Memories of Turkey – Perge excavations

Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for a few years from 2008 I had the amazing good fortune to be able to join the Istanbul University team excavating the ancient city of Perge(Perga) near Antalya.

A good friend, Aysun, managed to contact the lead Professor on the dig and negotiate to allow us to join the team doing low level work, this is unprecedented as a) unqualified people are usually not allowed anywhere near active excavations and b) unauthorised foreigners are forbidden from working on Turkish ancient sites (even though 95% of excavations are managed and carried out by foreign universities and funded by foreign banks!).

We (and a small team of interested friends) started working during the summer which is the only time the team are on site, during the university holiday. So work was HOT! We started early in the morning, around 6am to make the most of relatively cool temperatures to do the most work, by the time it hit midday/1 pm temperatures were well in to the 40s and it almost became unbearable so most work stopped by mid afternoon.


What were we allowed to do? We had low level tasks but even these were so exciting, the main tasks were to clear the rubbish from the shops that lined the main streets, the small shop units had become full of earth and overgrown plants, we were to clear out the earth, plants and rocks to uncover the walls and floors of the shops. Hard physical work but when the floors and sometimes mosaics came into view it was all worth it.

It was also nice to join the team when bigger discoveries were made, many marble statues were unearthed as well as new buildings discovered and we would have bets on what the building purpose was depending on the finds within, I still never found out if the building we found game tables and many coins in was a Treasury, casino or brothel 🙂


One particularly unforgettable experience was on a hot day just as we were fading from the heat we got a call from Professor Haluk, the team leader to get in the van and come to the Necropolis. We jumped in the old orange VW camper (named “Portakal”, Turkish for Orange) and sputtered along the few Km to the Necropolis excavation where they were about to open a newly found sarcophagus.

Surrounded by the whole team and media we took a watching brief at the back, staring into a 6 foot deep hole with the exposed tomb, just before the cameras started rolling Professor Haluk came and led us down into the pit literally next to the lid of the tomb, being so close as it was opened for the first time in 2000 years was magical, to hear the hiss of the ingress of modern air and as the top was craned away to see the bones and glints of metal and glass inside was massively humbling and at the same time feeling a little guilty, these were living breathing inhabitants of this city and we were “disturbing their peace” but with so much we can learn and the respect shown I would hope the original inhabitants wouldn’t mind that our knowledge would be advanced by their sacrifice.

Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos or video of the opening, local news stations had exclusives but it’s a small price to pay for such an amazing memory. 

After the team had had time to go through the sarcophagus it turned out there were many bodies in the tomb (it was customary back then to have a “family sarcophagus” that was reopened and “added to” as members of the same family died. They were also buried with valued possessions such as ornate jewellery or favourite perfumes. As well as the multiple skeletons, many perfume bottles, necklaces, bracelets and some toys were also found in the tomb. All finds are cleaned, documented and sent to the fantastic Antalya Archaeological Museum fo display.

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Where the hell am I, and how did I get here?

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