Traces of Antiquity

Classics students and faculty members explore an ancient landscape

To make an impression of the inscription on a stone archway, researchers fill the spaces in the carved surface with wet filter paper, which they extract once it has dried. The resulting impression is called a “squeeze.” From left: CWRU graduate student Karyn Newton, Mélanie Fortin of the Freie Universität, Berlin, and a staff member at the Isparta Museum
Photo: Jared Bendis

When Paul Iversen and Andrea De Giorgi teach a summer course on classical archaeology, they turn a landscape in the Near East into their classroom. For the past two years, the two assistant professors in the Department of Classics have taken their students to Isparta, a province in southwest Turkey that has seen four thousand years of habitation and conquest. There, the students join a team of researchers who are mapping the terrain, collecting artifacts and revealing aspects of ancient history that have never before received scholarly attention.

Adam Kozak ’13 had just declared a major in classics when he decided to spend five weeks in Isparta instead of heading home to Chicago. Working closely with Iversen, he received an on-site introduction to inscriptions—an essential primary source for understanding the Greco-Roman world. Nathan Bensing ’11, a history major with a minor in classics, has been to Isparta twice, assuming an active role in a geological survey group.

Iversen also recruited two graduate students to the project this year. Karyn Newton, who is pursuing a master’s degree in world literature with a concentration in classics, gathered and photographed pottery fragments and did research on ancient burial practices. Jared Bendis (CWR ’02, GRS ’04), a doctoral student in the Art History and Museum Studies program, took thousands of photographs of this summer’s expedition.

Finally, Iversen invited Stephanie Ohtola ’10, to carry out a separate research project this summer. Ohtola, while completing a history degree and a minor in classics, had written a paper for Iversen about the lives of royal women in the Macedonian court of Alexander the Great. This summer, she studied the familial and social roles of rural women in present-day Isparta, a region that Alexander’s armies occupied more than two millennia ago.

While working on the Isparta Archaeological Survey, senior Nathan Bensing (above) helped doctoral student Jared Bendis photograph ancient pottery from the Isparta Museum’s collection.
Photo: Jared Bendis

Iversen, De Giorgi and the students contributed to a larger research effort known as the Isparta Archaeological Survey (IAS). They worked alongside faculty members and students from Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi, whose main campus is in Isparta, and with researchers from several Western European universities. IAS director Bilge Hürmüzlü, a professor of archaeology at Süleyman Demirel, cites the training that Iversen and De Giorgi provided for her students as one major benefit of a continuing partnership between her institution and Case Western Reserve University.

An Old-Fashioned Search Party

In antiquity, Isparta was a crossroads of cultures and empires. “We know, through the textual sources, that a number of ancient civilizations, well before the Romans and before Alexander the Great, inhabited the region,” says De Giorgi. “So we’re dealing with a number of historical eras that witness a great deal of human movement across the land, and many of the movements translate into full-fledged cities.”

Sophomore Adam Kozak (left) and classics professor Paul Iversen take a break from their labors in Isparta.
Photo: Jared Bendis

Before deciding which areas to survey, De Giorgi consults high-resolution satellite images of the landscape, which IAS acquired with support from Case Western Reserve’s Kelvin Smith Library. “This is how we navigate this vast landscape, how we find our bearings,” De Giorgi explains. “The imagery enables us to identify on-the-ground features such as ancient roads, a fortress, small farms and so on. It has turned out to be essential for this type of research.”

To Kozak, the youngest member of the expedition, the survey team in action resembled “an old-fashioned search party.” Team members would form a line and sweep across a site in a systematic way, taking measurements and picking up any objects they came across—pottery fragments, metalwork, bone carvings, coins. Unfortunately, not all sites lent themselves to such inspection; the spring rains in Isparta were especially heavy this year, and in many places the earth was covered with vegetation.

“You’re walking through wheat fields and vegetable fields, and sometimes through orchards,” Newton recalls. “At first, all you’re seeing is turned-over dirt. In some places, we would walk through fields for hours and find maybe a piece here and a piece there. In other fields, it was as if someone had been out there breaking pots. There were shards everywhere.” According to Iversen, the abundance of pottery in some areas was “the signature of a settlement.”

The students’ work didn’t end with collecting. They cleaned and labeled every artifact, took photographs and made drawings, and recorded the precise location where each object had been found. Since they were carrying global positioning devices, this last task was easier than it had been for earlier generations of archaeologists.

“When you picked up some of the pottery, it looked like a piece of clay,” Newton says. “But once you washed it, some of it had a beautiful olive-green glaze. Some pieces had a blue and white glaze, and others had colors that would run from a dark red to a lighter color. You just didn’t know, when you put a piece in the water, what it would look like when you took it out.”

For his part, De Giorgi calls ceramics “wonderful diagnostics.” From the shape and style of a pottery fragment, the material, the painting and the decoration, experts can date a piece of pottery to within 50 years of when it was made—even if that piece is 2,000 years old.

A Pile of Stones

Paul Iversen examines a funerary stele found in an Islamic shrine in the village of Uluğbey.
Photo: Jared Bendis

Their first time out this summer, Kozak and Bensing discovered another kind of artifact. “We found a Roman milestone—a large, cylindrical stone about 200 pounds at least—in a pile of stones in a farmer’s field,” Kozak recalls. “I noticed it because of its odd shape, and Nathan noticed an inscription on the side.”

When the Romans controlled the Isparta region (which in antiquity was known as Pisidia), they built a road system that the IAS is now retracing. “At 200 pounds, the milestone hasn’t gone far from where it originally was, so this gives us a solid point between two cities,” Kozak says. “It shows that there was probably a road there.”

The team brought the milestone to the survey house for Iversen to examine. It was badly worn and weathered, making the inscription all but invisible to the untrained eye. “I couldn’t see a letter on that thing; Nate saw one,” Kozak says. “For Professor Iversen, the letters just seemed to pop out of the stone.”

By classifying and interpreting inscriptions—a field of study known as epigraphy—Iversen and his colleagues bring a wealth of historical and cultural details to light. Iversen cites this example from a milestone dated 312-324 C.E., discovered two summers ago:

For our two Lords
Flavius Valerius Constantine and
Valerius Licinianus
Licinius, the Pious, Unconquered
Augusti. 4 miles from the city
of Conana.

One of the “two Lords” praised in these lines is “the famous Constantine who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire,” Iversen says. Both Constantine and Licinius probably donated funds to upgrade the road along which the milestone stood. The inscription also suggests that the city of Conana was large enough to be a destination of some importance. And by indicating the location of a road whose existence had been unknown, the milestone helps archaeologists understand “the economy and interconnectedness of the region” in late antiquity. An inscription discovered this summer was carved on a funerary monument dating back to the third or fourth century C.E.:

to Galate
his nurse
for memory's

“This one is interesting because a man with a Roman name set up a funeral stele for his nurse, who had a Greek name,” Iversen says. “It is important as evidence both of slavery—undoubtedly Galate was a family servant—and of at least some affection between the young master and the slave.”

Support from Case Western Reserve University has been critical to the survey’s success, Iversen says. He has received grants from the W. P. Jones Presidential Faculty Development Fund and the World-Wide Learning Environment, both administered by the College of Arts and Sciences. Additional support has come from the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education through a grant program funded by Evan W. Nord and his family. Students’ participation in the survey has been supported by the Department of Classics and the Eva L. Pancoast Memorial Fellowship.

When the IAS resumes next summer, new and returning students may continue exploring the ancient road system, or they may survey a hilltop, Kale Tepe, where a pre-Roman fortress once stood. And by 2012, Iversen says, researchers may begin excavating sites that the survey has shown to be significant, enabling students to participate in a new phase of archaeological discovery in the Isparta region.

As participants in the Isparta Archaeological Survey, classics students and faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences worked alongside researchers from Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi and the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (Berlin). Both institutions provide support for the survey, as does the Turkish Ministry of Culture.
Photo: Jared Bendis