One of the most prestigious and longest university archaeological excavations in the world, Sardis stands alone.
The two-millennia-old site in western Turkey is more than its Lydian pottery or striking acropolis. As a series of presentations and discussions at the Harvard Art Museums made clear, it is also a community, where faculty and students, interns and archivists share the important work, much of which is done after the shovels and sieves have been put away.
The talk on Friday, part of Worldwide Week at Harvard 2018, began with presentations by several faculty and museum staff members involved in the exploration. Susanne Ebbinghaus, the George M.A. Hanfmann Curator of Ancient Art and head of the division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at the Harvard Art Museums, opened the event, describing the site and the scope of the venture, which is now in its 60th year.
Adrian Stähli, professor of classical archaeology in the Department of the Classics and head of the faculty oversight committee on the expedition, said, “Sardis is among all excavations one of the most prestigious and one of the oldest.”
The first large-scale scientific exploration of the site actually began in 1910, Stähli and colleagues said. Under the direction of Professor Howard Crosby Butler of Princeton, this was a huge venture, with a staff of 300 and heavy earth-moving equipment that would no longer be considered suitable for such delicate work. But the initial excavation was interrupted by World War I, and Butler died in 1922. When George M.A. Hanfmann, professor of archaeology at Harvard, arrived in 1958, it was with a smaller crew but using the more cautious techniques that prefigure the work today.
Labeling the site “one of the few we would call a ‘big dig,’” Stähli said it is also one of a few that can offer both undergraduates and graduate students substantial experience in the field.
Students and the public can stay on top of current findings and ongoing work through the website of the standing committee on archaeology, said Rowan Flad, the John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology. The site also contains a newsletter.