Monday, March 7, 2016

What Might Have Been & Still Might

Repeated over and over again through the decades since the 1970s has been a litany of not so veiled comments from archaeologists and epigraphers over the obstructionist attitude of the Turkish authorities when it comes to the issue of excavation at Oenoanda. 

As a result of the torpor vital pieces of the Inscription have been left at the mercy of looters and the elements when they could have excavated, recorded and preserved.

Over the period in question there has not been a shortage of esteemed parties (mostly notably the British Institute in Ankara and the Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut in Istanbul) interested in working with Turkish archaeologists on the site with regard to both the Inscription and investigation of the other structures. Cooperation from the Turkish authorities has been minimal and sporadic. 

Recent years saw the establishment of the program to finally rescue the pieces from the site and rehouse them in a shed down in the valley. This was massively overdue. Even as it was happening there was still prohibition upon lifting some of the stones if they were perceived to be buried or fixed into other structures. What is all this obstructionism about? We can only presume that it is some form of internal power struggle amongst the Turks because everywhere else in Turkey foreign university and research teams are working very happily and productively with their Turkish colleagues. It is unfathomable as to why Oenoanda has been allowed to wallow, when teams are willing and able to fund and help move forward knowledge of the site and preservation of the stones.

It is clear that several things should be prioritised at the site and the investigators have constantly bemoaned the situation to little effect.

Firstly vegetation clearance should be a high priority. This may not be the Mexican jungle but the forest on the site is severely damaging the ruins and makes the exploratory task that much more difficult. Investigators have signalled for decades that roots and branches are undermining and damaging several of the remaining structures and yet nothing is ever done, when local villagers with a chainsaw could solve the problem in the space of two weeks. No-one is talking of denuding the site but certainly there are several score trees and bushes that should be removed from the site to facilitate work and reduce the damage they cause.

Secondly, some elementary site clearance should be undertaken with the focus being on increasing the knowledge of some structures and hopefully precipitating their conversation and partial restoration. The presumed gymnasion at Mk1 has long been a perfect target that has been off-limits to any excavation (except by illegal diggers). Due to its close proximity to the Inscription Stoa it is not beyond the realms of imagination that the courtyard may contain further pieces. The arcade is in danger of collapse from sprouting foliage and the inside of the structure (which is sometimes speculated as being a baths) is filled with rubble from collapsed vault roofing that again the authorities will not allow work to be done on. The dedicatory inscription from the facade is only known in parts and no work is permitted to search for the other pieces.

Thirdly the theatre is a disgrace. Again it has a very large tree growing in the orchestra while the stage is a tumble of debris on which no work is undertaken. The seating is partly buried in scree that would be relatively easy to excavate, sift and remove and yet nothing happens. 

Fourthly, the late wall needs to be dismantled and the pieces of the Inscription still embedded in it need to be liberated. 

Fifthly, I get a queasy feeling about the fate of the Inscription. Moving it to storage in the valley, was long overdue. What needs to happen is a restoration of the stoa and installation of the Inscription on site. The Stoa of Attalos (pictured below) rebuilt by the American School in Athens in a good example that sympathetic recreation of ancient structures from scratch can be done. 


Though the single-storey Stoa Poikile (which stood in the Agora in Athens), a reconstruction of which looks like this (below) was probably more like what Diogenes used to protect his Inscription.



I get the feeling we may find one day that the Inscription is whisked away to the museum in Fethiye "for preservation" never to be seen in its original context ever again.

Quite literally the Turkish authorities have been putting "stones on the road" to block work at Oenoanda. The situation has become slightly better with the rescue of the obvious pieces of the Inscription lying around, but the effort needs to be greater. 




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