Turkey is home to a realm of World Cultural Heritage that is important in its magnitude and diversity. Protecting this heritage, bringing it to light, and passing it on to future generations by turning it into information that will be beneficial to all humanity, is a responsibility that we cannot neglect. Besides this cultural wealth, another seemingly contradictory reality is the process of rapid modernization and development that our country has entered into.

Until recently, preserving cultural heritage and the necessity of investing in contemporary progress were seen as unreconcilable contradictions. However, through the development of contemporary understanding, cultural heritage and modern development are no longer seen as such, and with integrated planning, they can enrich each other.

 The work initiated by METU in the Keban Dam Reservoir in 1968 can be seen as one of the first examples of comprehensive application of this consideration. This same understanding continued later with the work carried out in the Karakaya and Atatürk Dam Reservoirs in the Lower Euphrates basin. These projects should not be seen as archaeological excavations alone. The objective here is to prepare a multi-purpose project related to cultural heritage that converts data from the past into knowledge that will benefit all humanity, as well as improve the economy of the country and the region.

Monuments of Contemporary Development: the Construction of Dams without Damaging the Historical Heritage

The most critical of the negative effects caused by the construction of the Ilısu and Carchemish Dams as part of the long-term Southern Anatolian Project (GAP) to develop this region is that the rising waters of the dam reservoir will obliterate the cultural heritage of a region that has not been subjected to thorough archaeological investigation. A range of intensive preliminary research has so far revealed that the region encompasses cultural remains that are known from work on the Euphrates and Tigris in neighboring countries just to the south, forming the Mesopotamian Civilization.

 Hasankeyf, view towards the citadel, with Artukid mosque in the foreground

Hasankeyf, view towards the citadel, with Artukid mosque in the foreground

These mega-projects play a very important role in the present and future development of the region, not only for irrigation, but also for producing electricity. On the other hand, these investments bring with them the responsibility of bringing to light, recording and protecting for the benefit of future generations the cultural heritage that will be submerged beneath the waters of the dam reservoirs created by the GAP project. Our concern here, benefiting from our rescue excavation experiences with the Keban, Atatürk and Karakaya Dam projects, is to try to fulfill such an important investment packet as the GAP project with as little loss as possible of the cultural and historical heritage of the region. The work to be carried out here should be considered as a contemporary project related to our cultural heritage.

A Case of Emergency: the Carchemish and Ilısu Dams A New Step Forward: the METU-TAÇDAM Salvage Project

With the aim of salvaging the cultural remains in the areas to be affected by the Carchemish and Ilısu Dam projects within the scope of the GAP of the 1990s, in 1998 a protocol was drawn up by the Ministry of Culture, the State Hydraulic Works (D.S.I.) and Middle East Technical University (METU), and work began under the direction of the METU Centre for Research and Assessment of the Historic Environment (TAÇDAM). In a short time, there was wide support and participation in the project from the Turkish universities of Istanbul, Ankara, Hacettepe, Bilkent, Ege, Anadolu, Gazi and Dicle, from the universities of Bryn Mawr, Binghampton, Utah, Akron, Münster, Münih and Roma outside Turkey, as well as from scientific institutions operating in Turkey, such as the American Research Institute (ARIT), the German Archaeological Institute, the Prague Oriental Institute, and the French Anatolian Research Institute.

The terms of the protocol for the Ilısu and Carchemish Dam Project signed on 22.07.98 recommended that the authority and responsibilities for the archaeological work was to be assumed by the Turkish Ministry of Culture, according to the provisions dictated by Act no. 2863, the D.S.I. would shoulder the material responsibilities, and METU would be in charge of the scientific management of the project. The excavations and surveys conducted in the region were proposed by the Project Administration of METU-TAÇDAM, and carried out by research teams from a number of universities, under the supervision of Museum Directorships connected to the Turkish Ministry of Culture, and with permits issued by the Ministry of Culture within the scope of Act no. 2863.

 Teleilat Höyük, Human Figurines, Neolithic Period

Teleilat Höyük, Human Figurines, Neolithic Period

A special budget committee was formed within the METU constitution for the administering of the financial support and equipment provided by the D.S.I. General Directorate and the contributions made by organizations from the private sector (Hilton SA, Hewlett-Packard Turkey, etc.). The activities of the project were carried out within a basic bureaucratic structure by the METU-TAÇDAM Project Administration, and major decisions concerning the project were made by the METU-TAÇDAM Acting Committee. The fieldwork was directed through the METU-TAÇDAM Coordination Office in Diyarbakır. The management and activities of the project were reviewed in meetings, held annually or more frequently, of the Project Executive Committee, formed for members from the Turkish Ministry of Culture, the D.S.I. General Directorship, the GAP administration, and the METU-TAÇDAM Consultative and Administrative Committee, under the chairmanship of the METU Rectorate. By conducting the project work within a flexible structure similar to the Keban Project in this way, it was aimed to manage the resources, equipment, and flow of information, and organize the publication of the work in coordination with other documentation and salvage projects of cultural remains in the GAP region.

  Seraga Höyük, looking southeast

Seraga Höyük, looking southeast

The work began in 1998 with four excavations and nine surveys. In 1999, this had become a mega international archaeological salvage operation, with nine excavations and four surveys in the Carchemish Dam region, and four excavations and two survey projects in the Ilısu Dam region, and by 2002 had increased to a total of 26 excavation and survey projects in the two regions.

The Cultural Heritage Management Strategy

Surveys conducted in the Carchemish and Ilısu Dam reservoir regions have identified 250 archaeological sites that will be directly or indirectly affected by the dam projects. It is unfortunate that, when the project work was initiated, only two years remained to carry out salvage excavation on the 16 important sites of the settlements known to exist in the area to be inundated by the waters of the Carchemish Dam reservoir. Considering this situation, it was envisaged that the activities of the international teams involved in the project should be concentrated in this area until 2000, after which work would be conducted only on the sites in the Ilısu Dam region, where ten years remained before the dam reservoirs would begin to fill with water. Excavation at 30 important archaeological sites, including the monumental city of Hasankeyf, was planned for this period, as well as intensive research and sondage excavation at other sites. It was considered a priority to carry out documentation and conservation work on the monuments at Hasankeyf and to conduct an environmental survey of the site. However, since the construction of the Carchemish Dam had not been completed by 2002, this created the possibility of the archaeological salvage work in this region to proceed for some time longer than initially envisaged.

In order to organize the work at the monumental city of Hasankeyf, the most important site of the project, as an integrated cultural project containing numerous sub-projects, the activities were planned under four main categories, according to the effect of the water level of the reservoir. These were as follows: urgent documentation of the cultural remains on the left bank of the Tigris; acceleration of the excavation and documentation work in the Lower City area on the right bank of the river; completion of the restoration projects of monuments need to be preserved; and create an archaeological park at the site of the well-preserved Upper City.

It is the opinion of the METU-TAÇDAM Project Administration that a long-term vision should be created for Hasankeyf, with the strategies developed according to different scenarios. One of these scenarios is related to whether the construction of the Ilısu Dam will take 15 years to complete or be abandoned.

 Megara Höyük, looking southeast

Megara Höyük, looking southeast

What Do We Save?

The work of the project enables the cultural history of the region to be rewritten using the rich data testifying to cultural continuity from the Lower Palaeolithic to modern-day. The results of excavation and survey carried out between 1998, when the project was initiated until 2002 have produced important evidence for Near Eastern archaeology:

Remarkable finds for the Near East have been discovered in the Aceramic Neolithic cemetery at the Neolithic site of Kortik Tepe in the Ilısu Dam region. Excavations at Hakemi Use Tepe have uncovered buildings and intramural burials dating to the Late Neolithic. The Late Neolithic and the beginning of the Chalcolithic have been documented at Yenice Höyük, a site of the Ubaid period. Evidence testifying to the beginning of urbanization in the region during the Uruk period and the Early Bronze Age have been encountered at a number of mounds in the Ilısu Dam region, including Ziyarettepe, Kenan Tepe, Salat Tepe, Aşağı Salat, Grecano, Müslüman Tepe and Kavuşan Höyük. Several sites in the Ilısu region have also yielded evidence of Middle and Late Bronze Age occupation. The 2nd millennium BC is represented at Grecano by large administrative buildings, and Assyrian cuneiform tablets found at the site indicate that this was an agricultural estate called Dunnu-şa-Uzibi at the end of the 2nd millennium.

The most interesting data for the 1st millennium BC Iron Age in the Ilısu region comes from the excavations at Ziyarettepe, where cuneiform tablets provide interesting information concerning the Assyrian history and also about the economy of this period. According to these tablets, the Assyrian Empire continued to exist for some time after its destruction in 612 BC. The excavations at At Türbe Höyük in the Bothan Valley have produced evidence for occupation in the Uruk and Ubaid periods in the lower strata, as well as evidence for a fortified settlement during the Hellenistic period and earlier.

The most important of the sub-projects concerns the monumental city of Hasankeyf. Excavation and documentation of the site was begun in 1989 by Prof.Dr. Oluş Arık, under the directorship of Mardin Museum in the name of the Ministry of Culture. The operation was expanded in 1991 with significant resources and support made available through the protocol between the Ministry of Culture and the GAP administration. In 1992, however the work ended due to the security problems that had been encountered in the region. After 1998, the excavations at Hasankeyf were yet again accelerated and expanded as a result of the salvage work begun in the Ilısu Dam basin under the METU-TAÇDAM Administration.

With this most recent financial support supplied through the METU-TAÇDAM Administration, mostly from D.S.I. contributions, and with the resources provided by DÖSİM from the Ministry of Culture and the GAP administration, it has been possible to speed up the excavation and documentation work in the Lower City at Hasankeyf that will be submerged beneath the waters of the Ilısu Dam reservoir (+526 m), particularly in the part of the site known as the central excavation area. Along with the current work to document the whole of the area of the site of Hasankeyf published by Albert Gabriel, a preliminary 1/500 scale map of the monumental city, preliminary work on the geological and structural mechanics of the Upper City, and a restoration project of the historical Silk Road Bridge, the most important structure at the site, has been prepared by the METU-TAÇDAM Project Administration. In addition, in coordination with the documentation work at Hasankeyf, the preliminary work on the geological and structural mechanics on the Tigris side of the Upper City has been completed.

 Akarçay Tepe, Cell-Planned Monumental Architecture, Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period

Akarçay Tepe, Cell-Planned Monumental Architecture, Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period

Work on the basic cultural inventory in the Bothan and Garzan valleys was carried out within the archaeological survey projects conducted along with excavations and surveys that began in previous years in the Ilısu Dam basin. Updating of the recording of the necessary information for excavations projected for the future has been completed.

The Palaeolithic survey and the documentation of regional architecture in the Carchemish Dam reservoir region were concluded in 2002. Important results have come from sites that are still under excavation; in particular, distinctive architecture and Aceramic Neolithic cultural layers uncovered at Teleilat Höyük and Akarçay Tepe are improving our knowledge of Mesopotamian-Anatolian relations. Teleilat Höyük has proved to be a large settlement site where all phases of the Neolithic period are represented. Assyrian and Achaemenid palaces on top of the Neolithic settlement display the best-preserved architecture in Anatolia, and, along with other cultural data, throw light on these little-known periods in the region.

At Zeytinlibahçe Höyük, one of the most important Early Bronze Age sites in the region, well-preserved architecture has been uncovered in the Late Uruk – Early Bronze Age I levels. At the adjacent site of Fıstıklı Höyük, tholos-type structures belonging to the small-scale Halaf period settlement and cell-plan buildings have been excavated. A sacred area and building complex dating to the Early Bronze Age, as well as burials, have been discovered at Gre Vrike.

It was not possible to document the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age levels at Şaraga Höyük before they began to be covered by the waters of the reservoir in 1999; however, the Middle and Late Bronze Age building levels, in particular, have been excavated.

A brief summary follows of the accomplishments of the project to date; it should first be stated, however, that the interdisciplinary work carried out has produced extremely rich information in a short time, enabling a rewriting of the cultural history of the region. The results of the work conducted within the scope of the project is published as annual reports in two languages, according to international standards. However, the contributions of the project to Turkish Archaeology and the preservation of cultural heritage might be considered more important. With the activities of the Project:

  • One now begins to see the positive effects of integrated archaeological work on a regional scale in the increase in local awareness for the importance of preserving the archaeological cultural heritage.
  • Scientific standards have been raised in the synergy achieved among archaeological projects carried out in neighboring locations and in an integrated way in a specific region.
  • A young generation is gaining experience in Turkish archaeology and being encouraged to become specialized in the documentation and preservation aspects of cultural heritage.
  • As well as archaeological methods, the techniques of applied and natural sciences are used more extensively in the effective execution of the documentation, preservation, evaluation, and publication work.
  • A good infrastructure and assets have been established for the archaeological projects in the region.
  • An archaeological database using GIS has been created for the project region as a basis for the work on Turkey’s basic cultural inventory.

In its approach to the issue, with a contemporary understanding of heritage management, the METU-TAÇDAM Project Administration encourages the participation of international research institutions and ensures every kind of communication and interaction for the development of the Project. As a multi-faceted international cultural enterprise, the Ilısu-Carchemish Salvage Project serves as an exemplary undertaking for other archaeological salvage projects in the GAP region and other parts of Turkey.

Last Updated:
20/04/2022 - 08:54