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An Interview with Sabine Ladstätter: On The Ancient City of Ephesus

An Interview with Sabine Ladstätter: On The Ancient City of Ephesus

Sabine Lädstatter has been the chairperson of the Austrian Institute of Archeology since 2009 and has been leading the excavations in Ephesus since 2010. Lädstatter received her archeology training in Graz and Vienna, and her first experience was in 1996, in the place where “she had been in love since forever”, Ephesus. However Ephesus is not the only area that she focuses in her studies, she had participated in many excavations in Austria and Egypt.

- Considering the significance of Ephesus, for Turkey and the world, what would you like to say about the contribution of the findings, in the process of filling the gaps in the chronology of the cultural history?

Ephesus, without a doubt, is one of the most important excavation areas in the world. In Ephesus, the history of human settlement is closely related to the natural conditions…Therefore, it is widely accepted that this region is one of the most impressive examples about the relationship and interdependency between the human beings and the environment which they live in. While natural processes, such as the alluvial filling of the ports or earthquakes affect the settlement models, the balance of the ecosystem gets corrupted with human intervention. Both of these activities created long-term consequences for the area which surrounds Ephesus. Even though it existed until the 17th-18th centuries, the micro regions of the settlements had to be continuously altered due to the environmental effects and climate changes, as well as the structural changes in the society. No other micro region has a character which stretches through some thousands of years and displays such diversity in containing different cultures and settlement models.

- What are the conclusions that you’ve reached at the end of your research in the field of archeobotanics? Have these conclusions helped you to build new arguments on the nutrition conditions and daily life, apart from the contributions of the architectural and small findings?

Thanks to our geo- and bio-archeologic approach, we’ve acquired many new results in the last few years. Archeology is becoming increasingly interested on the daily lives and living conditions of human beings. Thus, in the last 10 years, we’ve focused our investments on geologic, geographic, botanic and anthropologic studies. Now, we’re able to trace the history of Ephesus’ flora in the 8th century. Thanks to the method of core drilling, we’ve succeeded in following the traces of ash from a volcanic explosion which happened in 1630 B.C., in the island of Santorini/Thera. The effects of the Romans in the 2nd century A.D. can be seen in the emergence of the winemaking and the destruction of the forests. Ephesus, with the Roman influence, became one of the biggest cities, however this resulted in the increasing erosion and eventually the alluvial filling of the port. This is, even though it was thousands of years ago, quite impressive in terms of lack of sustainability in politics. Furthermore, we’re also confident about the nutritional system that we developed through examining the animal bones, botanic fossils and other sources, since the prehistoric ages. However we couldn’t come to a certain conclusion about whether Ephesus and Ayasuluk was abandoned because of increasing malaria cases and severe health issues, in the 17th century. One of the biggest problems of archeology is that it is hard to find financial support.

- Do you think that the financial support that you receive from the state and the private sector for your excavations is sufficient? Especially the Ephesus Foundation is making many financial contributions to your excavation, on the project basis. How would you evaluate this?

I believe that we’ve built a good system in Ephesus, in terms of financial support. The Austrian government s funding our scientific research, and the Turkish government is giving quite an important support for the infrastructure of the area. Also, there are private sponsors from Austria, U.S. and Turkey, that supports Ephesus. The Ephesus Foundation is the biggest sponsor of our restoration projects. The foundation is quite important for us. Currently, the Ephesus Foundation is funding the restoration of a mural painting in Terrace Houses II and the scientific research in the Temple of Serapis.

- A significant project in Serapeion is about the start with the Ephesus Foundation. Could you give some information about the restoration and conservation projects in the Ancient City of Ephesus?

We’ve created a three-step conservation and restoration plan in Ephesus. The first one is the strengthening of the ancient buildings with the use of traditional tools, methods, and with minimum intervention. For example, we’ve cleaned out the both sides of the Street of Curetes and the marble streets; strengthened the walls with grout and then built dry dykes to prevent erosion. This has been done by the local workers who are still the masters in building dyke walls. This project also provides jobs for the locals. This process has also been done in Terrace Houses I and the theatre. The second step is the restoration of the artworks such as the mural paintings in Terrace Houses II. The third step is maintaining the continuity of the restorations. We’ve started the project with the Temple of Hadrian and we’re willing the continue with the groundwork of the Temple of Domitian and of course with the Library of Celsus.

- Do you think that the technological developments contribute to your field, protection and promotion works? How would you describe the factors that facilitated and complicated archeology throughout the history?

Technological innovations are revolutionary for archeological research. Nowadays the documentation is being done completely in a digital environment. 3D laser scan provides many opportunities, however it is unlikely to replace the handwork. Geophysical methods is significant in research and discovery and protection of the ancient cities. We’ve made many geo-radar scans in the Ephesus region, in order to identify all the ancient sites and to prevent any constructions in the area. Awareness and protection are among the most important responsibilities of the archeologists and a relatively recent development. Fifty years ago archeologists are mainly concerned about excavating and publishing articles in scientific journals. Now it is required to unify the scientific research in a broader context. Excavation means destruction, therefore the conservation of the findings should be planned from the start. Public requests information, so PR, social media and popular publications are important. But it takes quite a time!

- An archeologist’s work, without a doubt, does not end after the processes of library, field, protection and restoration. Nowadays, the introduction of the findings to tourism is one of the most important steps of this process. Could you please mention your efforts, any positive or negative situations, and the results that you achieved, in the process of introducing Ephesus to tourism?

First of all, I’m really happy with the increasing interest on archeology. The fact that Ephesus is being visited by millions of people is the proof of archeology’s significance and attractiveness. I want to share my knowledge with people, show them the results and explain them what this is all about. Ephesus receives approx. 2 millions of visitors every year, this is a really high number for such a delicate site and it causes damage. The mass tourism is asking too much from the Ephesus archeology. Enormous numbers of visitors contributes to the fame of Ephesus and helps the scientific research to reach a broader group of people, however, it also creates an enormous pressure over the monuments. It is a tough and balancing task to unify the competitive components such as aim-oriented research, PR works and touristic promotion, without ignoring any of them. Reconsideration and widening of the visitor paths, and creation of alternative tour options are few of my suggestions. Another option could be to spread the flow of visitors throughout the day. Now the bigger groups are concentrated in the early hours, while the afternoons are relatively calm.

- Even though the material findings are the primary reference point for archeology, it eventually reaches to human beings, their minds, their traditions and spiritual worlds. Have you ever observed that there is a continuity in today’s local community, in terms of a reflection of the ancient traditions?

I think that the people of the Aegean region remains connected to their tradition, and this doesn’t surprise me at all. If you look at the Turkish monuments in Ayasuluk/Selçuk, the way that they’re made, customs and living conditions are mixed with ancient traditions. The Aydinogullari Dynasty had built their state on this magnificent past and Ayasuluk continued to be a significant commercial, cultural and religious center. Although the state and religion changed, people continued to live in the region. The new power was probably more attractive than the old structures. It is well known that most of the locals had changed their religion and adapted to the new conditions.

- Could you give some information about the unearthing works of the mural paintings in the Terrace Houses II?

Terrace Houses II is the name of the place which directly stretches to the center of the Ancient City of Ephesus and comprises four thousand square meters of land. With its well-preserved condition, Terrace Houses II, is scientifically one of the most attractive and important monuments of its kind. The beautiful floorings are partially preserved. Their well-preserved condition facilitates the analysis and classification of the floor plans, chronologic and stylistic features. Also, it is an essential source for the research about the materialist culture of the Roman Age, functional analysis and residential architecture. The mural paintings of the Terrace Houses II, is being cleaned and repaired, since 2010. It is every archeologist’s duty to protect and strengthen the findings in any excavation, since an excavation is an irreversible destruction. We’ve started to strengthen the mural paintings in Terrace Houses II by referencing from the reports that specifies their condition. The main requirements for painting to be preserved in the long-term is the stabilization of the floor and its adhesion to the ground. In another step the mural painting is cleaned from the dirt and biogenic leavings. This project has been designed as a long term project and funded for a certain amount of time, by a sponsor that funds the activities in that particular room. Their generosity is displayed in the rooms on plates. The conservation project of Terrace Houses II is a good example of cooperation between the fields of research, protection and tourism. Being a wide and vivid restoration workshop, Terrace Houses II is being visited by many visitors. The number of visitors for Terrace Houses II was over 150 thousand, only in 2013.

- The mural paintings may portray daily life, as well as symbolic expressions. Which one is dominant in Ephesus?

The theme of a painting is related to the qualities of the room. For example, in atriums, there are expensive marble mural platings, nested wells, colorful mosaics and high-quality mural paintings. The intensity of the patterns with small figures highlights that this particular room is the main part of the house. There are amazing mural paintings in a wide dining room in the first section of the Terrace Houses II. In the main part of this painting, the servants are portrayed in real-size while offering wreaths, drinks and flowers. On the red panels theatrical scenes are portrayed. On the upper belt, there is a mythological scene which portrays the legend of Philoktetes as surrounded by theatrical architecture. This kind of rooms are called “The Rooms of the. Fairies” and can be found in some of the settlement sections and they were probably used as guest greeting rooms. To be honest, it is hard to identify the specific uses of these rooms, however their location in the house and the characteristics of the mural paintings increases the possibility of that argument.

- An Ephesus-themed movie has recently been screened in the symposium. Could you give some information about the shooting process of this film? Considering the current technological developments, do you think that excavation movies or documentaries are likely to become a necessity for the archeology, as an alternative to the excavation photos?

This film is an adaptation of the book which was published by me and famous Australian photographer Lois Lammerhuber. It would be more accurate to call it “moving pictures”, rather than a film. We’re planning to display and document our works with films. It is important that this film is accurate about the archeological records, however I don’t think that I’d want a camera to record us all the time when we’re working – the big brother shouldn’t watch us all the time!

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