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Penn Museum archaeologist Dr. C. Brian Rose, Director of Excavations at Gordion (Photo from Tom Stanley/Penn Museum).

For the first time, a site actively under excavation by the Penn Museum in Turkey has been designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site. 

Gordion is an ancient city in Turkey with a history spanning over four millennia. The city played a pivotal role in the ancient trade routes connecting the Aegean and Mediterranean regions with the Near East, bringing the Romans, Persians, and Assyrians in contact with the city during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The excavation of the site began in 1950 under Rodney Young, former curator-in-charge of the Penn Museum's Mediterranean Section. Since 2007, the Gordion Archaeological Project, an international collaboration of conservators, Penn students, and field experts led by Project Director C. Brian Rose, has worked with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara to excavate and conserve the site. 

In 2020, Rose, along with the Turkish Cultural Ministry, submitted a 366-page nomination for the UNESCO designation. This year, at the 45th World Heritage Committee meeting held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Gordion was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"This is a very exclusive list. We are the 20th site in Turkey to have been added,” Rose said. 

It took over 10 years after Gordion's initial nomination in 2012 for the historic site to receive this designation. Among other challenges, last year’s scheduled World Heritage Committee meeting was postponed until 2023 due to widespread opposition to holding the meeting in Russia. 

On Sept. 18, with an audience of approximately 2,000, Gordion was approved as a UNESCO site without any objections or amendments.

"It's obviously very prestigious. It's a recognition of the historical importance of the site as the capital city of the kingdom of Phrygia," Gareth Darbyshire, Gordion Project and Penn Museum archivist, said.

The UNESCO designation not only highlights Gordion's importance within the region and Turkey but also underscores its global significance. Over seven decades of excavating the site, archaeologists have discovered some of the world's earliest decorated stone mosaics and a 740 BCE wooden building. The archaeological project has also shed light on ancient construction methods, defensive architecture, and the religious practices of the Phrygians.

Moreover, the excavations have substantiated the historical existence of King Midas, known for the "golden touch," who ruled Gordion during the 8th century BCE. The findings also corroborate the tale of Alexander the Great's visit to Gordion in 333 BCE, where he famously unraveled the enigmatic "Gordian knot."

"UNESCO inscription is a wonderful acknowledgment of the site's major significance and the incredible work our researchers and Turkish partners have done there for more than seven decades,” Williams Director of the Penn Museum and Avalon Professor in the Humanities Christopher Woods said.

On Dec. 6, Rose will hold a virtual lecture, "Archaeology in Action: Excavating the Royal City of Midas,” with online registration available. He will discuss Gordion, the excavation's history, and the journey to protect its cultural heritage