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Aphrodisias Regional Survey, Turkey


Director: Christopher Ratté (New York University and University of Michigan)

View of Theater of Aphrodisias and landscape beyond

Aphrodisias is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Greek and Roman periods in Turkey, famous in antiquity for its sanctuary of Aphrodite and its virtuoso sculptors. Excavations at Aphrodisias have been carried out by New York University since 1961 and have revealed an unusually well-preserved and picturesque ancient town, which makes an indelible impression on visitors and brings the civic culture of the Graeco-Roman world vividly to life.

Until recently, however, modern knowledge of ancient Aphrodisias extended only as far as the city’s fortification walls. Very little attention had been paid to the monuments outside the gates—beginning with the suburban roads and cemeteries—or to the study of the relationship between the urban settlement and its rural environs. Although the excavations had revealed one of the world’s best-preserved ancient cities, important questions about the history of the city had remained unanswered.

The Aphrodisias Regional Survey was begun in 2005 in order to investigate the interaction between human habitation and the natural environment in a 600-square-kilometer area around Aphrodisias from prehistory to the present day, especially in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Major fieldwork combining intensive and non-intensive archaeological survey and geological and geographical investigation was completed in 2009. Approximately 670 archaeological points of interest have been recorded and entered into a Geographical Information System (GIS), including tombs, farmsteads and settlements, caves, wine and olive oil presses, quarries, aqueducts and cisterns, rural sanctuaries and churches, and a network of fortified citadels and hilltop watchtowers. The work has been sponsored by New York University and the University of Michigan, with major financial support from the Leon Levy Foundation.

The excavations at Aphrodisias have made significant contributions to the history of the ancient Mediterranean city. Regional survey has extended our knowledge of the site in both time and space—providing new information about Aphrodisias and environs before and after the heyday of the city and illuminating the interaction between town and countryside in numerous ways. The results of the survey were published in 2012 in a multi-authored volume including special studies on pre-Roman and Roman tombs, pottery, geology and marble quarrying, olive-oil production, aqueducts and water supply, inscriptions, and suburban and rural churches. A shorter publication intended for general audiences appeared in 2017: The Countryside of Aphrodisias.