Kerkenes Dağ Survey and Excavations

Location: Kerkenes Dağ; Yozgat Province

Years: 1993-2011

Director: Geoffrey Summers, Scott Branting (co-director since 2005)

Participants: Françoise Summers, Wulf Schirmer (1993), Yiğit Adam (1994), Koral Ahmet (1994-1995), Ayça Akın (1994), Ebru Aksoy (1994), Nahide Aydın (1994-1995, 1999, 2005), Nilüfer Baturayoğlu (1994-1996), Richard Bayliss (1994), Menekşe Bekaroğlu (1994), Cem Berkmen (1994), Derya Çavuş (1994), Tuğrul Çakar (1994), Meliha Doğan (1994), Sermin Ersöz (1994), Ömür Harmanşah (1994-1996, 1999), Yasemin İlseven (1994), Zeynep Korkmaz (1994), Stephen Lumsden (1994), Sean Moore (1994-1995), Lewis Sommers (1994), Levent Topaktaş (1994), Elspeth McIntosh (1995-1996), Steven Beverly (1995), İbrahim Çiftçi (1995), Begümşen Ergenekon (1995), Esen Erten (1995), Hakan Kava (1995), Fatma Karamısır (1995), Valerie Muir (1995), Evrim Ölcer (1995), Lewis Sommers (1995), Levent Topaktaş (1995), Musa Özcan (2000), John French (1997), Nurdan Atalan (1999), Sten Madsen (1999), Jennifer Ross (1999), Matthew Pritchard (1999), Jennifer Stewart (1999), Deniz Kutay (1999), Peri Johnson (1999), Kim Codella (1999), Catherine Kuzucuoğlu (1999-2000), Coşkun Ölçer (1999), Mehmet Ekmekci (2000), David Stronach (2000), Claude Brixhe (2005), Peter Graves (2005), Lisa Kealhofer (2005), Ben Marsh (2005), Vicky Ioannidou (2005), Noel Siver (2005), Alison Whyte (2005), Carrie Van Horn (2005), Catherine Draycott (2005), Murat Akar (2005), Tuna Kalaycı (2005), Deniz Erdem (2005), Elvan Odabaşı (2005), Harun Muratdağı (2005), Pamela Summers (2005), Aylin Ağar (2005), Aysun Akkaya (2005), Pınar Özgüner (2005), Remi Berthon (2005), Jessie Birkett-Rees (2005), Ruth Bordoli (2005), Melissa Clissold (2005), David Collard (2005), Megan Cuccia (2005), Tasha Granger (2005), Catherine Longford (2005), Shannon Martino (2005), Kurt Springs (2005), Natalie Summers (2005), Brent Suttie (2005), Bike Yazıcıoğlu (2005), Susanne Berndt-Ersöz (2009), Fehrat Can (2009), Gabriella Carpentiero (2009), Güzin Eren (2009), Yasemin Özarslan (2009), Lucile Richard (2009), Lee Ullman (2009), Nilüfer Yöney (2009-2010), Sema Bağci (2010), Sevil Baltalı Tırpan (2010), Erdoğan Cambaz (2010), Ferhat Can (2010), Ben Claasz Coockson (2010), Jonathan Clindaniel (2010), Berrin Çakmaklı (2010), Ahmet Çinici (2010), Ali Çınkı (2010), Cengiz Doğangönül (2010), Sergey Emeliyanov (2010), Güzin Eren (2010), Sophie Hammond-Hagman (2010), Aygün Kalınbayrak (2010), Erkan Kambek (2010), Nuretdin and Pınar Kaymakçı (2010), Dominique Langis-Barsetti (2010), Anthony Lauricella (2010), Joseph Lehner (2010), Erik Lindahl (2010), John Marston (2010), Naomi Miller (2010), James Osborne (2010), Yasemin Özarslan (2010), Susan Penacho (2010), Çıngı Salman (2010), Stephanie Salwen (2010), John Scott (2010), Noel Siver (2010), Irene Sun, Ahmet Türer, Jill Waller (2010), Alison Whyte (2010)

Government Representatives: Kazım Mertek (1993-1994), Uğur Terzioğlu (1997, 2000), Dursun Çağlar (1999), Mevlüt Üyümez (1998), Ertan Yilmaz (2001), Mevlüt Üyümez (2002), Mehmet Katkat and Songul Erbay (2003), Ahmet Yazlar and Cumhur Sal (2004), Mehmet Sevim (2005), Nurretin Ozkan (2006), İsmail Sarıpınar and Erdal Yiğit (2007), Mahmut Altuncan (2008), Şaban Kök (2009), Özge Yurdakul, Kenan Sürül, and Resul İbiş (2010)

Funding: BIAA, Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, SokkiaSeza Ltd., University of Warwick, Kappadokia Robinson Lodge, National Geographic Society, British Council, Middle East Technical University, MESA AŞ, Society of Antiquaries, UC Berkeley, Yibitaş Lafarge, Joukowsky Foundation, Anatolian Archaeological Research Foundation, Yimpaş, Stahl Fund, Linda Noe Laine Foundation, Charlotte Bonham-Carter Trust, Silk Road Foundadtion of Saratoga-California, Lafarge Sağlık Eğitim ve Kültür Vakfı, Loeb Classical Library Foundation, The Anatolian Archaeology Research Foundation, John Kelly Consulting Inc., Melbourne University, Tyche Archeocommunity Foundation, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Toreador Turkey, Binks Trust, Yozgat Çimento, Yenigün, Archeocommunity Foundation, Innes Burrows Memorial Award



As a site located at the intersection of two major inter-regional routes, Kerkenes Dağ was an Iron Age site in central Anatolia with much promise, which had been first identified in 1899 and briefly excavated in the 1930s, but had not been thoroughly studied until a project was initiated there by Geoffrey Summers in 1993.  It was a massive site with defence structures that was used briefly then abandoned.  It could possibly be equated with the city Pteria, though there is no conclusive evidence for this.  The aim for the survey initially was to use balloon photography and cadastral mapping, along with geophysical survey, to map the site’s large area.  The international team was joined by students from Middle East Technical and Bilkent Universities.   The ‘blimp’ proved to be perfect for capturing low level photographs of individual buildings, whilst the hot air balloon allowed for a broader overview of the site and its environs.  These were then reconciled with the topographic plans. 

In 1994, beginning in early August, a regional survey took place with the aim of putting the site into its broader context, as well as looking at the settlement pattern in the vicinity and engaging in more balloon photography.  Four areas were surveyed, including Tilkigediği Tepe, a pre-Hellenistic Iron Age site that yielded pottery, animal bone, and charcoal; Kuşaklı Höyük, whose sherds dated it to the Early Bronze Age; Taşlık Höyük, which was first occupied in the Late Chalcolithic but which bloomed finally in the Early Bronze Age; and the Kiremitlik site, where coins, a castle, and massive amounts of pottery were found, pointing to an occupation from Hellenistic to early Byzantine times.  

Eight weeks were spent working in 1995, when the researchers were successful in a number of projects, including continuing the geophysical survey to solve outstanding problems, combining the topographic map with the geophysical plans, creating detailed plans for the two known temples (at Karabaş and within the city), as well as for the kale and church complex, and completing a regional survey within 5km radius.  Some of the new discoveries coming to light this season were that the occupation had been brief, and that some of the construction had been unfinished at the time of the site’s destruction by fire.  Plans of parts of the city were produced in autoCAD, and a first attempt at sectioning the city into zones (such as military, religious, public, and residential) was undertaken. The geomagnetic maps proved to be incredibly clear, and it was hoped to continue geophysical survey in other areas of the city.

In 1996, the original 3-year initiative was concluded and a new project planned for, in collaboration with the Yozgat Museum staff.  Their survey of the city’s gates, buttresses, and towers yielded new information and detailed plans of the gate, whilst the urban infrastructures surveyed added to a more complete map of the city.  The trenches dug in the 1930s were cleaned, and new ones were opened; this work, combined with geophysical results, showed that a destructive fire had led to the city’s destruction – prior to that it had been a thriving settlement with a variety of structures.  A significant carved ivory plaque was found and conserved.

The first phase concluded in 1997, with GPS mapping and a geomagnetic survey.  Work revealed a complete city plan of the Iron Age site (created through combining the balloon photography with the ground survey results), complete with at least 7km of defence wall with seven gates, multiple public buildings, stables, etc.  Many of the objects collected the previous season proved, upon closer observation, to be vehicle parts. 

1998 marked the beginning of a new four-year phase, whose principle aim was to reconstruct the city through geomagnetic maps and digital terrain models, and then create a 3D digital reconstruction.  In 1998 the focus was on the north end of the site.  They were able to produce a geomagnetic map of this area, and a GPS map for the each of the city gates.  A monument at Göz Baba on the mountain peak was also mapped.  A short season was undertaken in the spring as well, for the purpose of investigating an ancient route from the site to the Black Sea.  Two trenches were excavated with Yozgat Museum staff, and the geomagnetic survey indicated the existence of reservoirs and that some of the areas on the site were originally swampy.  Surface remains pointed to an important and large structure at the tip of the northern end of the city.  By the end of the 1998 season all of the city had been mapped using balloon photography, 20% of it by magnetometer, and about 25% by GPS.  Developing forms of technology meant they were able to understand the city in great detail, and that it could influence the larger field of study of the Middle Iron Age in Anatolia. 

In 1999 work continued, prioritising the remote sensing effort (which had at this point collected over 1,250,000 individual readings), the geomagnetic survey and the identification of the building at the north end, total station mapping and ground truthing, and the GIS programme, which concerned itself with integrating various data sets.  A study on the environmental impact was also begun, and the Cappadocia gate was selected for intensive clearance work, along with the ‘palace complex’ façade. The web site and archive was also maintained and updated as necessary.

Clearance and excavation continued in 2000, with the Cappadocia Gate clearance particularly yielding new information about its features and construction.  The remote sensing programme also continued its attempt to reveal more about the city without resorting to more destructive methods like excavation.  Geophysical mapping continued in the 2000 season for 30 days, and 2,400,000 individual readings were collected.  The human impact continued to be studied, and the geomorphological study conducted geo-electric profiling and cored sediments in nearby valleys.  Forty people were involved in the season’s work.

In 2001, the geomagnetic survey and the GIS programme were continued.  Some progress was also made with the electrical resistivity survey, and the GPS survey was completed.  The Cappadocia gate was reconstructed digitally.  Reconstruction work was also undertaken for pottery discovered in 2000, revealing some intentional incisions that could perhaps have represented a writing system.

The 2002 season was significant for the completion of the remote sensing survey, which covered an extensive area of the site and provided incredible detail.  Not only this, but surface and sub-surface mapping was also completed this year.  The geomagnetic survey, covering over 2km2, was also finished, leaving only the resistivity survey incomplete, though some successful results were gathered in 2002.  The colour slides from the balloon photography were scaled, mosaiced and overlayed, and the research was developed into GIS applications and transport modelling systems.  Kerkenes was given the Rolex Award for Enterprise, which provide the finances needed for the  conservation and reconstruction (at least in part) of the Cappadocian gate.  Excavation work continued on the gate and palace complex, which both revealed new structures and produced burnt timber beams which could be used for dating.

The first large-scale excavation was launched at Kerkenes in 2003, focusing on the Cappadocian gate, the palace complex, and the low, central area of the city.  One of the interesting discoveries made was a carving of a deity onto the Cappadocian gate that looked very similar to one found often in Phrygian highlands.  Other findings pointed to the need for a more extensive excavation campaign.  All in all, excavation results showed that previous geophysical surveys were largely credible, and could be trusted to a great extent.

Whilst excavation continued in 2004, it focused on the palace complex’s monumental entrance, and revealed epigraphy and sculpted fragments.  It became clear at this point that Old Phrygian writing at Kerkenes was fairly widespread.  Three new trenches were opened across three streets, and the samples collected there were subsequently sent away for micromorphological analysis. Other results pointed to further cultural connections with Phrygia.  Lectures, seminars, and colloquiums were attended and presented internationally by members of the Kerkenes team.

The 2005 season began with a 4-week resistivity survey conducted in the spring, and surveying 175 grids in total.  This made it possible to understand more about water management and to investigate the urban blocks.  Resuming in the summer, team members worked to complete excavation at the monumental entrance and plan all associated features.  Carved sandstone blocks continued to be recovered, collected, catalogued, and photographed.  Studies on various aspects of Kerkenes continued all the while.  A formal agreement in 2005 saw the project join forces with the Oriental Institute of Chicago University, and Scott Branting designated as co-director.  An outreach day was organised on 16 July and the Erdoğan Mustafa Akdağ (EMA) Foundation joined the project and constructed a visitor centre on the site.

A spring season kicked off the 2006 season with resistivity surveys conducted on the city defences and at the palace complex.  More sandstone idols were found at the Cappadocia gate, which were preserved in the necessary ways to avoid subsequent damage.  Side projects included an archaeometric study of pottery samples from Kerkenes, and animal bone identification and cataloguing.  An eco-center was created in collaboration with local artisans, students, and researchers, whilst the visitor centre hosted talks and meetings.

In 2007 a spring season of geophysical survey and GIS transportation study was undertaken.  The palace complex was surveyed by electrical resistance, revealing some structures and cell-like units.  The defences continued to be excavated and cleaned, and plans of these structures were revised based upon the findings.  A stone conservation workshop was completed in the autumn, which was successful in sorting and restoring lots of damaged architectural items.  More test trenches were excavated across former streets, and it was found that none were paved.  Work on geomagnetic dating also continued as samples were taken.

In 2008 work at Kerkenes focused primarily on remote sensing and GIS transportation research, as well as post-excavation work that would prepare things for publication.  A geophysical survey was conducted, and test trenches across the roads continued to be investigated.  Some of the sandstone idols and blocks were stored in a workshop where they could be better protected.  Plans, elevations and a digital reconstruction of the Cappadocia gate was made public, and medical studies were also undertaken.  An exhibition on Kerkenes was prepared and displayed at Yozgat Museum, and a workshop was held on Imperial Hittite sculpture and stone quarries.

Electrical resistance survey work was continued in 2009, which brought to light two large structures around the palace complex that were tentatively interpreted as ‘royal stables’.  Excavation at the Cappadocia gate also continued, revealing a portion of paved road, and the fact that timber had been used in constructing it.

A new initiative was begun in 2010 with the excavation of a large public hall, and this was also the season that the restoration of the Cappadocian gate was completed.  The public hall yielded burnt debris and some stratigraphic clues, and in the course of excavation the bodies of two victims of destruction resulting from fire were found.  Prior to this, a spring campaign of geophysical survey had been conducted, which contributed to a general understanding of the southern area of the Kerkenes.  Restoration work was undertaken on two large idols, which were subsequently installed at the Yozgat Museum.  Finally, a festival was held at the site, gathering international academics, local dignitaries, and residents.

2011 proved to be an important year for archaeology at Kerkenes, with the discovery of another victim of destruction and the subsequent finding of two largely intact sandstone sphinxes.  They had supported a beast statue that had been smashed, and work was undertaken to complete this.  Prior to the season’s close, a gold and electrum ornament was also found – perhaps a token lost by an escapee.  The plan of the Cappadocia gate was now completely revealed.  Also, a large area towards the north end of the site was surveyed by electrical resistivity, pointing to a dense cluster of buildings.  Summers retired from directorship this year, and Branting was designated as the new director.


Anatolian Studies 43: 9; 44: 15; 45: 14, 43-68; 46: 201-234

Anatolian Archaeology 1: 22-23; 2: 27-28; 3: 23-25; 4: 25-27; 5: 19-22; 6:22-24; 7:22-23; 8: 25-27; 9:22-24; 10: 18-20; 11: 34-36; 12: 32-33; 13: 31-32; 14: 30-31; 15: 29-30; 16: 26-28

Heritage Turkey 1: 27-28


Gurney, O.R. 1995: ‘The Hittite Names of Kerkenes Dağ and Kuşaklı Höyük’ Anatolian Studies 45: 69-71

Summers, G.D. 2000: ‘The Median Empire reconsidered: a view from Kerkenes Dag’ Anatolian Studies 50: 55-73

Summers, G.D. 2001: ‘Keykavus Kale and associated remains on the Kerkenes Dağ in Cappadocia, central Turkey’ Anatolia Antiqua 9: 39-60

Reports in Turkish in many volumes of the Kazı, Araştırma ve Arkeometri Sonuçları Toplantısı

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