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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Ömür Harmanşah, March 8-9, 2009

I have been meaning to write about this memorable place as a case study to illustrate the intricate but ambivalent relationship between archaeological "sites" and real "places". I participated in the Kerkenes Dağ Archaeological Project in Yozgat Province of Turkey, near the town Sorgun, in the territory of the village Şahmuratlı, for many seasons as an architect and architectural historian. Along with Isthmia in Greece, this was where my teeth was cut in archaeological fieldwork. Kerkenes is a mountain-top Iron Age city to the East of Central Anatolian plateau, also identified with the sacred mountain "Daha" of Hittite sources. It is one of the largest cities that was ever built in ancient Anatolia with its fortification walls stretching some 7 kms. and covering some substantial 271 ha, built on a very high altitude (ca. 1500 m). The site today is a highland cattle and sheep pasture for the surrounding villages but mostly the village of Şahmuratlı, where we stayed. The village had given the project an old unused school building which we collaboratively transformed into a dig house over the years (no small feat!). I remember sleeping in the first few seasons in this massive lecture hall on collapsable metal camp beds, and working on some massive wooden bobbin (for electric wires?), that we had amusingly carried inside. I have so many good memories of this place.

The village had suffered much exodus in the form of its young population leaving for Europe as "gastarbeiter" over the years. The workers of this village went to Netherlands if I remember correctly. Many of the families came back to the village in the summer months, to see relatives and to have their weddings. During the summer onths therefore the village was always a cheerful place.

It took about 40 minutes to an hour of climbing and walking through vineyards to get to the site from the village. Then you had to climb through the granite walls of the city which are impressively well preserved. The place is usually very very cold in the early morning (we were often there at 6:00 am) even in July or August, and we had to gradually peel off our multiple layers of sweaters as the day progressed. By noon time we hardly tolerated a t-shirt!

In this vast site, there were a number of fascinating places, some in the imagination of the villagers (such as the so-called cemetery where the rocks were believed to move and a mysterious light traveled at night- carried by suffering ghosts of ancestors)- and some created by our imagination (such as the "polo field"). In any case, perhaps the most important one of these places within the archaeological site was the Leech Pond (Sülüklü Göl), a mossy, swampy pond literally full of leeches, fed by a spring. It was lined with stones, suggesting that it is most probably a large reservoir that was constructed as part of the elaborate water collection system in the Iron Age city. Following geophysical survey and ground observation of the pond, the director of the project Geoffrey Summers writes: "The pool would seem to have been created by enlarging and squaring off a natural feature and construction of a dam with a central sluice on the northern side." (Summers 2000: 62). Villagers often visited this "pond" to dip their legs, arms and other limbs into the water to allow leeches to attach themselves to the skin and suck blood. This process is believed to be a healing process for variety of diseases that now escapes my mind (Wikipedia entry on leeches say thusly: "The European Medical Leech (Hirudo medicinalis) and some congeners as well as some other species have been used for clinical bloodletting for thousands of years"). How did such a site-specific practice get generated among the villagers? I remember people coming to this place from great distances not just from Şahmuratlı.

The archaeological project at Kerkenes Dağ turned out to be in the coming years one of the most innovative and experimental urban survey projects in Turkey through the use of many different scientific field methods, which found their application there, from GPS 3-D Modelling of the site to many different forms of remote sensing/geophysics- magnetometry, electric resistivity etc, blimp and hot-air balloon photography, test excavations and large exposure trenches, surface mapping of architectural remains and so on, all integrated in a complex mapping database. With excavations, some reconstruction work and many other archaeological activities, publications all over the world, the site has been transformed and distributed. But I have not seen a word written about the Leech Pond beyond discussions of its ancient features.

Uploaded ImageThe Leech Pond is a practiced place, where a site-specific interest of the inhabitants of the landscape has flourished with mixed feelings of healing, hope, sacredness, imagination. It is a place where animals and humans interact in a very intimate way at the site of an ancient pond. It is remote, on top of the mountain where only shepherds and their sheep hang out in addition to the ghosts of ancestors who stroll through the place at night. But pilgrims from all over the region visit this holy place. The photograph I post here regards the landscape from an impossible point of view, it "surveys" the place with the eyes of a Northern Renaissance landscape

Image Source; Kerkenes Dag Project Website.

painter. The Leech Pond is a tiny dark speck on the photograph. Its leeches, the chubby village women with their rolled up sleeves, its dark green swampy look, eerie smell is nowhere to be seen or felt. What is exactly then archaeological practice's relationship with places if not make them into heterotopias, non-places? What is happening to the Leech Pond as the site becomes a tourist attraction, but this is not really my concern. Why does a contemporary site-specific practice such as the leech-pond-visit-as-sacred-healing not constitute any significance to archaeologists? My answer is easy and straightforward: as archaeologists we are entitled to create a "distant" archaeological past, safely protected from the contaminations of modernity and the superstitious practices of the present.

The Leech Pond also makes an interesting comment about Richard Bradley's distinction of natural/"unaltered" places versus monuments (Bradley 2000). Where does the Leech Pond fall in this typology with its Iron Age walls of the reservoir and the contemporary population of the leeches that have appropriated this space for themselves and started flirting with the contemporary human dwellers of the landscape?