From Realtà Mapei International n° 81 - 10/23/2020

When ancient history is stronger than war

Interview with Prof. Nicolò Marchetti 

During your last interview for Realtà Mapei International in 2015, you talked about how busy you were working on the Karkemish archaeological park, a site on the Euphrates to the east of Gaziantep. What has happened since then?

During our latest eighth excavation campaign, we finally inaugurated the archaeological park on 13th July, 2019 for the local public.

It may seem like it has taken a long time, but the site is vast – 100 hectares – and it lies within the perimeter of a military base and former minefield and thus to obtain all the required permits, implement all the safety measures requested by the Turkish government and, above all, guarantee the sustainability of such a complex operation, required an enormous effort by all the institutions involved.


The areas where you have been working – from Tilmen Höyük to Karkemish – are literally on the border between Turkey and Syria. What is it like to work in these conditions?

The events we have witnessed at first hand, such as guerrilla warfare and wars (on 24th August 2016 Turkey invaded the strip on the Syrian side occupied by ISIS, the patrols of which used to pass within a few metres of us beyond the barbed wire along the border), may suggest that working in such a context would have been an almost impossible task. The reality on the field, however, is that the constant support and trust we have received from the local population and authorities have made our stay there not only safe and effective, but have always given us the motivation to overcome all the obstacles without ever finding ourselves in dangerous situations.


Over the years, have you ever had at your sites looting and illegal excavations ultimately feeding the antiquities market?

Since 1989 I have worked in many countries in the Near East and the relationship with the local populations has always been the key to understanding their needs, priorities, values and fears: when you manage to establish a structural relationship with them, this type of problem is eliminated at the root.
As far as Tilmen is concerned, there has never been any damage to the park or to any of its numerous installations. This is an almost unique case and it is due to the commitment of the various social groups visiting or living around the site.
At Karkemish, since it is a military base, the only potential danger for the site is from the military installations themselves. Over the years, however, we have managed to establish a good relationship with the commanders of the base, and while we may have to start all over again every year, in the end it is something that works. The disaster taking place in Syria, however, is of an inconceivable gravity, also as far as its cultural heritage is concerned. In 2019 we started a new Iraqi-Italian archaeological project at Nineveh, seriously threatened by the urban expansion of Mosul which has already destroyed more than a third of that immense capital city of ancient Assyria: we couldn’t simply stand back and ignore this daily destruction when the Iraqi government invited us to excavate, restore and repair the damage caused between 2014 and 2017 by the systematic destructions carried out by ISIS to the site, which is now being further threatened by the reconstruction process. We now need to collaborate at international level: it may seem like a herculean task, but together we can succeed.

The site of Tilmen Höyük, with its archaeological park, is the subject of your latest publication which you dedicated to Giorgio Squinzi and Adriana Spazzoli. What memories do you have of them?

Boundless joviality and energy, enthusiasm and respect for Italy’s contribution in the field of cultural heritage, a desire to contribute their own excellence for conservating our shared past. Whenever I visited Mapei’s headquarters in Milan, Adriana Spazzoli was always on fire with a never-ending barrage of questions, comments, projects and proposals, you felt welcomed with a warmth which, to be fair, made her and the both of them really unique. It was something I could also see quite clearly through the relationship they had with the managers and employees at Mapei, there was this really close bond, especially on a human level, their interest was real and ran deep.


Is it possible to visit the archaeological parks at the moment? And are there still digs underway?

The answer is yes to both questions. The site of Tilmen has been open to the public since 2007 and Karkemish since the summer of 2019. Maintenance at both sites is carried out constantly by our Turkish-Italian expedition. Security and the infrastructures for visitors, on the other hand, are the responsibility of local authorities. Excavations are only being carried out now at the site of Karkemish in Turkey – every year there are finds that change the way we look at the history of the ancient Near East, while unearthing new monumental Hittite architecture (which then needs to be conservated) – and now, of course, the Nineveh project in Iraq has started as well.


You started collaborating with Mapei at the time of the archaeological digs in Jericho, followed by those at Tilmen Höyük and Tasli Geçit Höyük, and more recently at Karkemish. How important has the support provided by Mapei Technical Services been in helping to select the best products?

During my visits to Mapei SpA’s Research & Development Lab to meet Pasquale Zaffaroni, Mapei Group’s Product Manager of the Building Line, we analysed the physical characteristics of the ancient materials that needed to be conservated (from extremely fragile, sun-dried bricks made from mud and straw, to soft limestone or very hard basalt cracked by the flames of ancient fires, right up to almost imperceptible layers of coloured mortars). Then, while going through the range of Mapei products available, we discussed the specific performance properties required for our needs. And almost every time we carried out testing in the field, there was a successful outcome starting from the very first application, and this was always thanks to the hard work of the Mapei Technical Services.


Did the Mapei products fulfill your requirements to carry out interventions based on full respect of the ancient structures?

From bonding the basalt orthostats in the royal palaces and temples with ADESILEX PG2 adhesive, to the consolidation of rough bricks and mortars and the filling of potentially unstable gaps in the ancient walls with products from that incredible line which is MAPE-ANTIQUE, to a myriad of other micro-solutions we managed to define thanks to the Mapei range, we have always been at the cutting-edge of conservation work on structures dating back thousands of years.


An Integrated Approach for an Archaeological and Environmental Park in South-Eastern Turkey”, published by Springer, provides an account of the important archaeology site of Tilmen Höyük in Turkey

Nicolò Marchetti, Giovanna Franco, Stefano Francesco Musso and Maria Benedetta Spadolini provide an overview of the project to renovate and redevelop the site with the help of products supplied by Mapei. 

The authors (and Prof. Marchetti in particular) decided to dedicate their book to Giorgio Squinzi and Adriana Spazzoli. Thanks to Mapei’s help, cutting-edge products and technical assistance were constantly available for renovating the site and maintaining the constructions that came to light.

La copertina del libro sull’importante sito archeologico turco di Tilmen Höyük dedicato a Giorgio Squinzi e Adriana Spazzoli - Nicolò Marchetti

Realtà Mapei Tags: #insights #culture #historical

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