Skip to comments.Archaeologists Find Celts in Unlikely Spot: Central Turkey
Posted on 12/24/2001 10:20:40 PM PST by a_Turk
In storybook histories, the ancient city of Gordion is remembered only as the seat of King Midas, he of the golden touch, and the place where Alexander the Great struck a famous blow in legend and metaphor. Challenged to separate the strands of an impossible knot, the Gordion knot, the conqueror cut through the problem, in the manner of conquerors, with one authoritative swing of his sword.
After Midas and Alexander, Gordion languished on the fringes of history, and until recently archaeologists had taken little notice of its Celtic past. Yes, European Celts the Gauls of Roman times and the forerunners of Bretons, Welsh, Irish and highland Scots once migrated as far east as what is now central Turkey and settled in and around post-Alexander Gordion, beginning in the early third century B.C.
Archaeologists say they have now excavated artifacts and architectural remains dispelling any lingering doubt that the Celts were indeed there, as a few classical texts had recorded in passing. These people called themselves Galatai, a Celtic name for tribal warriors, and became known to the Romans as Galatians. Their Christianized descendants were advised by the apostle Paul, in the New Testament, that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
The remains of Galatian Gordion, archaeologists conclude, reveal that the Celts, although they came as mercenary soldiers, bringing along their wives and children, were looking beyond warfare and pillage. They put down deep roots, revived Gordion and created an ambitious, thriving society.
Above ruins of ordinary mud-brick houses, they erected a monumental public building of cut-stone blocks that was surrounded by a massive stone wall. Inside a workshop were clay loom weights used in weaving, a possible clue to Celtic influence. Not far away, excavators found a stone sculpture of a human with faces in two directions, which replicates double-faced or "Janus" figures from Celtic sites in central Europe.
But the most decisive discovery was a grisly one: clusters of broken- necked skeletons and decapitated heads of children and adults, some of them mixed with animal bones. Ancient Celts had a reputation for ritual human sacrifice, but not the contemporary Greeks and Romans or any of the indigenous people of Anatolia, the central plateau region of Turkey.
In the current issue of Archaeology, a magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America, Dr. Mary M. Voigt of the College of William and Mary, a leader of the excavations, and her colleagues wrote, "Such practices are well known from Celtic sites in Europe and are now documented for Anatolian Celts as well."
Dr. Ronald Hicks, an archaeologist and specialist in Celtic prehistory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., agreed that this appeared to be the strongest evidence yet for a permanent Celtic presence in Gordion.
"That certainly has the Celtic look," said Dr. Hicks, who is not involved in the project. "One of the Roman complaints about the Celts was that they still practiced human sacrifice. They said the Gauls were known for lopping off heads of men in battle, tying them to their belts and bringing them back to display for all their friends at home."
Dr. Oscar White Muscarella, an archaeologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called the discoveries "an extraordinary accomplishment." For the first time, he said, "we are able to see and hold in our hands what the Galatians did and can now talk about Galatians in Anatolia."
The excavations of Galatian Gordion are part of research at the site, 60 miles southwest of Ankara, being led by the University of Pennsylvania Museum in conjunction with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Dr. Voigt's co-authors of the magazine report are Jeremiah R. Dandoy, a retired businessman who has become a zooarchaeologist, and Page Selinsky, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gordion's Galatian period had been neglected, Dr. Voigt explained in an interview, because archaeologists had their eyes on bigger prizes. They dug through the layers of Galatian ruins to get to the city as it was in Alexander's time, 332 B.C., and the even earlier city of Midas, ruler of Phrygia, probably in the eighth century B.C.
Dr. Voigt said archaeologists were also put off by the seeming impossibility of finding anything distinctive to confirm the Galatian presence in the city. How do you establish the ethnicity of an ancient population, especially if the people were warriors who traveled light, carrying with them little of their own material culture, and lived off the land?
"Historically, we knew they were at Gordion," Dr. Voigt said, "but we didn't know anything definitive about their way of life."
In one of the few sketchy accounts, the Roman historian Livy noted that a king in Anatolia hired Celts as mercenaries to re-enforce his own army. They arrived in 278 B.C., 20,000 of them, including provisioners and merchants as well as their families, in a caravan of 2,000 baggage wagons. But by this time the Celts had become somewhat Hellenized.
For an unknown number of years since leaving their homeland, somewhere in central Europe near the headwaters of the Danube, the Celts had passed through the Balkans and paused in Greece to sack Delphi. In battle, they stood naked before the foe. Along the way, they learned Greek and inscribed some of their possessions in that language. Their ceramics and other household wares were in the Greek style.
"It used to be hard to detect the Galatians at Gordion," said Dr. Keith DeVries, a University of Pennsylvania archaeologist and former director of the Gordion excavations. "There was not a single artifact that was absolutely demonstrable as Celtic. Some began to think the literary sources must be misleading us."
Livy described Galatian Gordion as a trading center and a fortified settlement in the early second century B.C., a judgment now supported by archaeologists. Artifacts like a small bone lion, probably used as inlay, suggested the Galatians enjoyed some affluence. Traces of a few substantial buildings with tile roofs, many rooms, paved floors, stone benches and generous courtyards seemed to attest to a city with a social and political hierarchy. This was more than a simple crossroads farming settlement, as some scholars once suspected.
The Celts lived all over Europe prior to historical times, and anyone with access to a map--and the ability to read the names "Galatea" in Turkey, "Galicia" in Poland, and "Galicia" in Spain--could have "broken" this story.
Agree -- the most revealing thing this article exposes is the author's ignorance of classical history. Peoples migrated just as far then as they do now, and there are many references to Gauls in Anatolia in ancient history.
Ah well, it was an interesting read, worth checking out.
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Brent Kennedy's book The Melungeons: Resurrection of a Proud People makes a convincing arguement for Turkish settlers in the Appalachian highlands of the United States. When the Scotch-Irish traveling down the Big Valley got to eastern Tennessee, they encountered a Mediterranean folk who'd got there first. They called themselves "melangeons," a Portaguese term meaning "shipmates" which is apparently cognate with the Turkish expression "melun can" (accursed soul). Perhaps, descendents of the 400 or so galley slaves (shipmates who were accursed souls!) who Sir Francis Drake liberated in South America, and apparently put ashore in North Carolina.
And, let's not forget the incredibly detailed maps of our coasts made by pirate and cartographer, the Turk Piri Ris.
Mr. Kennedy may be trying to hard to make his case, but his book is fascinating reading. Cognates of Turkish terms turn up in Indian place names -- kan tok -- full of blood, for example. (think about it)
Yep. Click on my Profile for the whole story.
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