Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal is Turkey’s most
prominent archaeologist, whose research is closely followed in the world of historical and
archeological studies. During his long university career he trained hundreds of the young
archaeologists desperately needed by a country overflowing with ancient sites left by
scores of civilizations over the past twelve thousand years.
As well as lecturing at Turkish and foreign universities, Akurgal has engaged in
innumerable excavations with his students, publishing the results in hundreds of papers
and several books. Like all truly great men, Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal is a thinker of broad
perspective, who does not focus merely on revealing and interpreting the evidence of past
civilizations, but takes a close interest in modern society, seeking the historic roots of
current events and proposing solutions for present and future.
Akurgal’s work has given him insight into the way in which societies have influenced
one another throughout history, so generating constant change. He points out that just as
we must take the influence of the Hittites, Phoenicians and other civilizations into
account when examining Greek art, so we cannot ignore the Persian, Arab, Greek, Roman and
Byzantine influences on Anatolian Turkish culture and art. Every culture absorbs borrowed
elements and reinterprets them within its own cultural framework, and this is process
which has been repeated over and again in Turkey. In this sense, the modern Turks are the
cultural descendants of the Hittites, Urartians, Phrygians, Lydians, Carians, Lycians, and
the many other peoples who have inhabited this well trodden land.
Akurgal was born on 30 March 1911 on his grandfather’s farm at
Tulkarem in Haifa, now part of Israel. The famous ruins of Caesareia were very close to
the farm, and one day when his mother was wandering around the ruins she discovered an old
Turkish coin dating from the fifteenth century. Having attached some blue beads to divert
the evil eye, she pinned this coin on baby Ekrem’s jacket. This was a mere coincidence,
but an interesting one for a child who was to spent his life searching for artifacts
amidst ancient ruins.
In 1913 the family moved to Istanbul, and apart from a brief interlude living on
another farm at Akyazý near Adapazarý, remained there. Ekrem Akurgal completed his
primary and secondary education in Istanbul, and went on to study law. A year later he won
a scholarship to Germany, and abandoning law he spent the next nine years in Berlin
studying archaeology, history and Turkish art, where he received his Ph. D..
Armed with his doctorate Akurgal returned to Turkey, and in 1941 began teaching at the
Department of Archaeology at Ankara University. He became a professor in 1957. In 1958 he
was appointed dean of the faculty, and took the opportunity to establish a new library.
Akurgal has been awarded several medals and orders in recognition of his achievements
by diverse countries ranging from the United States to Russia. Although he retired in
1981, Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal has continued his writing and research at an undiminished
pace. Indeed, he declares that retirement has left him even more time for research than
before. He now lives in Izmir on the Aegean coast, close to Bayraklý where he led his
first excavation in 1948.
- Principal Works:
- Griechische Reliefs aus Lykien. (Deutsch. Arch. Inst) Berlin 1942
Remarques Stylistique sur les reliefs de Malatya. Istanbul 1946
Späthethitische Bildkunst (Ankara University). Ankara 1949
Phrygische Kunst (Ankara University). Ankara 1955
Die Kunst Anatoliens von Homer bis Alexander. W.de Gruyter, Berlin 1961
Die Kunst der Hethiter. Max Hirmer, München 1961 (english and italian 1962)
Orient und Okzident. Holle, Baden-Baden 1966 (english 1968, french 1969)
Treasures of Turkey (in collaboration with Mango and Ettinghausen). Skira
Geneva-New York 1966 (french, german, italian and spanish)
Urartäische und Altiranische Kunstzentren. Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 1968
- Achaeologist Extraordinary - Ord. Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal
By Sabahattin Batur
Photo by Ýsa Çelik