Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Xanthos excavations turned over to Turkish archaeologists

A Turkish archaeology team has taken over archaeology excavations in the ancient city of Xanthos due to the slow progress under the guidance of French teams. The ancient site has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1988.

Turkish archaeologists will now be responsible for a dig at the ancient city of Xanthos in the Mediterranean province of Antalya due to the slow pace of excavations under French teams that have been working at the site for 60 years.

Bordeaux University has passed on the archaeology excavations to a team under the guidance of Professor Burhan Varkıvanç, head of the Archaeology Department at Akdeniz University in Antalya.

Turkish scientists have already begun excavations at Xanthos, which had historical significance as the Lycian capital in the 2nd century BC. Akdeniz University’s 23-member team will conduct excavations at the site for two months, said Varkıvanç, adding that the untouched mosaics of the ancient city would be repaired and that the site would soon be cleared.

British archaeologists initiated the first excavations in the ancient city between 1838 and 1842. Many sculptures, reliefs and architectural pieces, such as the Monument of Harpy, the Tomb of Payava, and the Nereid Monument were loaded onto ships and taken to England.

The excavations in the republican period were conducted by the French universities of Paris and Sorbonne in 1950. After an interval, the excavations were resumed by a Bordeaux University team under Jacques de Caurtils’ direction in 1990.

Although the French carried out the excavations for 60 years, their alleged lack of progress caused reactions in Turkey. The Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry inquired about taking over the excavation last year, but the process was delayed following a request by the French Foreign Ministry.

Center of culture and commerce

Xanthos was the name of the Lycian civilization’s capital city and the river on which the city was situated. Throughout history, Xanthos was a valuable city for other civilizations to conquer as it was the Lycian center of culture and commerce; the Persians, Macedonians, Greeks and Romans all invaded the city and occupied adjacent territory.

Today, the site of Xanthos overlooks the village of Kınık. Once over 500 meters long, the Roman Kemer Bridge crossed the upper reaches of the river near the present-day village of Kemer.

The site has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, and a Roman theater and the findings on the west side of the theater still attract visitors. Only the duplication of a few of Xanthos’ monuments with hieroglyphics and other works of art can be seen in the region; the original sculptures, monuments, works and other remnants are exhibited at the British Museum.

Xanthos was mentioned by numerous ancient Greek and Roman writers. Strabo notes Xanthos as the largest city in Lycia. Both Herodotus and Appian describe the conquest of the city by Harpagus on behalf of the Persian Empire, in approximately 540 BC.

According to Heredotus, the Persians met and defeated a small Lycian army in the flatlands to the north of Xanthos. After the encounter, the Lycians retreated into the city, which was besieged by Hapargus. The Lycians destroyed their own Xanthos acropolis, killed their wives, children, and slaves, and then proceeded on a suicidal attack against the superior Persian troops. Thus, the entire population of Xanthos perished, except for 80 families who were absent during the siege.

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