Sunday, May 28, 2000

Brian Rose digs up the past

UC classics professor has spent 12 years studying artifacts from western Turkey

        Well here's an unlikely soul to be fighting crime in Turkey. Brian Rose, all 140 pounds of him, is a scholar, teacher and archaeologist whose 12 years digging up ancient Troy have put him on the world stage.

        But crime fighter? That's a new one.

        “It's to stay a step ahead of grave robbers. There are several tombs, untouched for 2,500 years and rich with artifacts in an aristocrats' cemetery near Troy.

        “They are valuable to us because of the historical context. They're valuable to looters because of the black market for antiquities.

[photo] BRIAN ROSE
(Enquirer photo)
        “The looters come in with front-loaders and destroy tombs, looking for gold. We try to get there first.”

        So come June the 43-year-old UC classics professor packs his bags and heads to western Turkey to spend the 13th of a 15-year collaboration with Dr. Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tubingen, Germany.

        It's a project that has landed coverage in National Geographic,the New York Times and a special on the Learning Channel.

        The attention is because of the importance of the finds, such as a mound of rubble that suggests that the Trojan War of Homer's Iliad, long thought to be fiction,may have been real.

        Dr. Rose won't call the war a sure thing, but his findings point that way.

        Just need to clear some rubble. Always more.

        “The problem with a site like Troy is it was inhabited for 4,500 years, 3,000 BC to 1,400 AD. There are nine cities built in layers on top of each other. So, we isolate a square and dig down.”

        He spends his days sweating out temperatures of 100 degrees and higher, crawling around a dustbowl, digging with spoons, brushing fragments with paint brushes.

        On a typical day he's awake by 5 a.m. and is eating breakfast by 5:20. The crew assembles at 5:45 and digs until 10 a.m., when it's time for a second breakfast. Then it's digging again until 2 p.m., lunch, and cataloging finds until early evening.

        Food is mostly lamb, rice and eggplant, beds are wobbly cots in a wooden bunkhouse and showers are, well, useless because of all the dust.

        “But I think of it as my second home. I've spent three months a year there for the last 20 years. Manfred and I direct the project. We hire workers and cooks, make sure the tents are set up, supervise the crew and handle crises. Like snakebites.”

        Excuse us?

        “A worker digging in a trench was bitten. We took him to the hospital, but we had to kill the snake and take it, too, because none of us knew if it was poisonous. We also run workers to the hospital at night; they drink and fall down a lot.

        “But on good nights, Manfred and I sit around with our guitars and play old Simon and Garfunkel songs. You can't believe how much the staff hates "The Boxer.'”

        Dr. Rose will do as much digging this year: “We'll analyze finds, bones, figurines, pottery, and try to make sense out of how they lived in the Byzantine age (300 AD to about 1,500 AD). We'll also work with museums on the tombs I mentioned.

        “And I'll do some work in Roman houses and a sanctuary associated with some mystery cult. We're trying to figure out which gods were worshiped there.”

        Fine. But first, a few questions.

        The most exciting find for me would be ...

        In a sense, I think I already had it at Aphrodisias (southwest Turkey). I found a building with 100 life-size reliefs of Roman emperors Augustus, Nero, Claudius and Tiberius. I'd love to find one at Troy.

        One piece of knowledge I really want ...

        Is how to stop looters.

        I'm resigned to the fact that we'll probably never know ...

        All the gods worshiped in the sanctuary I'm studying. We call it the west sanctuary until I figure out to whom it was dedicated.

        After Troy ...

        All other sites are spoiled because it's so phenomenally beautiful. And you get so caught up in the romance of the Trojan War that other places pale.

        The worst part of a summer dig ...

        Midnight trips to the emergency room and trying to figure out if the snake was poisonous. Snakes are something I've never given a thought to.

        The best part ...

        Is finding something that really does revolutionize our understanding of the ancient world. Like this sanctuary — I want to find an inscription telling us, but we're not likely to because it would have been marble and in later periods they used the marble in Christian churches.

        People always ask ...

        If I ever have any discomfort when I excavate tombs and take skeletons out. I did when I was 16-years-old, but not since then.

        I'd like to visit ...

        Samarkand in Uzbekistan (formerly part of the Soviet Union). It seems even more magical than Troy. There's a 15th century site I like.

        Another project I'd like to tackle ...

        The tombs I mentioned earlier. I also wouldn't mind being one of the archaeologist supervisors in Istanbul as they dig the subway tunnels. The city goes back to the sixth century BC, so I know there's plenty there.

        When some archaeologist excavates my home in 1,000 years, he'll be surprised to find ...

        A copy of Ethel Merman's disco album. It's too out-there not to treasure.


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