Friday, March 21, 2008

The Princeton Excavations

The only serious attempt to excavate the remains of Antioch was undertaken by a team led by Princeton University.

Between 1932 and 1939, archaeological excavations of Antioch were undertaken under the direction of the "Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and Its Vicinity," which was made up of representatives from the Louvre, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Worcester Art Museum, Princeton University, and later (1936) also the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University and its affiliate Dumbarton Oaks.

The expedition was mounted against the difficult economic situation in which the world found itself. The grand plans to hunt down the major buildings of the city (the Octagon, Palace etc) went by the board after the first season. Money became tight and the museums started calling the shots over the former leadership by the academic forces. The museums were less interested in the historical timeline, urbanism and the architecture ... as in the rich trove of mosaics that began to be unearthed. Thus, except for the exploration of the colonnaded main street, all the cash and focus switched to a mosaic scramble.

The limited funds also meant that the team had to rely upon the willingness of local landowners (with some cajoling from local French colonial officials) to permit excavation on their land. The only excavation of the "old" part of the city was one hole on a recently cleared site in the centre of the modern town. To get down to the level of the Seleucid city involved an excavation 11 metres deep on a very cramped site. This revealed part of a circular plaza on the famous colonnaded street but the site limitations meant that nothing more than this tantalising fragment could be revealed.

Daphne was still rural so excavation was very fruitful there with substantial mosaics being uncovered in the numerous villas. The first year excavations at the Island were relatively unencumbered also as it was just farm and orchard land. The latter year excavations more north along the colonnade were easier than in the town but still hampered by the fact that the modern road ran along the course of the former main avenue. The photo below shows the entubation of the Parmenios that was uncovered by Lassus at the point where the colonnaded street crossed this "river" (supposedly on the fringe of the Forum of Valens).The tunnel consisted of two vaulted channels each 6.4 metres in diameter.

On top of all these travails there was that other bane of Antioch (besides the earthquakes) which was the floods. The short excavating season was truncated one year by a massive flood that filled the diggings and stopped activities for weeks.

It is important to put this into political context. The province of Hatay had been split off the crumbling Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s and given to France to rule as a Mandate (as were Syria and Lebanon). This was a source of tension with Turkey as there was a large Turkish population in the province. A controversial plebiscite took place in 1938 (with allegations of "bussing in" voters) which resulted in a victory for those pushing for the reincorporation of the province into Turkey. The handover was somewhat traumatic and the archaeologists virtually had to flee the site in short-order to escape the incoming new administration. On top of this the world shortly after drifted into World War II and the chance of follow-up on previous work was impossible. The first four volumes writing up the excavations had been published during the 1930s. It is indicative that the fifth and last volume "Les portiques d'Antioche" was not published until 1972 by one of the few survivors of the original team, Jean Lassus. At last reports, a lot of the lesser discoveries still remain crated in the storage areas of the Princeton Museum.

Staff photograph of the 1933 Antioch expedition. William A. Campbell of Wellesley College, who served as field director of the eight campaigns, is seated at the far right; Jean Lassus (the excavator of the colonnaded street) is standing third from the left. He represented the French interests in the expedition, .

1 comment:

Gokhan D said...

I am also an Antakyian. I would like to thank you for this wonderful blog. I have learnt and is still learning a lot from it about our history. Unfortunately, the number of source in Turkish is quited limited (maybe due to old official bans) and this makes your blog quite useful.
Thank you very much :)