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Middle East Team Dispatch

Diggin in the dirt....
February 16, 2000

Did you know that if you dig deep enough into the earth you can see different levels of civilization? It’s as if each dig you make uncovers story after story about the lives of our ancestors. Well, lucky for us we don't need to get our hands dirty to see the levels of civilization of the ancient town of Gordion. The students from the University of Pennsylvania have been digging up artifacts there since 1950. And they have uncovered 18 levels of civilization. They have found artifacts that go all the way back to the Bronze Age. So, let's take a trip to ancient Turkey and see what kind of dirt we can dig up about Gordion.

Well, how do we get there you ask? We need to go to Ankara and then make the 106-km trek up to Gordion, the ancient capital of Phyrgia. So..Let's get diggin'

Click image for larger view
The layers of history still stand tall
Layer 1: The History of Gordion and the Phyrgians

The Phyrgians occupied Gordion as early as the 9th century BC. Thus making Gordion the capital of the Phyrgian Empire. The ancient region, was part of central Asia Minor (now central Turkey.) The Phrygians, were of Indo-European descent. They entered the area from the Balkans around 1200 B.C. Their power was broken by the Cimmerians in the 7th century. Power was regained for a short while, only to be lost to the Lydians and then the Persians. The Golden Period of the Kingdom, literally, was between 700-600 BC. That is when King Midas was the ruler of Phyrgia. Now..when we dig deeper we will find out why Kind Midas ran the Golden Period of Phyrgia.

So…we know where they lived, who the "golden" ruler was, and what happened to the Phyrgian Empire…but what do we know about the Phyrgians? I have to admit the name "Phyrgians" sounds like: A) a groovy name for a rock band, or B) a name for some species the Star Trek crew might find, ha ha. But, seriously what were they like? They were definitely on the creative side. Metal and wood based arts and crafts were their thing, if ya know what I mean. Socially, they were intellectuals (a great majority of them could read and write - not too common in those days.) So, we should be able to translate what they read and wrote and find out more about them right? The only problem is no one has been able to decipher their Indo-Europeandialect. So, we will have to keep digging to find out more about the Phrygians and the Ruins of Gordion.


Layer 2: What lies Beneath…

Remember back in Egypt when we took you to all those tombs? Well, guess what, there are more tombs in Gordion. One very special one in fact: The Royal Tomb. In 1957, some University of Pennsylvania archaeologists discovered the tomb of a Phrygian King buried there somewhere between 750 and 725 B.C. The tomb is surrounded by pine and juniper logs and the tomb lies underneath. The archaeologists were super careful not to disturb the tomb and its placement. So, what did they find? A male aged 61-65 years old and only 1.59 meters high. Now for those of us not using the metric system that is 5'2" to us. Definitely NOT basketball player material. Burnt objects surrounded the mystery man, nothing ornate, unlike the elaborate souvenirs buried with the Pharaohs in Egypt. No one knows his name but they are many speculations about who he was. A likely bet would be Midas as most Phrygian Kings were named Midas and the "golden" king was named Midas. Alas, we may never know. We may not know who this mystery man is but we do know that the tomb he is encased in is perhaps the oldest wooden structure in the world. Wowzers!


dialect - a regional variety of language: a dialect of Greek, etc.
encased - to enclose
ornate - elaborately or sumptuously adorned, often excessively so

Midas was king of Phyrgia. He was the son of Gordius a poor countryman, who was chosen by the people to rule them as their king. OK wait a minute. How did a poor countryman become king? Well, legend has it that the people of Phyrgia were told that the future king would ride in on a wagon. The people couldn't believe their eyes when lil' ol' Gordion and his wife rode into the public square of town. And poof, like a dream they were plucked from poverty and made royalty. Sounds like a regular Cinderella story, huh?! Gordius was so grateful for this fortune, he dedicated his wagon to the gods. He tied the wagon up on a shrine and declared that whoever can untie this knot will become the ruler of all Asia. This is where the legendary Gordion Knot comes from. Many tried to untie the knot. They traveled from far and wide for the chance to rule all of Asia. But, alas no success. Until….333BC when Alexander the Great rode into town. Well, if you aren't sure about who the heck Alexander the Great is, all you really need to know is this guy had a knack for conquering countries. But alas, when he arrived in Phyrgia and tried his skill at untying the knot, he couldn’t do it! As his impatience grew he drew his sword and CHOP, he cut the knot. Now, does that really count? Does he get to be the ruler of all Asia after cutting the knot? Well, he managed to divide and conquer just fine and thus the people believed that perhaps he was the chosen one meant to untie the knot. Or so, the story goes….


"Everyone, as the phrase goes, knows two things about Alexander, even if they do not know who he was: he was the man who wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, and he was the man who 'cut the knot'." ---W.W. Tarn, Alexander the Great, II, 262 Arr. 2.3.1-8

Now, that we have unraveled a few knots about Gordion and Gordius, it is time to find out why all that glitters IS gold. Gordius's son Midas led a "charmed" life. Well, maybe "charmed" from the outside - he thought it was cursed!

You see, what happened was…

This fellow named Bacchus found out that his old school-teacher and foster-father Silenus was missing. Silenus had taken to the bottle and wandered away. A group of peasants found him and brought him to King Midas, who was a hospitable kind of guy. King Midas entertained Silenus and after a few days, he returned him to his pupil, Bacchus. Bacchus was so happy he offered the king a reward – anything he wished for would come true. So, the king thought long and hard and decided he wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. The king was overjoyed by his choice. He walked home and picked up a twig that lay on the ground and poof! it became gold. He could not believe his eyes! He picked up a stone and the same thing: GOLD! How wonderful! he thought. He ordered a huge feast to be laid upon the table when he arrived home in celebration. Much to his dismay, when he sat at his table, everything he touched turned to gold - bread, wine and fruit. He realized he couldn’t live off gold and would probably starve! He ran back to Bacchus and begged for mercy from this wish turned curse. Bacchus ordered him to the river Pactolus to wash away his sins. He washed away the gold curse but traces of gold sand remain along that river today. So, Midas realized maybe his wish was not as good as gold. So, be careful what you wish for!

Alas, we have dug into a just few layers of civilization to learned about The Gordion Capital of Phyrgia. Remember there are a whole lot more layers - 18 levels of civilization that the Pennsylvanian students have uncovered. So, dig deeper and see what you can find.

Here are some Web sites to help you on your dig:

More information about the Phyrgians-

Resource on Phyrgia-


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