Exploring a Portal to the Past

A Queens College archaeologist’s team is probing   origins of an ancient Greek settlement in Turkey.

With its rich soil and abundant natural resources the Sinop region in Turkey was the earliest Greek colony on the Black Sea coast, dating back to the seventh century B.C. The Black Sea region played a key role as the breadbasket of the Greek and then the Roman Empire.

Queens College assistant professor of archaeology Alexander Bauer has been surveying that region as part of the Sinop Region Archaeological Project (SRAP) with archaeologist Owen Doonan of California State University-Northridge. Last summer, Bauer and his team discovered what is believed to be the location of the early Greek colony in the Sinop region, situated inside the walls of the city of Sinop. In addition to shedding light on early Greek colonial period, Bauer hopes the site will illuminate life in the region before the Greeks took over.

“We want to know what communities lived there before the Greeks arrived, what kind of infrastructure and connections existed that the Greeks took advantage of,” says Bauer, who started working on the project in 1997 while a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania and became its associate director in 2003. “With colonization there’s always a lot of local resistance and the colonizers strategizing because they want to work with what’s there. It’s the complexity of the colonial process that we hope to discover.”

Last summer Bauer took a Queens College anthropology student, Barbara Hsu, to help out with the five-week survey, sponsored by a National Endowment of Humanities Research Grant. He’s bringing more Queens College students to participate in the project this summer and hopes to secure permits that will allow him to excavate the new site in the coming years.

“What’s interesting about the Sinop region, in particular, is that it’s a little peninsula that juts out to the Black Sea and is cut off by the Pontic Mountains,” says Bauer. “It’s a lush agricultural area, cut off from any place inland — a unique spot in the Black Sea. Prior to Greek colonization, it’s unknown and that’s one of the things we’re trying to put together.”

Team members investigate ruins of a roadside inn.

Team members study pottery found in the area.

Assistant professor Bauer leads the group across the Sinop landscape.

Team members investigate ruins of a roadside inn.