Art professor Owen Doonan studies ruins in Turkey

Art professor Owen P. Doonan has embarked on a research tour nearly every summer for the past 15 years to study and document ancient sites in Turkey. Doonan has traveled many miles along his journey and even published his own book “Sinop Landscapes: Exploring Connection in a Black Sea Hinterland.”

Natalia Bereznyuk

“I’ve been working in northern Turkey since 1996, long before I came to CSUN in 2003 and I’ve always taken students from different institutions and countries,” Doonan said.

Two summers ago he was able to take a group of six CSUN students to the capital city of Ankara to study excavations throughout the country. Cities they visited included the Bronze Age Hittite capital, the famous prehistoric town of Catal Hoyuk and several early Greek and Roman cities on the west coast of Turkey.

“My point was to teach students how archaeologists approach sites not only for the specific stories of each place, but so students can understand what it means to look at the things we publish and the things we write,” Doonan said.

Doonan added that last year they received a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and were then able to focus their field research on the Sinop site in northern Turkey.

“Sinop is a region that our survey has shown that was occupied as early as 10,000 years ago or maybe even older,” Doonan said.

Doonan said that the major civilization eras included the Bronze Age, the time of legendary Greek myths including the Trojan War and Jason and the Golden Fleece.

The Greek city of Sinope, which gave its name to the modern city that stands in its place, was the focus of Doonan’s most recent trip.

“My interest in all of this is to look at how a colonial power came in, founded a city and then changed the local culture and local economy in the generations after it was founded,” Doonan said.

Doonan added that on the last trip, they divided up the area being studied to find out how the different parts of the Sinope region were connected together over a long time.

Doonan said he takes specialists and experts along with him who assist in all the various areas that the team studies.

“On my team there are colleagues: Alex Bauer from Queens College, who’s a Bronze Age specialist, Ali Yaycioglu from Fairfield College in Connecticut, who is an Ottoman Turkish specialist, (and) Patricia Blessing from Princeton, who is a Byzantine specialist,” Doonan said.

Doonan works with this team of specialists in the field so they cover many different time periods.

“We choose the fields based on our interest in solving particular cultural, historical or geographical problems,” Doonan said.

When Doonan received the NEH grant, he approached the geography department about finding an advanced student to create a sophisticated database for their research.

“Matthew Conrad joined us. He designed a GIS, a geographic information system for us. We took satellite imagery, topographic maps and embedded them into that very complex geographic database,” Doonan said.

The team then used the information from Conrad’s database to choose where they would be walking on that specific day and to record their results, Doonan said.

“We sample in different clusters. It is much like a census or like a poll.  With our results, we figured there seemed to be a lot of people living in specific places in some time periods and not in others,” Doonan said.

By dating the pottery and finding out what time period different people are using the different areas, Doonan is able to tell the story of the region.

Among the fields, he said, the team finds pottery, bits of stone architectural blocks and sometime even tombstones.

“It’s all on the surface. We’re not excavating at all,” Doonan added.

Doonan said 99 percent of all that is found stays at the site.

“We count it up, we weigh it, and we take pictures and leave it there. A few things are good enough so we want to keep them for later study. Those things we leave at the museum and we have experts from France, Poland and Russia who study the pottery we picked up,” Doonan said.

Doonan’s team also did a geophysical survey at the Kale (Turkish for “castle”), as the locals call it. Doonan said he believes this is the original Greek colony site founded in 630 BC.

While studying finds from a small pre-Greek village next to the Kale, traces of pottery and buildings from other countries such as the Ukraine and Romania were found, proving the site to have been inhabited earlier than the team originally thought.

Doonan said the team will travel back to Turkey this coming summer, since the NEH grant was for three years of field research.  This time, he hopes to take three or four CSUN students with him.