Applying the latest scientific methods, an international research team is bringing the Troy of the Bronze Age back to the life. In recognition of its support for this project, Daimler - Benz received the UNESCO "Media Save Art" award in the area of sponsoring.
Behind the Myth of Troy
"What might everyday life in Troy (Turva) have been like ? We have come along way from the medieval view to the modern techniques for reconstructing the citadel and lower city of Troy VI (1700 - 1250 BC) using the latest archaeological findings."
Manfred Korfmann. coordinator of the dig at Troy, notices my disappointment and endeavors to explain the "Troy phenomenon". "When Homer created the first epic from the myths handed down to him, he changed the world. It was really because of him that these ruins were so long the symbol of rivalry between East and West". That is why Xerxes sacrificed 1000 oxen at Priam's former stronghold before he embarked on his Greek campaign. In a later reprisal, Alexander the Great, who, besides his sword, always kept a copy of the Illiad under his pillow, offered up a sacrifice at the reputed grave of Achilles. Be it Romans, Creeks, Christian Crusaders or the Ottoman conquerors of Constantinople - they all acknowledged their Trojan heritage, erected their holy shrines and made the heroic site both a place of pilgrimage and a tourist destination.
So what significance, I ask, can the remains of the real Troy still have? What does Korfmann still hope to find with his international team of 70 scientists and 90 local workers at this, the most famous and probably the largest excavation site in the Mediterranean region? What could Heinrich Schliemann and his successors have overlooked that the Turkish authorities should award the Tubingen University professor and a team of proven experts in the field of Turkish early history a personal license for the dig in 1988 - exactly 50 years after the conclusion of the last excavation work?
"We are no longer interested in clarifying whether the Trojan War and the ensuing destruction of Troy VI around 1250 BC - really took place" , Korfmann points out. "I even think that because of Troy's strategic significance, there must have been many Trojan Wars which could have served as a basis for Homer's epics".
It was here that the trade routes between East and West, North and South, intersected. "Troy's closest ally", claims Korfmann, "was the wind". He points to the trees and bushes that have grown at an angle down below on the plain. "For weeks we've had a north-east wind, and there's no reason to suppose that things were any different then".
Anyone wanting to sail with the keel-less ships of the Bronze Age through the straits of the Dardanelles into the Black Sea would either have had to wait weeks for a favorable wind or transport their goods overland. In any event, the last possible port of call was the Bay of Besik, the main harbor at Troy. Here the Trojans could happily exact their last tribute - much to the annoyance of the traveling merchants. "For thousands of years this emporium serving both Asia and Europe must have been an exceptional hive of activity", Korfmann maintains, "and it is this fact that makes Troy and its environs so interesting for contemporary archaeology".
The off-roader carries us across the plain that divides the rivers Scamander and Simoeis, where Homer locates the battles of the Iliad. "Wherever we dig here, we always find something", Korfmann is keen to tell me, as he steers the vehicle at breakneck speed into a dried-out riverbed. It's really amazing just how much his research team has discovered! An early stone-age settlement, a landing stage in the Bay of Besik with a burial site dating from the Troy VI period, and the Roman Ilion at the foot of the citadel.
Yet it was a find made by the archaeologists two years ago that really made the archaeological world sit up and take notice. "We knew there was a city below the citadel of Troy VI, and we wanted to find its fortifications" , Hans Gunter Jansen, a physicist and expert on geomagnetic surveying, recalls. For the last six years Jansen has been investigating the area around the citadel mound with his magnetometer. He laughs ruefully. "It's exhausting work, trudging over the fields at over 30 degrees in the shade from six o'clock in the morning till sundown!"
With his special piece of equipment, Jansen can measure magnetic fields that are a hundred thousand times weaker than that of the earth. Although the instrument is generally used to trace geological deposits or military mines, it also has other uses. Jansen again: "When pottery is fired or organic matter decomposes, you get increased magnetization too. I can record this minimal increase in the earth's magnetic field just as much as any reduction, say, due to non-magnetic limestone walls".
Hectare by hectare, week by week, Jansen paces up and down the terrain. While his magnetometer images were capable of revealing Roman streets and walls lying a meter or so below the surface, the device is by no means omniscient: "Exploratory drilling below the Roman remains has taken us down to the Troy VI strata. Unfortunately, my equipment just isn't sensitive enough to give readings here".
It was precisely for this reason that that the archaeologist had to call on the assistance of Helmut Becker from the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, in the summer of 1992. Analysis of the data from his instrument, which is ten times more powerful, finally produced the sensational find a vague line cutting across the picture could only be the long sought-after fortifications.
Rough calculations revealed that the enclosed city area must measure around twenty hectares - i.e. it must be ten times larger than the citadel excavated by Schiemann. "Troy's City Walls Discovered at Last" was the headline in the press, and mock-up pictures of Achilles, who is reputed to have dragged the body of Hector three times around the approximately two-kilometer long perimeter, could be seen everywhere. However, the real surprise was yet to come. Instead of bringing the remains of city walls to light, excavations carried out the following summer revealed a ditch.
"The rubble filling the ditch caused the misleading magnetometer readings" , Tansen explains. Yet a ditch is a defense system too. However, looking down at the roughly two-meters deep limestone excavation in cotton fields, this particular one doesn't inspire too much faith in its effectiveness. "Any aggressor could easily overcome this ditch" , I point out. "Maybe on foot", replies Korfmann, "but not with a chariot. Besides there would almost certainly have been a wall, perhaps made of wood or earth - as a palisade from which the defenders could shoot arrows or throw spears".
Unfortunately, in Korfmann's view, it would be very difficult to prove the existence of such a construction - even if it had consisted of stone instead of wood: "The problem here is that the limestone bedrock starts just below the surface ". What he finds encouraging, however, is the fact that the philologist Brigitte Mannsperger has found a place in the Iliad where Homer, when talking about the Greek naval base, mentions a ditch and a wall. At least this manner of construction was well known in Homer's time - i.e. in the 8th century and thus 500 years after the existence of Troy VI.
By now it is afternoon and we are driving back to the camp. Work is still continuing in the "potsherd garden". many of the scientists are busy cleaning the countless finds - especially the thousands of ceramic fragments and bones, brooches and spearheads, spindles and coins - which they will then number, measure, draw and record as data entries in the computer. Others are working with microscopes or trying to piece together bits of broken pottery in a kind of three-dimensional puzzle.
Korfmann introduces me to Hans Peter Uerpmann, "the sole professor of archaeobiology in Germany". Uerplann grins: "The unique title apart, my work isn't as exotic as it seems. It was Schliemann, don't forget, who asked the pathologist Rudolf Virchow to examine interesting bones for him". It is characteristic of modern archaeology, however, that it wants to classify each-andevery find it makes - "an enormous undertaking if one considers that we have excavated around one million fragments of bone in Troy since 1988".
Just over ten per cent of these bone specimens have been listed by Uerpmann and his colleagues to date. Classification is made according to type of animal, age, size and gender. So what exactly does this teach us? "A great deal about the nutritional habits of the population", says Uerpmann. "Cows, sheep, goats and pigs were always the main source of meat. But after the period of Troy II, the Trojans didn't fare too well economically: they couldn't even wait until their pigs had reached the optimum age for slaughter before they killed them. It wasn't until the emergence of Troy VI that recovery set in and the situation finally changed. In this period we also find the bones of wild goats and large deer, which means that at least the patrician class could enjoy the luxury of several weeks hunting in the hills and mountains". Apparently even lions were hunted in those days.
Since "plants don't have bones", ascertaining just what grew thousands of years ago on the fields around Troy is considerably more difficult. For a plant seed to have left a lasting trace it must have come into contact with fire and been carbonized in the absence of air. Carefully, Simone Riehl - who is researching for her doctorate under Uerpmann - sifts out some seeds from the black earth and compares them under the microscope with known seeds. It appears that it was predominantly barley that the Trojans grew, and their fields lay presumably in relatively moist valleys - a fact suggested by the weeds that were found together with the barley seeds.
"Yet that's not all", Uerpmann says, showing me an inconspicuous looking bone. "In one Troy II layer, that's to say around the middle of the third millennium BC, we found a horse's tooth". In response to my somewhat blank expression he goes on explain the significance of the find: "Given Troy's Mediterrannean climite, the presence of wild horses is more than unlikely. The exact point in time when the horse first became a domestic animal is very important. That's because in those days the horse would have been the strategic equivalent of the hydrogen bomb nowadays"
The find could therefore mean that Troy might have become a center for the horse trade very early on, which Yould have increased its importance in the Bronze Age still further. What if, however, the horse's tooth should have acciclentally fallen into the Troy II layer, perhaps through a mouse hole?
"Speculation of this nature can only be ended by determining the precise age of the finds", says Uerpmann, before going on to add: "The best dating-method at our disposal relies on the radioactive decomposition of the carbon 14 isotope".There is a snag however - the conventional method requires some 20 grams of meterial, a quantity which would necessitate destroying the valuable tooth. Uerpmann again: "The only way out here is to get an accelerator laborarory to do the measurement for us. You see, it could come up with a result based on just five milligrams of the material".
"Science will have a key role to play in opening up archaeology", Uerpmann ventures to predict. "For example, by using quantitative measurements of trace elements and isotopes, we hope to understand the nature of the food chain in early civilizations".
Using similar scientific methods, archaeometallurgists can boast some spectacular achievements. For example, on the basis of the small lead component in bronze taken from Bronze Age samples, they are able to infer the locations of mines in which the copper was once worked. Similarly, the rareearth elements found in the ceramic fragments help scientists reconstruct the Mediterranean trade routes. Uerp mann is quite optimistic about the new spirit of cooperation: "As a colleague: once so aptly put it, archaeology is really a 'kleptomaniac science'. We need interdisciplinary work to invigorate us".
"That's the way I see it too", says Korfmann. We are once again standing on a fortress mound - this time far away from Troy, in Tubingen Castle, in Korfmann's Institute for Ancient and Early History. It is here, in this splendid building, that all the material discovered and documented by the researchers during the recent summer excavation is analyzed and compiled for the annual reports of "Studia Troica" and other specialized archaeological publications.
I ask Korfmann whether he can envisage a future for Troy over and beyond that of providing an archaeological site for investigations into the past. The archaeologist looks out of the window across the rooftops of the old town on the River Neckar. His voice is reverent, yet full of determination as he replies: "I'd like to see a national park being created. In my view, it's time that this landscape, which occupies such a special place in the history of human civilization, was respected and allowed to rest in peace. This is a goal I have been pursuing vigorously for several years - and I have no intention of stopping now".
Images from Excavating Troy
The finds are analyzed and documented in "the potsherd garden". But where best to dig? Essentialy assistance is provided by Mercedes-Benz's "Archaeomog" (second picture) - a special Unimog that can excavate, haul and bore to a depth of 20 meters.