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Five questions to Prof. Dr. Sevil Gülçur

An interview with our visiting lecturer from Istanbul University


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1. Studying archaeology in Turkey:

Most archaeologists in Turkey don´t have enough work opportunities, they cannot get a job. Most students of archaeology also won´t do archaeology because they don´t want to. If we have two-three really enthusiastic, devoted students per year, we are thankful. Most of the students like to finish university just to get a degree, but then they proceed to find a better paid job somewhere else. Also the application system for universities in Turkey is very specific- based on computer calculations and not on preferences of the students. It is a point system.

First a student picks several fields and he has to pass a general exam. Afterwards, the selection is narrowed down and the students have to pass second exam. This time, a computer decides, to which brand and which university you can go. It is not a free choice and it is very hard to get exactly where you want, almost impossible. Therefore the students who get accepted to archaeological studies usually know nothing about it and originally they might have wanted to study something else but didn´t get enough points to get there (because social sciences have very low point value and so it is fairly easy to get accepted here). It is the state policy to get as many students to the universities as possible.

For example, a new university in Nevşehir has recently accepted more than 140 students of archaeology- that is an impossible number! The students who are coming to the excavations nowadays also do not have any practical experience from the field or from life. They are not able to work directly in the field- to do the “dirty work”. So we put new students together with our old, skilled local workers, and the students have to learn from them.


What would you be if not an archaeologist?

Actress. While I was studying at gymnasium, I won the school´s to become an artist – to be acting in theatre. For one year, I went there and even acted a little (in school). But I have always been fascinated by archaeology. It was my first choice. It was hard to devote my time to both of these fields and eventually I decided to pursue only archaeology. I never regretted that decision. I am an archaeologist, heart and soul.


Robert and Linda Braidwood. I liked the Braidwoods very much, they were very human and an exceptional couple. They changed the face of Turkish archaeology, German archaeologist Harald Hauptmann also influenced me a lot- he is an amazing excavator and he was my hero.


Listening to music. I am very fond of opera and musicals Collecting old copper objects and kilim rugs. I am a huge collector- my house looks like a museum.

2. How did Turkish archaeology change in the last two decades?

We have many more specialists in Turkey nowadays- Turkish students of archaeology can now study for example zooarchaeology, archeobotany, chipped stone industry and so on, they can specialize in their subject. I suppose I belong to the wave of archaeologists from last decade who had knowledge about little bit of everything.

Nowadays, you see archaeologists specializing. However, I believe that the best way is somewhere in the middle- to have something that you devote your skills to (a topic for example), but to have basic training in other fields as well and to be able to think about other topics- not to be narrow minded and see only what I am interested in.

Coming of digital era had also huge impact on archaeological life in Turkey. In my days, in order to stay in touch with friends and parents at home, we had to write letters or travel just to get a phone call. Now the people have internet and cameras in their phones and they get incredibly distracted by this, taking selfies and not concentrating on the expedition life and teamwork. I hate it! In this way I am very old-fashioned. For example I feel safer when I have everything on paper, I prefer drawing to photographs. No camera can replace the unique feeling of the stone.

When you are drawing, you spend much more time on it, see everything for yourself and in detail, you have to jump into the trench. Sometimes you might notice things that you would not recognize in a photograph. Of course I can manage the computer and we take photographs in the field every day, but I do not like that - everything is becoming too technical, too quick.


Photographs by: Dominika Miarková


3. Is it becoming more difficult to get the financial support for excavations in Turkey?

It depends. Personally I can´t say it´s getting more difficult, because I have always managed to get money for the project. I work with a fairly good budget at Güvercin.

But I´d say that spending the money is becoming more complicated. The bills are checked more strictly and sometimes it is hard to buy for example food for students, although it might seem bizarre. In Turkey, paying the students of archaeology for their work is not common, but I do pay my students- a small amount, but I do. This is becoming more complicated. Also the bureaucracy has increased.

4. You have stayed in Germany for a while- is the approach to archaeology different in Western Europe compared to Turkey?

I have been in Tübingen and I have worked with German archaeologists in Turkey for many years. My observation is that in Germany people tend to be very private and individualistic. Turkish archaeologists can work and interact together and become life-long friends, for example at our department. In Germany everything is much more organized.

But I would say that in many ways, Turkish approach to archaeology is becoming more similar to European ways. Of course there are still some old-fashioned excavators in Turkey. But it is becoming less different nowadays- we are used to international collaboration and there has been a lot of influence. One of the things that has not changed is the scale of the excavations. Turkish excavations are much bigger than in Germany. Huge amount of material is removed per day, and we hire more local workers to be able to do this.

5. What is your main research focus now that the excavation at Guvercin is almost finished?

Well, I am waiting for final reports from specialists who are still analysing the collections (for example Eric Coquegniot- chip stone industry, Rosale Christi- usewear analysis on bone tools, etc.). I need to collect information from other people of the team, so that I can get everything together...

Nowadays I am responsible for administration and I am managing the whole excavation project, which of course I am able to do, but I preferred the fieldwork- I miss the times when my work was mostly about field work. After excavation of Guvercin is finished, we already have a potential place for next excavation at Güzelyurt. But here I will only act as honorary member; I will not be taking part in it actively. It will be work of my former students, who are now teachers and can do this on their own.


Ms. Gülçur was interviewed by Lenka Tkáčová.


Sevil Gülçur is a Turkish archaeologist with broad field experience from many archaeological sites in Turkey. In the 70s she joined the German archaeological team in the Keban dam reservois area- the first dam project in Turkey led by Harald Hauptmann. She gained her initial field experience at the sites Norşuntepe, Çayönü, Demircihöyük, Tepecik, Tülüntepe and Beşiktepe; and afterwards spent 3 seasons at excavations in Jordan- namely at Irbid and Basta (project led by Hans Gebel and Hans Nissen).

Influenced by her teacher Ufuk Esin, she switched her focus to Central Anatolia, and worked at famous Pre-pottery Neolithic site Aşıklıhöyük. While conducting a survey in the region, she discovered Chalcolithic site Güvercinkayası, where she started a successful long-term archaeological project despite the initial objections of her teachers.

The site Güvercinkayası is a fortified settlement on a rock, and it has been excavated by Dr. Gülçur ́s team since 1996.


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