity, or origin, transcended national borders and expanded over continents.

In this paper, I will be discussing the development of archaeological studies in the Black Sea region of Turkey within the larger context of what is commonly called Anatolian Archaeology. The discussion will especially emphasize nation-building policies in the 1930s and their impact on archaeological practice.

A philosophical approach to archaeological practice in Turkey has been virtually nonexistent until very recently and even today Ozdogan's writings (1998, 2001) remain alien to general trends in general archaeological practice. Instead, scholars mostly concentrated on their own research, often only conducting excavations, collecting archaeological material, making catalogues and publishing preliminary excavation reports (Ozdogan 2002: 43). They have questioned neither their own education as archaeologists nor the social context in which they have performed archaeology. As a result, archaeological practice in Turkey remained static; in other words, the culture-historical approach of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries dominated the field. Only in the last 10 years has an increasing awareness about the value of cultural heritage and the immediate need for proper protection required archaeologists, historians and scholars from related fields to turn towards more contemporary approaches and to benefit from technological advances. Both in terms of a new understanding of cultural heritage and the application of advanced techniques, a good example is provided by the Salvage Project of the Archaeological Heritage of the Ilisu and Carchemish Dam Reservoirs conducted under the supervision of METU TACDAM (Middle East Technical University, Centre for Research and Assessment of the Historic Environment) (Tuna & Ozturk 1999; Tuna et al. 2001).

Contemporary methodology was not only embraced in practical areas such as advanced surveying methods or professional heritage management, but it also initiated a platform on which scholars could discuss the past and the future of the field of archaeology in Turkey (Yolac 2002; Ozdogan 2002; Pulhan 2002; Tekin 2002). Even so, the papers questioning archaeological practice did not go beyond being descriptive accounts of how archaeological studies began in Turkey and particularly the role of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in promoting the fields of archaeology, history and Turkish language. Topics such as ethnicity, nationalism, ideology and power in Turkish archaeology have scarcely been addressed at conferences or in journals and books (Ozdogan 1998; Erdur & Duru 2003).

This scarcity and the awareness that Turkish archaeological practice is not discussed openly as if it had an unbiased nature, forced the author to question her own study of the available archaeological resources from the Black Sea area. The scholarly literature on Black Sea archaeology indicated a dualism in the purpose of archaeological studies. …