Excavation of historic city of Karkamis slated to begin as mine removal ends

1,000 mines cleared in one-and-a-half year

Published on 23 October 2011

Author(s): Today's Zaman/

Type:  News Originally published 30 Sept 2011

Archeologists arrived in the southern province of Gaziantep this week to begin excavating the ruins of an Iron Age city in Karkamış, Gaziantep, following one-and-a-half year efforts to clear over 1,000 mines from the region.

The city, today located on the Euphrates River just minutes from the Syrian-Turkish border, was inhabited in the third millennium B.C. and is thought to have been an ancient Hittite trading hub.

Nicolo Marchetti, assistant professor at Bologna University and a member of the 25-man excavation party going to the site, stated that the team is “extremely excited about the dig” in an interview with the Anatolia agency news agency on Thursday.

The archaeologist, who has undertaken previous digs in the Gaziantep region and speaks a great deal of Turkish, explained that the team has ambitious plans for the extensive site at Karkamış. “Our aim is to totally uncover the city with its pathways, squares, walls and temples.” The plan of the team and hope of regional tourism authorities, Marchetti says, is that the site can be made into “an important national park, an archaeology park.”

The ruins Marchetti and his team hope to uncover are expected to be extensive and well preserved. “We know what the important buildings were and we know where they are,” the archeologist stated, adding that the first round of digs will start in five separate places and last until Nov. 15. The team is made up of 14 archaeologists from Bologna University and 11 from İstanbul University.

The team’s arrival follows a nearly one-and-a-half year effort by regional authorities to clear thousands of mines from the border region, which was once the scene of extensive military activity. On Tuesday Gaziantep’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies Nejat Koçer and Halil Mazıcıoğlu announced the completion of the efforts in a statement with Provincial Special Management secretaries Cafer Yılmaz and Nizip İlçe at a press conference in Karkamış.

Koçer explained that 1,200 mines have been removed from a 663,000 by 800,000 meter area around the site, stating that “the region has been cleared of 90 percent of the mines. Those that remain will be removed within the month.”

Ruins of Iron Age city in Karkamış

Koçer also voiced his excitement about the archaeological project to follow the removal of the land mines. The mines’ removal, the deputy said, will help us to excavate “the exact heart of Mesopotamia,” adding that “extremely important cultural treasures will be found here.”

Many archeologists’ belief that the city was a key Hittite trading center, coupled with frequent references to the city in Egyptian and Biblical texts, has long made Karkamış an object of fascination among Western researchers. According to Marchetti, long before archeologists dug at Bergama and Ephesus, expeditions set out for Gaziantep in search of the Karkamış site.

The city was the object of five separate English expeditions between 1870 and 1920, the last of which counted T.E. Lawrence, or “Lawrence of Arabia,” among its members. Karkamış was also the scene of tension between Egyptian and Hittite armies in ancient times, and the 1274 B.C. Treaty of Kadesh, which was signed between the two empires and is the oldest surviving written treaty in the world, is believed to have been signed in the city.

According to Provincial Special Management secretary Yılmaz, the ancient city’s history has tremendous potential to attract tourists to the border region. Located in an area that has greatly expanded its tourism industry in the last decade, Yılmaz says the site could potentially attract the same tourists who flock to the ancient cities of Ephesus and Bergama. “I hope [the excavation] does not take very long. It will start within the week,” Yılmaz stated.

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