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Archaeologists Who Contributed to Today's Understanding of Ancient Troy

Updated on October 10, 2017

The city of Troy is primarily known for being the setting for the Trojan War, a famous war that is encapsulated within the epic Homer's 'Iliad.' The story is primarily a struggle between the Trojans and the Spartans, a war that began with the kidnapping of the Helen of Troy. With the inclusion of gods and the fantastical scenes within the Epic, the tale was mostly seen as what it sounds, a tale. However, numerous archaeologists have attempted to challenge the perception of the Trojan War being merely fictional. Archaeologists such as Wilhelm Dorpfeld and Manfred Korfmann who have in their conquest to prove the accuracy of Homer’s Iliad have excavated the historical city of Troy, which exists in Hisarlik. Dorpfeld had excavated the site in strata to uncover individual cities. Through magnetic surveying, Korfmann had uncovered artefacts that contributed to the understanding of Troy and the Trojan War.Through their excavations, it is inevitable that we all now have a greater understanding of Troy today.

According to archaeological and historical findings….it is now more likely than not that there were several conflicts in and around Troy at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

— Manfred Korfmann ‘Was there a Trojan War?’, Archaeology, Vol. 57, No. 3, May/June 2004.

What was the City of Troy?

Troy, with its 4,000 years of history, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The first excavations at the site were undertaken by the famous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1870. In scientific terms, its extensive remains are the most significant demonstration of the first contact between the civilisations of Anatolia and the Mediterranean world. Moreover, the siege of Troy by Spartan and Achaean warriors from Greece in the 13th or 12th century B.C., immortalised by Homer in the Iliad, has inspired great creative artists throughout the world ever since.

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Who was Whilhelm Dorpfeld (26 December 1853 – 25 April 1940) ?

Wilhelm Dörpfeld was a German architect and archaeologist, a pioneer of stratigraphic excavation and precise graphical documentation of archaeological projects. He is famous for his work on Bronze Age sites around the Mediterranean, such as Tiryns and Hisarlik (the site of the legendary city of Troy), where he continued Heinrich Schliemann's excavations. Dorpfeld took an interest in advocating the legitimacy of Homer's epics, as shown through his extensive excavations within Troy.Dorpfeld studied at the Academy of Architecture (Bauakademie) in Berlin, 1873-76. In 1877 he became an assistant at the Olympia excavations under Richard Bohn and Friedreich Adler (whose daughter he later married).There Dorpfeld developed the method of dating ancient archaeological sites based on the strata in which objects were found and the type of building materials.

During the period in which he lived archaeologists did not consider the legitimacy of 'The Iliad' due to its fantastical elements and the clear issues in the epic's reliability. Homer wasn't considered a reliable source of evidence for numerous reasons including the fact that he was blind, his works were contradictory and the way the epic was told orally, which meant it was susceptible to change, just like a case of the Chinese whispers. However, while most of Dorpfeld's claims were rejected over time by archaeologists, the main idea that Troy was indeed a real place is accepted. Overall, his scientific techniques and willingness to study these historical sites did not only renew public interest in the mythology and culture of Ancient Greeks but it was significant to our understanding of Troy today.

Wilhelm Dorpfeld

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Archaeologist, Dorpfeld had greatly contributed to the understanding of Troy. This is predominantly due to the fact that through his excavation with an amateur archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann in 1882 had uncovered nine separate cities above another within Hisarlik and identified each level of Troy to its age of reign, (Troy I-IX). Dorpfeld began working on the Troy site in 1882 identifying the strata from which objects were taken and generally organising the excavation. He also corrected many of Schliemann’s conclusions including the shaft burial sites of Mycenae as well as preventing Schliemann from destroying parts of the upper layers where he believed that Troy was.

To illustrate through his excavation he had discovered wide streets, large houses, defensive walls, watchtowers, citadel walls. Dorpfeld and Schliemann had different views regarding which level of Troy was Homer’s Troy. Where Schliemann believed level 2 is Homer’s Troy, Dorpfeld arguably alleges that Troy VI was the correct level. This is due to the great amount of evidence found which matches and corresponds with the portrayal of Homer’s Troy in 'The Iliad.'

Due to this he had divided Troy into nine individual layers wherein which along with Schliemann he had argued the ninth layer was the Homeric Troy since tall limestone walls, artefacts such as Mycenaean pottery were discovered within the site and due to the fact the city was larger than the others that were identified in Hisarlik.

Evidence in Troy VI

Troy VI (c.1700-1250 BC) was rebuilt again in the middle bronze age. The central part of the city was a large acropolis surrounded by large thick stone walls and large sections gates, which is described in the Iliad. There were grand elaborate houses with wooden pillars supporting the stone roofs and elegant features to the city which also matches the descriptions in the Iliad; also the city was rebuilt with large buildings similar to Mycenae and Tiryns.

The level of sophistication matches the advancement depicted in Homer’s Iliad for there was an advancement in masonry and engineering; great walls, towers, gates and palace complex. Streets show town planning and new pottery styles of grey Minyan Ware, well-made bronze weapons and large storage jars.

There were Mycenaean pottery and imported ivory indicating trade and this also reflects on how Troy commanded a powerful position overlooking the Bosporus. The rulers of the city would have had great control over the shipping that passed through the straits and could have possibly taken tolls from all who passed. In one part of the wall, a gateway had been discovered that was later blocked up with uncut stones. This could perhaps be the gate through which the Trojan Horse was dragged.

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However, Dorpfeld hadn’t acquired enough archaeological information to suggest this as true since modern archaeologists have argued that Troy VII was, in fact, the city in which Homer had described. Therefore in regards to creating understanding and knowledge towards the context of Troy and the Trojan war, Dorpfeld hadn’t provided a consistent amount of reliable information towards the basic history of Troy or the Trojan war as most of his efforts were towards proving Homer’s 'Odyssey' was in fact based on real places.

Despite matching evidence, it was determined that the walls of Troy VI were not burnt down as is said to have occurred in 'The Iliad' when Troy was conquered by Greece but in fact, it collapsed due to an earthquake. Nevertheless, there is an arguable theory explaining this. The walls of Troy were believed to have been built by Poseidon (the Greek God of seas and earthquake.)

The Trojan horse could have been a metaphor for Poseidon who was also associated with horses. “The suggestion is that Homer knew that the city he was describing had been destroyed by an earthquake,” Cline, an archaeologist says “But that’s not how you want to end your monumental saga – with a whimper. “So he concocted the idea of a Trojan horse”

Although he hadn’t uncovered much information in regards to the overall events that took place in Troy, he had contributed to the present understanding of Troy through the way he had made it clear that Trojans used limestone to create walls, fashioned in Mycenaean pottery and had identified each level of Troy to its age of reign, (Troy I-IX) which allowed scientists to furthermore interpret and chronologically date artefacts discovered within the site.

Who was Manfred Korfmann?

Manfred Osman Korfmann (April 26, 1942, in Cologne – August 11, 2005, in Ofterdingen, Baden-Württemberg) was a German archaeologist. Manfred Korfmann was a German archaeologist who received his doctorate in ancient history and archaeology in 1970. In 1982 he joined the faculty of Tubingen University as a professor of prehistory and archaeology. After receiving an exclusive excavation license from the Turkish Government in 1988, Korfmann led an international team to excavate the historic site of Troy. Manfred Korfmann is considered one of the most recent archaeologists to make dramatic discoveries in this site, among them the greater dimensions of Troy, evidence of battle and the possible outcome of this conflict.

What Korfmann discovered

One of Manfred Korfmann’s earliest discoveries was at the city’s gateways. He found that the gateways seemed to have no way of being securely shut. Korfmann began to wonder why the gate was open and how they could have defended themselves in the event of an attack. His next thought was that there must be a source of protection in outer defences that had not been found yet. In his excavation outside the citadel walls, he revealed buildings from the late Bronze Age (probably between 1700 and 1200 BC) that he believed to be the beginning of a lower city.

He found skeletons (one being a younger girl that was half buried), arrowheads (implying close-quarter fighting) and collections of slingshots. Korfmann realised that excavating with shovels and smaller tools was not going to be the best method, leading him to conduct a magnetic scan of the area. The scan revealed a grid of buried walls, wide streets and buildings, which he decided came from a period much later than the Bronze Age, possibly belonging to classical Greek and Roman times. Lastly, on the scan, a faint line that traced around the citadel was noticed by Korfmann and once dug up, was found to be a wide ditch possibly created to stop enemy chariots.

He also revealed a cave full of fresh water, providing an insight as to the whereabouts of the Trojan’s water source. This discovery then created evidence as to how the Trojans could have survived during the duration of a war. Through his investigations of the site, Manfred Korfmann concluded that because Troy was able to control shipping and make trade easy, it was a prosperous and powerful centre of commerce, therefore being a prime target for invasion.

Spearheads from Troy

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Archaeologists such as Korfmann to an extent contributed to the intellectual development and understanding of Troy. Korfmann as an individual had been able, under his excavation to reveal most of the city of Troy 1980s, estimated the area of Troy VII at 200,000 square metres (50 acres) or more and put its population at five to ten thousand inhabitants, had excavated arrowheads and had raised speculation about the possibility of the Hittite civilization to have interacted with Troy. To illustrate this had been portrayed through the uncovered pottery and architectural uncovered made from Anatolia to suggest that the Hittite civilisation had some relation with the Trojan civilisation. As a result, this provides evidence towards the Hittite diplomat and the Iliad as it had suggested a truce between the Hittite civilisation and Prince Alexander (Paris).

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Furthermore, Korfmann had suggested the possibility that the Trojan society may have been under control of the Hittite people at one point of the duration of the ancient civilization, however the theory was predominantly based on guesswork and estimations leaving room for unreliability by archaeologists such as Dr. Gustav Adolf Lehmann of the University of Göttingen and Dr. Franz Starke of Tübingen. Therefore the contribution that Korfmann had towards the historical events that taken place in Troy or the Trojan war has been relevantly successful due to the fact that he had uncovered weapons within the 12th century BC level of strata to contribute to the Iliad’s claims of there being a Trojan War and raised speculation to whether Troy was in fact taken under control of the Hittites as well as proving that both civilizations had interacted with each other.

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