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Ekrem Akurgal (1911-2002)

Ekrem Akurgal was a Turkish archaeologist who enjoyed an illustrious career spanning more than fifty years. One of the most prominent archaeologists of the 20th century, Akurgal is renowned as the father of Anatolian archaeology and the man who, together with his students and the educational institutions he founded, brought much of the history of the civilisations of Anatolia to light.

Born in Tulkarm in 1911 in what was then the Ottoman Empire, Ekrem moved to Istanbul with his family when he was two years old. He was descended from a line of intellectuals and religious men, some of whom had assumed the office of mufti, the highest title of the Islamic clergy. In 1935, when surnames were required in Turkey, Ekrem and his father chose ‘Akurgal’ after the legendary king of Sumer. He attended school in Istanbul, where he learned the Arabic script which he later used for his excavation field notes.

In 1932 Ekrem won a scholarship to the University of Berlin in Germany, where he studied Greek art and sculpture from 1933-1940, and was mentored by a pantheon of influential figures including archaeologist Gerhard Rodenwaldt. His subsequent career was largely spent at the University of Ankara (1941-1981) where, in 1957, he became ordinarius professor, a title of great distinction. In 1969, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

Ekrem Akurgal’s first excavation in Turkey was conducted in 1945 for the Turkish Historical Society. He excavated at Old Smyrna between 1948-1952 in collaboration with the British School of Archaeology at Athens, and again from 1967 onwards. Other successful excavations included Sinope (1951-1953); Cyzicus (1955-1957); Daskyleion (1953-1959), where he unearthed over 400 clay bullae bearing Achaemenid motifs and inscriptions in old Persian and Aramaic, and relief sculpture in the Graeco-Persian style; Phokaia (1953-1956), where he unearthed substantial architectural remains and votive deposits from a major sanctuary; Kyme (1953-1954); Ovabaymdir (1957); Pitane (1958-1965), where he located a cemetery containing undisturbed graves with deposits of Attic, Corinthian, Chiot and other pottery types; Erythrae (1969-1979), and Musgebi on the Halicarnassus peninsula (1963).

Akurgal wrote many books and articles covering all periods of Anatolian history, with an emphasis on the history of art and civilisation. In one of his most important works, Orient und Okzident(1966), Akurgal explored the effects of Eastern art on Western art, a work which stimulated great interest amongst the academic community and was subsequently published in French, Italian and English in addition to the original German edition. From the 1960s onwards, Akurgal appeared in numerous television interviews and documentaries in Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

Ekrem Akurgal passed away in 2002. A fitting obituary was written by his colleague Cosku Ozgunel: ‘Ekrem Akurgal [was] a philosopher who proved with historical and archaeological documents that Anatolian civilisations are the essence and origin of today’s Western civilisation...an archaeologist...deeply devoted to... the fields of archaeology, history and art.’


Dr Raffaele D'Amato