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Ancient Discoveries: Troy Essay

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This report covers a brief historic background on the discovery of the Hisarlik site of Troy; Heinrich Schliemann (refer to figure 1.), its discoverer and his methodologies whilst excavating the site. It focuses primarily on his second campaign, the most famous of the five- and his lack of scientific archaeological structure whilst excavating, rather using philological and relative dating methods; mistakes as a result of careless excavations, and the legacy it has left on history and archaeology of Troy till this day.

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As a child, Heinrich Schliemann had an obsession with Homer’s epic cycles/poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. After cornering the market at the age of 41, he became a millionaire and retired from merchantry to pursue his love of archaeology, committing to proving the actual historicity of the “Trojan War” and the Homeric city of Troy. (Refer to figure 2.)

Schliemann had a good idea of where to begin looking. In 1868, Schliemann journeyed to Greece and Asia Minor in search of the lost city, travelling north-west Turkey to examine both mounds Bunarbashi and Hisarlik. Because, according to Greek myth, the general Agamemnon collected his force in Aulis, a site on the eastern shores of Greece, Troy must have lain to the east of Greece. The Iliad mentioned that Mount Ida was visible from the walls of Troy, but from Bunarbashi the mountain could not be seen. There were also a number of topographical discrepancies such as, the distance from the sea being eight miles where Schliemann approximated from the text that it should not be more than four.

Using geographic clues from his copy of the Iliad, Schliemann discovered another hill near the village of Hisarlik that seemed to fit Homer’s description. Schliemann’s decision to excavate at Hisarlik was confirmed after incurring a preceded theory by British archaeologist, Frank Calvert that Hisarlik was indeed the ancient city of Troy. Calvert had been working on the mound for over 20 years and had acquired half of the hill but lacked in finances to pursue further investigations on the site, so he decided to confide his archaeological findings with Schliemann, gaining collaboration with the rich benefactor in uncovering Troy. (Refer to figure 13.)

The exact location of Troy (or Ilium) was lost after 400 B.C., and over the centuries the site was buried under many layers of earth, however fortunately preserving the site for its future excavations.

Schliemann was to excavate Hisarlik during five separate campaigns: Mycenae (1876-78), Ithaca (1878), Orchomenus, Boeotia (1881-82), and Tiryns (1884-85); but it was the second one of 1871-1873 which proved to be famous. Ruins were uncovered soon after the excavation began at Hisarlik. Nevertheless, Schliemann was perplexed by the complexity of the mound, whose stratification resulted in the discovery of four superimposed towns (later excavations revealing nine cities). (Refer to figure 3.)

To get to the supposed level of Homer’s Troy, Troy II, he dug vast trenches through the entire mound, unceasingly demolishing later structures and crucial historical evidence- his reason being that he thought it was built later than Homer, and was therefore in the way. Schliemann mentions employing large numbers of local labourers on the site, which varied from 80-125 men at a time using crude pickaxes, spades, and wheelbarrows to dispose of “intervening rubble”. On his way through the mound he destroyed the foundations of a large building. Completely ignoring all the layers which clearly revealed a variety of different settlements, he continued to dig- removing an estimated 325,000 cubic yards of earth. (Refer to figure 4.)

Priam’s Treasure (refer to figure 5.) consisted of 8700 pieces of golden pendants, earrings, bracelets, rings, diadems, cups, salvers, cauldrons, vases; however Schliemann’s account of finding the treasure unfortunately is believed untrue. His fixation to reach what he considered to be “the real troy” was so intense as to render him cataloguing some of the more interesting finds even if his dating was totally wrong. Subsequent checks of dates/events do not support Schliemann’s claims. For example, Priam’s alleged Treasure was assigned to Troy II, whereas, we now know from Wilhelm D�rpfeld’s later excavations that King Priam would have reined Troy VI or VIIa, which occupied hundreds of years later. (Refer to figure 6.)

Unlike many of his scholarly contemporaries, Heinrich Schliemann regarded the stories of the ancient Greek poet Homer as being literally true. He used this as the basis of dating all artefacts obtained from the dig, essentially using philology as a method of relative dating. In an analogy to philological methods, he used the term “comparative archaeology” to his system as early as 1880, pointing out in a letter: “In its way comparative pottery is as important as comparative philology.”

His diaries, such as Troja, (refer to figure 7.) reveal detailed records containing sketches and accounts of all the finds- geological, botanical, and meteorological observations. However, Schliemann worked in an era when archaeology was mostly treasure-hunting. Only some of the most advanced archaeologists were beginning to understand that excavation is a destructive process- It must be done slowly and carefully, while recording detailed information, to learn as much as possible.

When Schliemann began excavating, there was no accepted practice existed for archaeological fieldwork. Stratigraphy had been observed and understood in the Danish peat bogs, the Jutland barrows, and the prehistoric Swiss Lake dwellings, but Hisarlik was the first large dry-land man-made mound to be dug. Schliemann was no pioneer of the rudimentary scientific archaeology and did not adhere to a scientific method when carelessly excavating Troy. Later on as his career progressed, he eventually enlisted the help of specialists such as Rudolph Virchow (pathologist, anthropologist, pre-historian, biologist), Archibald Sayce (linguist), Max M�ller (German philologist and orientalist), and Wilhelm D�rpfeld.

Wilhelm D�rpfeld, a famous architect can be accredited for teaching Schliemann archaeological method, specifically how to dig stratigraphically at Troy, majorly assisting with Troy’s stratigraphical dating methodology (and after Schliemann’s death was able to determine that Troy VI, not Troy II was most probably Homer’s Troy). Ironically, D�rpfeld joined the team around 1882, once Schliemann had already mass-destructively excavated Troy layer-by-layer from top through to bottom. It was then that Schliemann realized that he had gone too far because the settlement at the Hisarlik site predated Troy II by 1,700 years, however all in vain as irreversible damage done to the stratigraphy meant the loss of its multiple cities. A popular tourist attraction, this can still be seen today in Turkey at the ruins of Troy where walls from different historical periods have been excavated. (Refer to Figures 8 and 9.)

Many other archaeologists followed Schliemann, conducting more methodical and scientific excavations of lands surrounding the Aegean. Recent archaeology of the classic civilizations of Europe has concentrated on the lives of common citizens. American archaeologist David Soren, for example, led a research team in the 1980s in southwestern Cyprus. Soren and his team reconstructed the events of a powerful earthquake that struck the Roman port of Kourion in AD 365. Soren’s team uncovered collapsed buildings in which entire families had been buried in their sleep.

Despite Schliemann’s controversial reputation as a fraudulently cunning and amateur archaeologist among historians, his discovery and excavations of Troy has left a legacy on historians and archaeologists today. More importantly, Schliemann revived the lost interest in Ancient Greek societies and was one of the first popularisers of archaeology. With his books and dispatches to The Times, the Daily Telegraph and other papers he kept the world informed and excited by his archaeological discoveries as no one had done before. (Refer to figure 14.) Most scholars considered Homer’s stories of the Trojan War to be just Myths. (Refer to figure 12.)

By excavating Hisarlik, Schliemann successfully disproved them; although his work raised more controversy over the existence of troy and the authenticity and historicity of Homer’s Epic poems/cycles among historians [i.e. Michael Woods] (refer to Figure 11.). This has lead on to a legacy of excavations to be held at Troy till this day (Refer to Figure 10.) including those of D�rpfeld, Carl Blegen, and Manfred Korfmann who all proved evidence of occupation/activity on the site from findings of skeletons, helmets, bronze weaponry as described in the Iliad; with the help of University knowledge and more advanced technology which helped draw conclusions of more accurate stratigraphy dating of the cities and artefacts.

If the Trojan War is accepted as an authentic event in history, there are many opinions divided over the subject of the wooden horse leading to Troy’s downfall. Cline, a Bronze Age scholar, has suggested that the Trojan Horse could have been a reference to an earthquake, since Poseidon- the sea god also known as “Earth-shaker”- had the horse as his particular animal. (Refer to figure 16.)

As mentioned earlier, Schliemann worked in an era when archaeology was mostly treasure-hunting, but he had successfully demonstrated the value of archaeology for historical purposes, being the first person to test an ancient myth by excavating an archaeological site. He discovered Homeric Troy as well as a citadel that existed long before homer- a prehistoric Bronze Age civilisation in Turkey. Prior to that, historians only recognised 4 empires: Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Babylon-Assyria. Schliemann discovered two new civilisations which lengthened the perspective of history; nearly discovering a third, situated in prehistoric Crete. Because of his errors and mistakes, archaeologists are more wary of archaeological methods of excavation and have improved in preserving/conserving sites whilst excavating.

Another contribution to archaeologists was his very careful observation of pottery. In the 1800s, objects such as pottery were only important for display in museum show cases. But Schliemann insisted that pottery, even fragments of unpainted coarse ware, constitute as a historical document/clue. He realized value of pottery for chronological and stratigraphical questions. In an 1873 newspaper, Schliemann wrote “At any place, where there have been human settlements, we find lots of potsherds, which are far more durable than city-walls or fortification-walls…They give us two termini for the date of the enclosing walls: they can neither be older than the oldest potsherds, nor later than the latest.”

For example, most historians and archaeologists of the time believed the city of Troy never existed and among the few that did, most deemed Bunarbashi-located a few miles inland from the Aegean sea as the location. Schliemann, not only argued this using philological comparison to the Iliad, but also proved that Bunarbashi could not be the site of troy, because of potsherds-he found no potsherd older than the fifth or 6th century BC. Ancient Greek historians placed the Trojan War variously in our 12th, 13th, or 14th century BC: Eratosthenes to 1184 BC, Herodotus to 1250 BC, and Duris of Samos to 1334 BC.

The legacy of Troy has since prompted Hollywood’s “long love affair” with the ancient world- inspiring the genre of the “sword and sandal epics”; and continues to be a popular subject that many Hollywood directors attempt to interpret and reconstruct- despite the highly inaccurate facts regarding characters and the series of events plot development. However, they remain imbedded in our mass media and popular culture; varying from 1950s-1960s classics like that of Ben Hur, Cleopatra, Spartacus, The Ten Commandments or the more contemporary editions such as 2004 make Troy starring the likes of Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Rose Byrne, and Orlando Bloom. (Refer to Figure 15.)

In conclusion, Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of Troy served as a stepping stone in what we know as modern archaeology. He uncovered Troy of Homeric legend and found a new world of recovered history. But the question of if he really did find Homer’s city of Troy, no one can know for sure. Whether or not it is, Schliemann definitely won himself a place in history as the “father of archaeology’- and his excavations at Troy are still widely studied by many students; who learn from his mistakes in crude methodology as well as adopt his romance for the lost city (or cities) of troy.

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