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Archaeologist Brian Rose Makes His Troy Finale

Date: Oct. 14, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos: Courtesy of Troy Excavation Project, Canakkale Museum (Turkey)
Archive: Research News, Profiles

Ancient golden jewelry, hidden sculptures of famous emperors and other historic treasures - these are the finds that make archaeology such an exciting profession for filmmakers to feature in movies. They're the same kind of discoveries that have filled the career of UC archaeologist Brian Rose.

Brian Rose with Hadrian statue

Rose is a professor of classics in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. For the last 15 years, he has headed UC's Troy Excavation Team, spending the summers with colleagues and students in the hot, dry climate of western Turkey. The UC team has partnered with the University of Tuebingen in Germany, where Manfred Korfmann, the Troy project director, serves as a professor of archaeology.

Their quest is to uncover the truth about the Trojan War and the face so beautiful it launched a thousand ships. With the help of Homer's epic poetry, these are stories that still captivate us, even after more than 3,000 years.

At Troy, Rose continues a UC tradition that started with UC archaeologist Carl Blegen in the 1930s. While following in the footsteps of Blegen, Rose dug his own mark onto the archaeological landscape. The BBC, The New York Times, Archaeology magazine and other major outlets have featured his work.

When he first decided to join his German colleague, Manfred Korfmann, in picking up where Blegen left off, acquaintances tried to dissuade him. "They all said, 'Don't do this. There is nothing left to find," Rose says.

The archaeologist, who just finished his final season at Troy, now firmly believes the work of the last decade-and-a-half has proven them wrong. As Rose bids farewell to Troy, he looks back on the achievements of the last 15 years with satisfaction and pride.

Gold necklaceWhile not as glamorous as the infamous Treasures of Priam taken away by Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century, the Troy discoveries by Rose and his team have not been without some glitter and glamour of their own. Some of the most eye-catching finds were uncovered outside the settlement of Troy. Rose assisted Turkish colleagues in restoring and publishing the discover of an ancient sarcophagus that retains its original paint and color in a way that is unsurpassed by any other known marble coffin of the classical Greek period. At another nearby burial tomb for a teen-aged girl, Rose helped Turkish museum curators preserve and study a cache of gold jewelry that had been hidden for 2,500 years. The treasure included a necklace adorned with red glass beads and 16 golden acorns (left), another necklace with gold links bearing floral designs, four matching pairs of gold earrings and two bracelets in a deer motif. <

"Although we've excavated a great deal on the mound of Troy itself," Rose suggests, "I think the Troy project will be remembered most for our work in the Lower City, which extends for about 1,200 feet south of the mound, and especially for what we've learned about the defensive system of the citadel during the phases around 2500 B.C., the second millennium B.C. and the third century B.C."

The team uncovered evidence of a wooden palisade for the second settlement, which existed in 2500 B.C. They also found a ditch cut out of the bedrock for the settlement that is most frequently associated with the Trojan War stories told in the Homeric epics (1800-1250 B.C.). The trench may have been a defense against chariots. Another defensive structure -- a sizeable limestone fortification wall - protected the city in the classical period and has now been dated to the third century B.C.

Their work also has shown that Troy, called Ilion by the Greeks and Ilium by the Romans, flourished from about 3200 B.C. until 1350 A.D. - much longer than previously thought. Rose and Korfmann found evidence that the settlement sprawls over an area much larger than earlier scholars assumed. A German scholar, however, has attacked their theory.

"What I'm especially proud of is that we have been able to reconstruct, for the first time, what life in the city was like during a period of roughly two thousand years, circa 1,000 B.C. to 1300 A.D.," Rose says.

The excavation team also put in new tourist paths so that visitors will have access to structures that have been preserved during the recent dig. "We have tried to focus on making the site more accessible to visitors," Rose says.

Most of Rose's work at Troy has focused on the Greek and Roman periods. Romans believed that the stories of the Trojan War were true and reconstructed the city of Ilium where they believed the original Troy once sat. The new excavations have shown that the Roman city was laid out on a grid of streets, with houses, water systems, a temple dedicated to Athena for religious feasts and sacrifices, a theater that provided a setting for Trojan tales and other plays to be performed, plus a council house for civic meetings. The UC-Tuebingen team worked to conserve what remains of these structures so that for years to come tourists will be able to view them.

Rose with Augustus sculptureRose drew most of his headlines in 1993, when his students uncovered a larger-than-life sized statue of Roman Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117 to 138 A.D., and in 1997 when they unearthed a sculpture of the head of Augustus (right), the first Roman Emperor who ruled at the time of Christ (31 B.C.-14 A.D.)

One of the most tumultuous times at the excavation, Rose recalls, occurred in 1999 when an earthquake rocked Turkey. Team members awoke in the night when they felt their beds trembling, although the epicenter was hundreds of miles away. The disaster disabled the region's communications system. The next day a field caught fire at Troy, consuming all the dry vegetation in its path. "Fighting the fire proved difficult because not all the phones had been repaired," recalls Rose.

As Rose bids adieu to the project that has filled his non-teaching months, he admits the undeniable evidence of the Trojan War as described in the famous epic still eludes us. Perhaps Dr. Korfmann will find the answer in his remaining years at the site, or future scholars when better technology is available, Rose says.

Rose with Augustus sculpture"What is more probable is that there were several wars conducted over several hundred years, circa 1300 to 1100 B.C., that were conflated into one war when the stories were finally written down at the end of the eighth century B.C.," he says.

The crucial find would be the Late Bronze Age cemetery in which the soldiers had been buried, Rose suggests. "Surely someday it will be found. The only question is will it be tomorrow or a hundred years from now." The Korfmann-Rose partnership has already helped to make that search more focused by finding ditches that helped to clarify the Bronze Age settlement's limits.

According to John Wallrodt, a UC classics department computer specialist who has worked at Troy, Rose has earned a reputation as one of Troy's most dedicated workers. "He's the first one at his desk in the morning and the last to leave at night. He sets the model. He gets to the dig house between 5 and 5:50 a.m. and works until 7:30 or 8 at night," Wallrodt says. The isolation of the site leaves little for evening entertainment, but Rose helps to remedy that by playing his guitar and singing.

"Brian and Manfred will sometimes sing a duet," Wallrodt continues, adding, "We joke about how many times we've heard Brian play 'The Boxer.'"

The isolation and lack of luxury - complete with spare cabins, outdoor showers and temperatures reaching up to 120 degrees, as they did this summer - don't draw complaints from Rose. He's just not much on "creature comforts," as he calls them.

Rose does admit he looks forward to at least one summer at home, after 15 summers abroad. He is still weighing options for his next archaeological undertaking.

Archaeologists Preserve Pigments of the Past

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