For 6 weeks this summer, from July 10 to August 17, I spent time learning, studying, and exploring the lovely country that is Turkey.
I first stayed in Istanbul for 5 days before I headed down to Gazipasa, which is a small community along the southwestern coast. While in Istanbul, I and the four other St. Olaf students who all traveled together visited several famous sites: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica Cisterns. All of those sites were beautiful. They were so ornate, with all of the stained glass, the marble, and all of the gold filigree and engravings. On our first night there, we went to a restaurant not far from our hotel, and after giving us free tea, our waiter took us inside the restaurant. He led us into the back where there was a large hole in the wall with stairs leading down into what we found was a large tunnel. He told us that it was a secret exit from the palace and that it was built to allow the royal family to get out of the palace if they ever needed to escape. Apparently, there are many more tunnels that lead all over underneath the city too. While we were in Istanbul, we also tried a bunch of delicious Turkish food; I don’t know what most of it was called, but there was a lot of lamb and rice, and it was wonderful!
We left Istanbul on July 14 and traveled down to Gazipasa where we began work. Every morning we woke up at 5am so that we could have breakfast at 6 and begin work at 6:30. We would then pick, shovel, trowel, and dump buckets full of soil and brick debris until 10am, stop for a snack break, and resume our work until 1pm. At 1, we had lunch, and then the rest of the day was ours to nap, read, do our assigned documentation and reading for that day’s work, or any other activities we wanted to do until supper at 7. I helped make supper fairly frequently, and it’s amazing to me just how much can be communicated despite language barriers. The woman who cooked for us spoke almost no English, and I learned only a few words in Turkish, but even so, we managed to cook supper together.
The Turkish students we worked with were so nice! Most of them spoke a little English, but we were able to teach them more English in exchange for Turkish lessons from them. We all lived together in one house, with 6 of us to a room. In total, I think there were about 30 people living in the house. I shared a room with 3 other St. Olaf students and 2 Turkish students. I always found that everyone in town was very friendly and welcoming to us. They would wave and say hello whenever we walked past, and we learned how to return their greetings. I was amazed by their hospitality towards complete strangers, and it is something I will never forget.
Our site was, we believe, an early Christian site. I personally worked in the residential part of the site, where we believe either a small dormitory or large personal living quarters housed the church official and his family and/or servants. While up there, we found tons of pottery shards, a few pieces of glass and a couple of coins. I was put in charge of our pottery collection, and did a majority of the sorting, organizing, and documenting of every single one of the 3100+ pottery shards that came from our site. I was glad to learn about some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into archaeology in addition to all the digging and other labor that happens up on the site. No human skeletons were found this year, but there were quite a few other animal bone fragments up on our site, most likely from the wild goats or other small animals that live in the mountains. In order to get there, we had to climb up a small mountain with a very thin, rocky path covered in brush, but once we made it to the top, the view was amazing. The only real problem was that it was very, very hot- around 100 degrees every day.
We had Saturdays free to ourselves, so we usually went into town to explore or eat more delicious food, or we would sometimes go shopping. There was a small clothing market in town, so we usually walked there on Monday afternoons to buy dresses or pants. Turkish pants are probably the most comfortable things I have ever worn. On Sundays we went to other sites near ours so that we could see excavated sites and try to understand some more about the history of ours. We also went to the beach fairly frequently on the weekends to swim in the Mediterranean, and on Fridays after our work was finished, we went to a nearby cove to swim. According to legends, the cove we swam in was the one where Julius Caesar was held for ransom by pirates. It was so beautiful there, and the water was so clear. The water got to be about 100 feet deep after only walking a few steps into it, but I could still see the sand and rocks at the bottom because the water was so clear and blue.
We were invited to a going-away party for one of the former site workers, and I’m pretty sure the entire town came out for it. Every Turkish man is required to serve in the military, and they have grandiose celebrations for the men who leave. There was so much food, and I do not know where they managed to find space to feed all of the people. In the evening, there was a dance, and so some of the girls taught me to do some Turkish dances (or tried, would be more accurate). Even though they laughed at me when I struggled to learn the steps and movements, it was all in good fun and we all laughed together. There was such a great sense of community and closeness among all of the people who came together for the celebration, and I’m honored to know that we Oles were invited to it.
Though it was very nice to return home to my own family again, I miss Turkey and the people who live there and would love to go back again if I ever get the chance.
Though my skills as a photographer are very much in the development phase, I’ve included a few pictures.