Last-Minute Help for Turkish Site

A U.S. foundation is stepping in with $5 million to help emergency rescue activities in a Roman-era Turkish city, Zeugma, that is about to be flooded by a new dam. The Turkish government announced last week that the Packard Humanities Institute of Los Altos, California, has agreed to fund salvage work and help develop future plans for the area.

Scholars have known of Zeugma, and looters have been picking away at it, for more than a century. But the rest of the world took note only when a dam on the Euphrates was completed in December, and the waters started to rise. This month, following intensive press coverage, including a front-page story in The New York Times, the Turkish government ordered a 10-day delay in the drowning so archaeologists could complete a feverish effort to remove mosaics, murals, and other materials from the lower levels of the 200-hectare site. About 20 hectares are slated to go underwater on 28 June; more will be submerged next October.

Despite the attention, Zeugma is neither a "second Pompeii" (as the Times called it) nor unique, scholars say. But it is "a critical frontier town in a critical period of the Roman buildup in the east," says Richard Hodges of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K. Despite complaints that Turkey isn't doing enough to preserve its heritage, some archaeologists say it is doing its best to reconcile protection of antiquities with pressing needs for power and water. Turkey is littered with the remnants of 10,000 years of civilization, notes archaeologist Toni Cross, director of the American Research Institute in Ankara, so it's practically impossible to do any big public works project without destroying something.

Posted in Archaeology