Landscape & Environment

Landscape reconstruction

lakecoringboatOne of the primary tenets of landscape archaeology is that social groups, political developments, and economic interactions are best understood within local environmental and topographical frameworks. The paleoenvironmental component of CLAS investigates landscape and environment through a variety of approaches in order to help understand possible correlations between environmental and cultural change. Geomorphological studies of natural and built landscapes provide a sort of cross-section of landscapes that are affected by wind, water, and earthquakes, as well as by human intervention. A key focus in this work is the Gygaean Lake itself. A survey of bathymetry (lake-bottom topography) begun in 2005 will provide important data for reconstructing the paleotopography of the area using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), in addition to revealing optimal locations for coring lake-bottom sediments. Stratigraphic, microfossil, pollen, and chemical signatures embedded in such sediments will allow for the reconstruction of ancient vegetation and climate patterns. Core-sediment analyses will also provide information about cultural activities, such as the appearance and intensity of agriculture and metallurgy, and the developmental stages of the Gygaean Lake.

Landscape transformation

The formation of the Gygaean Lake is arguably the most significant natural transformation of central Lydian landscapes in human history. According to a recent geological report, the change of the previously alluvial river valley into a lake basin occurred between 6000–3000 BCE when an ancient stream that flowed northwest to southeast from modern Gölmarmara to the Hermos River was plugged with alluvial sediment. The river water was naturally dammed by sedimentation and formed a lake in the basin behind and to the north of the limestone ridge known as Bin Tepe, or “The Thousand Mounds,” for its impressive Iron Age tumuli. We explore to what extent the transformation of the landscape from an alluvial valley to a lake basin influenced local populations by allowing, among other things, new local economic opportunities that took advantage of aquaculture, reeds, and the lake water itself. The focus of activity around a large body of water also may have played a key role in the westward spread through Anatolia of sedentary and agricultural lifestyles.Archaeological finds indicate contemporary Neolithic period activity in the area, yet permanent settlements have yet to be found in central Lydia. The accurate dating of lake formation is thus of great significance not just for understanding local developments, but also for exploring regional phenomena.

Since its development, the Gygaean Lake has been remarkably sensitive to seasonal drought, as modern records show. Over just one year of low precipitation, the lake can become almost entirely desiccated, as it did in 1986, eliminating its resource advantages. Ancient authors record at least three major droughts in the history of central Lydia—all would certainly have had drastic effects on local communities.

Anthropogenic transformations of central Lydian landscapes were significant, too. While monumental constructions and socio-political power appear to have been focused around the lake in the 2nd millennium, Sardis became the only regional power in the 1st millennium and its royalty and elites built monuments in Bin Tepe reflective of their status. Analyses of the selection of Bin Tepe for the construction of monumental tumuli emphasize its visibility from Sardis; we suggest that in addition to high visibility from the capital the ridge was chosen for its proximity to the Gygaean Lake. With the construction of tumuli, Sardians ideologically laid claim to the prominence of the area around the lake, the ancestral significance of which is suggested by the probable derivation of its name from the Luwian word “grandfather,” and by Homer’s claim that it was the mother of the ancestral Lydians (Iliad 2.864-6).

Landscape preservation

The destruction of archaeological landscapes is a well-known problem throughout the world. In Lydia monuments and sites suffer from agricultural activities, public works (e.g., road building), and treasure hunting. Archaeological excavations from the mid 19th century through to the present have documented a long history of looting beginning in Roman times. According to correspondence files, museum archives, and field notes, tumuli had become the main target of plunder by the 1960s. Materials looted from Lydia ended up in foreign private collections and museums. The best example of these occurrences is the infamous “Lydian Hoard” that was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City between 1965 and 1970 and repatriated to Turkey in 1993.

Our extensive survey in 2001 documented the impact of widespread looting in the greater region of Lydia. The current project focuses on corroborating looting reported in the 1960s and earlier by documenting the current condition of the central Lydian landscape. CLAS revisits tumuli each year to monitor destruction. In 2006 we revisited 20 of the 119 tumuli in Bin Tepe documented in 2005 (17%). Of these tjandarmalootingtoolsumuli, 50% had been newly plundered over the year. We also returned to a tumulus first documented in 2001. A previously noted superficial on this tumulus had been substantially widened and now gave access to a complex of tunnels and shafts, the deepest of which descended more than 8 meters. Scattered about was clear evidence of ongoing looting: a virtual panoply of equipment that the local Jandarma (State Police) helped us to document. In light of this egregious and ongoing destruction, we have begun a more systematic program of ethnographic documentation and outreach to learn more about local perspectives on surrounding archaeological landscapes and to promote awareness of the value of cultural heritage protection.