Mini journal logo  Home Summary Issue Contents

Archaeological Digital Archiving in Turkey

Nurdan Atalan Çayırezmez, Piraye Hacıgüzeller and Tuna Kalayci

Cite this as: Atalan Çayırezmez, N., Hacigüzeller, P. and Kalayci, T. 2021 Archaeological Digital Archiving in Turkey, Internet Archaeology 58.

1. Archaeology in Turkey

All immovable and movable cultural assets in the Republic of Turkey are state property whose protection is ensured by the Turkish State under the Constitution (Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, 1982, Article 63). Definitions of immovable and movable cultural assets are stipulated in the Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property (No. 2863) (henceforth the Law; Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property, 1983). Responsibility for coordinating identification, registration, protection, conservation, restoration and maintenance of these assets is given to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (henceforth the Ministry) under the same Law. The Ministry's responsibilities mainly concern the activities and duties of museums, superior and regional councils for the conservation of the cultural property (i.e. Conservation Councils), local governorships, municipalities, provincial administrations, and unions of local administrations. The Ministry and Conservation Councils may obtain feedback and viewpoints of any other institution and organisation as well as legal stakeholders (e.g. university-led archaeological projects) relevant to the proceedings regarding the management of cultural assets.

Surveys, soundings (the preliminary assessments of the area of archaeological interest with small-size excavations) and excavations are regulated by Chapter 4 of the Law. The Ministry has the exclusive right to survey, sound and excavate with the prospect of recovering movable and immovable cultural and natural property. The Ministry issues scientific work-permits to Turkish and foreign scientific institutions (e.g. archaeological museums, Turkish and foreign universities) and individuals. All excavation and survey permits are approved by the Presidency (up until 2020 the Council of Ministers issued these permits). An authorised expert must participate in every project carried out by Turkish scientific institutions and teams on behalf of the Ministry. If the project is to be carried out by a foreign institution, one or more 'expert representative(s)' from the General Directorate for Cultural Assets and Museums (henceforth General Directorate or GD), affiliated to the Ministry, are required to be present. The permits cannot be transferred without the Ministry's consent. The Ministry holds the right to temporarily or permanently suspend the permits. The Department of Excavations of the GD publishes an annual official list of all archaeological excavation and survey activities carried out with the Ministry's permission. The Ministry does not issue permits directly to private archaeological contractors. Private archaeological consultancy companies may work with museums and relevant stakeholders within the context of rescue excavations that are often planned as part of large infrastructure projects (e.g. highways, pipelines). These companies then hire professional archaeologists to carry out the archaeological excavations and report the results.

The excavation and survey permits are valid for a year and are renewed through an annual application submitted to the Ministry by the excavation director. At the end of each excavation and survey year, the movable cultural property is classified as either 'to be inventoried' (Tr. envanterlik) or 'to be studied' (Tr. etütlük) by the experts in the excavation team and state museum affiliated with the excavation. This classification is subject to the Ministry's approval. Objects of the first type are transported to the affiliated state museum. Cultural property 'to be studied' may be stored in the excavation project depots (if available) with the permission of the museum. In the case of any project lacking secure storage facilities, these materials are also transported to the affiliated museum. There are specific regulations for the transportation and analysis of human and animal skeletons, fossils, and other specimens found during excavation and survey.

2. Documentation, Reporting and Archiving of Archaeological Fieldwork

The requirements regarding the content of the annual permit application reports and final annual reports that need to be submitted to the GD, and the procedure for submitting these reports are detailed in the Directive for Conducting Survey, Soundings and Excavations on Cultural and Natural Heritage (henceforth the Directive; see Rules & Principles Conducting Survey, Sondage and Excavations on Cultural and Natural Heritage, 2020 Turkish offical version). Guidelines of the GD for the preparation of these reports consist of templates providing only the main section titles. Although there are no clear guidelines that prohibit the submission of other information media (e.g. videos, CAD, GIS files, etc.), it is customary that both the permit application report and the final report comprise files in well-known text and image formats (e.g. jpeg, pdf). The reports are submitted to the GD by post on DVDs or portable hard drives.

The Directive stipulates that all information (i.e. all documents, photographs, drawings, daily reports as well as scientific publications relating to the archaeological permit year) concerning excavation, sounding, survey, restoration, conservation, publication, depot and office work needs to be submitted to the GD as part of the final annual reports. The GD aims to collect this information in a central database, an ongoing initiative. The Directive also stipulates that failure to submit the final report together with the required information will end in rejection of the excavation/survey permit application renewal requests made by the project director in following years. Notwithstanding the GD's demands for 'all information', there is no practice of submitting entire archives of fieldwork documentation to the GD at the final reporting stage. Instead, information submitted with the final reports contains a selected digital copy of the resources from the entire excavation/survey archive (see below). The selected corpus of information to be submitted together with the final report, however, should be fully representative of the archaeological work carried out under the permit. Regarding the annual permit application reports, besides administrative and financial information, these reports include a summary of the excavation/survey, restoration, conservation, publication, depot and office work of the previous permit year, and a detailed work programme on what is planned to be achieved in the following year. The Ministry holds the right to publish the final reports if/when deemed necessary. The Law also gives the right to publish the material recovered during excavation, sounding and survey works to those actually managing and carrying out the excavation, sounding and survey on behalf of the team and institution that received the permit from the Ministry. As such, the Ministry encourages scientific publication of the excavation and survey results by those who are actively involved in archaeological fieldwork activities.

The Directive also refers to 'excavation archives' and 'survey archives' on several occasions without providing clear guidelines about how these must be curated, documented and cared for by the excavation or survey director who is responsible for them. Neither are there guidelines on how the findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability (the FAIR Principles) of the resources in these archives can be enabled for specialists outside of the project team as well as the public. In terms of content, the archives should comprise a complete set of original analogue, and born-digital and digitised resources covering all research-related aspects of the archaeological project documentation, as well as some administrative and financial documents regarding each fieldwork season (e.g. team composition, budget). The GD can request information held in these archives through official letters written to excavation and survey directors. It is also worth noting in this context that, since 2020, building a website containing information about the artefacts and scientific data obtained during the archaeological surveys and excavations is also subject to the permission of the GD.

3. Analogue and Digital Repositories for Archaeological Resources

The General Directorate (GD) collects both analogue and digital information from the scientific excavations. The GD's physical archive comprises documents, drawings, slides, photographs and diskettes, compact discs, digital versatile discs and portable hard discs. The GD sends directives and letters to the excavation directors in order to define the analogue and digital information format to be used for recording excavation and survey information (for more information see Directive 2020).

The transformation and adoption of digitisation in the public sector, including archaeology, is part of the state Development Plans (DPs) in Turkey. The 2007-13 (9th), 2014-18 (10th), and 2019-23 (11th) DPs explicitly refer to the subjects of protecting and documenting cultural heritage as well as inventory building. Interestingly, the 10th and 11th DPs also include a clause covering the protection of heritage not only within, but also outside of the national borders of Turkey. The same DPs assert that all state inventories and any type of documentation should be transformed into digital format (State Planning Organisation 2006; 2014; 2019). Running in parallel with these developments, the Department of Information Society was founded to coordinate the e-transformation Turkey Project in 2003 (State Planning Organisation, Department of Information 2003). In 2005, 2006-10 and 2015-18, Information Society Strategy and Action Plans were published. Nevertheless, all ministries continue to have some form of independence to build their strategic plans as long as these plans are in accordance with the government's DPs and Information Society Plans. Of particular relevance, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued two strategic plans (T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı 2015-2019 Dönemi Stratejik Planı, n.d.; T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı 2020-2023 Dönemi Stratejik Planı, n.d.) and made reference to two critical digital projects for inventorying cultural heritage data: the Turkish National Immovable Cultural Heritage Inventory System (Tr. Tescilli Kültür Varlıkları Taşınmaz Ulusal Envanter Sistemi/TUES) and the Museum National Inventory System (MNIS) (Tr. Müze Ulusal Envanter Sistemi/MUES). TUES is a centralised web-based geospatial information platform. Using this web-GIS, it is possible to cross-query around 10,000 protected areas and 100,000 monuments and registered historic buildings. TUES also includes information concerning more than 500,000 decisions made by various Conservation Councils, comprising nearly 20 million pages of documents (Boz et al. 2014). MUES is the centralised database for movable objects in archaeological and ethnographic museums. The database has specific modules to store and manage information related to excavations, exhibitions, restoration and conservation processes that concern the lifecycle of objects in question. The initial phases of the project have been finalised. Currently, museum personnel are entering inventory records on objects into the database, while restoration laboratory staff are entering information about related projects. MUES modules on object excavation and exhibition processes are in progress (Atalan Çayırezmez et al. 2017; Aygün, 2018). Other than these two colossal infrastructure efforts, archaeology in Turkey has been benefiting from other digitisation initiatives, some pre-dating governmental DPs. We provide a descriptive list of some of these efforts below, grouped according to their main affiliations.

3.1 State initiatives

While governmental bodies have undertaken major digitisation efforts in the context of DPs, there have already been noteworthy digital initiatives from various governmental agencies running in parallel.

3.2 Initiatives of universities and other research institutes

Other than state-led initiatives, foreign archaeological missions in Turkey and other initiatives have been influential in digitisation efforts.

3.3 Individual efforts and commercial activities

The concern and need for heritage documentation as well as increasing know-how in digital safeguarding are setting the stage for individual projects and commercial activities in Turkey, albeit at a slow pace.

3.4 External infrastructures

Some archaeological projects in Turkey publish data using overseas open-access digital repositories, such as the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), the Archaeobotanical database of the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East (Ademnes), the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) or Open Context. ARIADNE Portal brings together existing datasets for archaeology from ARIADNE partners and includes archaeological datasets from Turkey. These repositories are important resourses as they allow us to understand the online publication practices of archaeological projects. In the next section, the results of a search of archaeological projects in Turkey will be shown.

4. Online Publication Practices of Archaeological Datasets

In order to investigate the status of online information publication in archaeology in Turkey, we compiled a list of archaeological projects that were conducted from 2017-19. The inventory contains a list of foreign and Turkish excavation and survey projects approved by Ministers of Council (Excavation and Survey Research Activities 2020). In the list, we only included projects with 'generic' permits given to projects led by Turkish and foreign universities and excluded those that were conducted by museums or fell into the category of 'rescue excavations'. In these three years, researchers conducted 167 excavations (134 Turkish and 33 foreign) (see Table 1).

Table 1: List of archaeological excavations in Turkey carried out by Turkish and foreign teams with corresponding website information
City Site Permit Holding Country URL
Hatay Aççana Höyük Turkey NA
Aksaray Acemhöyük Turkey NA
Bitlis Ahlat Selçuklu Meydan Mezarlığı Turkey NA
Manisa Aigai Turkey
Edirne Ainos Turkey NA
Kütahya Aizanoi - Çavdarhisar Turkey
Bursa Aktopraklık Höyük Turkey NA
Aydın Alabanda Turkey NA
Çorum Alacahöyük Turkey
Antalya Alanya Kalesi Turkey NA
Çanakkale Alexandria Troas Turkey NA
Erzincan Altıntepe Turkey NA
Afyon Amorium Turkey
İstanbul Anadolu Kavağı-Beykoz Turkey NA
Mersin Anemurium Turkey NA
Kars Ani Turkey NA
Hatay Antakya Hipodromu ve Çevresi Turkey NA
Balıkesir Antandros Turkey
Antalya Antiocheia ad Cragum USA
Aydın Aphrodisias USA
Antalya Arykanda Turkey NA
Aksaray Aşıklıhöyük Turkey
Malatya Aslantepe Italy
Antalya Aspendos Turkey
Çanakkale Assos Turkey NA
Van Ayanis Kalesi Turkey NA
İzmir Ayasuluk-St. Jean Kilisesi Turkey
Antalya Aziz Nikolaos Turkey NA
İzmir Bağlararası Yerleşimi Turkey
Sinop Balatlar Kilisesi Turkey NA
İstanbul Bathonea Turkey
İzmir Bayraklı Turkey NA
Muğla Beçin Kalesi Turkey
Denizli Beycesultan Höyüğü Turkey
Konya Boncuklu Hoyuk UK
Kırıkkale Büklükale Japan
Muğla Burgaz Turkey
Yozgat Çadır Höyük USA
Konya Catalhoyuk USA
Van Çavuştepe Kalesi Turkey NA
Diyarbakır Çayönü Tepesi Turkey NA
Çankırı Çorakyerler Fosil Lokalitesi Turkey NA
Balıkesir Daskyleion Turkey
Aydın Didyma Germany
Kahramanmaraş Direkli Mağarası Turkey NA
Sivas Divrigi Kalesi Turkey
Gaziantep Doliche/Duluk Germany
Kahramanmaraş Domuztepe Turkey
İzmir Efes Austria
Mersin Elaiussa Sebaste Italy
İzmir Erythrai Turkey
Bitlis Eski Ahlat Şehri Turkey NA
Van Eski Van Şehri, Kalesi ve Höyüğü Turkey NA
Çorum Eskiyapar Höyük Turkey
Muğla Euromos Turkey NA
Ankara Gordion USA
Mersin Gözlükule Höyüğü Turkey
Çanakkale Gülpınar Turkey NA
Aksaray Güvercinkayası Turkey NA
Burdur Hacılar Höyük Turkey NA
Antalya Hacımusalar Turkey NA
Elazığ Harput İç Kalesi Turkey NA
Şanlıurfa Harran Turkey
Amasya Harşena Kalesi- Kızlar Sarayı Turkey NA
Batman Hasankeyf Turkey
Çorum Hattuşa Germany NA
Tekirdağ Heraion Teikhos Turkey NA
Denizli Hierapolis Italy
Van Hoşap Kalesi Turkey NA
Muğla Iasos Turkey
Diyarbakır İç Kale Artuklu Sarayı Turkey NA
Bursa İznik Çini Fırınları Turkey NA
Bursa İznik Roma Tiyatrosu Turkey NA
Aydın Kadıkalesi Turkey
Kırşehir Kalehöyük Japan
Eskişehir Kanlıtaş Höyüğü Turkey
Eskişehir Karacahisar Kalesi Turkey NA
Şanlıurfa Karahantepe Turkey NA
Antalya Karain Turkey NA
Gaziantep Karkamis Italy NA
Osmaniye Kastabala Turkey NA
Muğla Kaunos Turkey NA
Sivas Kayalipinar Germany NA
Manisa Kaymakci USA NA
Mersin Kelenderis Turkey NA
Erzincan Kemah Kalesi Turkey NA
Yozgat Kerkenes USA
Kayseri Keykubadiye Sarayı Turkey NA
Burdur Kibyra Turkey NA
Çanakkale Kilisetepe Höyüğü Turkey NA
Niğde Kınık Höyük Italy
Kırklarerli Kırklareli Höyük Turkey
Antalya Kızılin Turkey NA
İzmir Klaros Turkey
İzmir Klazomenai Turkey NA
Muğla Knidos Turkey NA
Tokat Komana Turkey
Konya Kubad-Abad Turkey
Eskişehir Küllüoba Turkey
Kayseri Kültepe Turkey NA
Kırşehir Kurutlu Antropolojik kazı Turkey NA
Balıkesir Kyzikos Turkey
Muğla Labraunda France
Denizli Laodikeia Turkey
Muğla Letoon Turkey NA
İzmir Limantepe Turkey
Antalya Limyra Austria NA
Aydın Magnesia Turkey
İzmir Metropolis Turkey NA
Aydın Milet Germany
Antalya Myra Andriake Turkey NA
İzmir Nif Dağı Turkey
Aydın Nysa Turkey
Mersin Olba Turkey
Amasya Oluzhöyük Turkey NA
Antalya Olympos Turkey
Çorum Ortaköy Turkey NA
Nevşehir Ovaören Turkey NA
Kilis Oylum Höyük Turkey NA
Samsun Oymaağaç Höyük Turkey / Germany
İzmir Panaztepe Turkey
Çanakkale Parion Turkey
Bursa Paşalar Turkey NA
Antalya Patara Turkey
Muğla Pedasa Turkey
İzmir Pergamon Germany
Antalya Phaselis Turkey NA
İzmir Phokaia Turkey NA
Isparta Pisidia Antiocheia Turkey NA
Niğde Porsuk Höyük France NA
Aydın Priene Turkey NA
Çorum Resuloğlu Mezarlığı ve Yerleşim Yeri Turkey NA
Burdur Sagalassos Belgium
Manisa Sardis USA
Artvin Şavşat Kalesi Turkey NA
Isparta Seleukeia Sidera Turkey NA
Antalya Side Turkey NA
Mersin Silifke Kalesi Turkey
Adana Sirkeli Hoyuk Switzerland
İzmir Smyrna-Agora Turkey
Nevşehir Sofular Fosil Lokalitesi Turkey NA
Mersin Soli Pompeiopolis Turkey
Muğla Stratonikeia ve Lagina Turkey
Adana Tatarlı Höyük Turkey
Hatay Tel Tayinat Canada
İzmir Teos Turkey
Niğde Tepecik / Çiftlik Höyük Turkey
Aydın Tepecik Höyük Turkey
Manisa Thyateira Turkey
Muğla Tlos Turkey
Aydın Tralleis Turkey NA
Denizli Tripolis Turkey
Çanakkale Troia Turkey
Hatay Üçağızlı Mağarası Turkey NA
İzmir Ulucak Höyük Turkey NA
Yozgat Uşaklı Höyük Italy
Mersin Uzuncaburç-Olba Turkey
Antalya Xanthos Turkey NA
Kırşehir Yassihoyuk Japan NA
Çanakkale Yeni Bademli Höyük Turkey NA
Nevşehir Yeniyaylacık Fosil Lokalitesi Turkey NA
İzmir Yeşilova Höyüğü Turkey
Mersin Yumuktepe Italy NA
Diyarbakır Zerzevan Kalesi Turkey
Gaziantep Zeugma Turkey
Çanakkale Zeytinlik Höyüğü Turkey NA
Gaziantep Zincirli Hoyuk USA

Following the completion of the inventory, we performed a search using Google, since this platform has the highest number of indexed pages. As the keyword, we used the official name of the project as reported in the ministry document as well as the terms 'excavation', kazısı and kazıları (the latter two having the meaning 'excavation(s)' in Turkish). Next, we manually cycled through the first five result pages to locate a dedicated website for the project, under the assumption that a project website would be at the top of the index. For 167 excavation projects, we were able to identify 62 official and 21 unofficial websites. We defined an official website as a dedicated website that is directly managed by the project. An unofficial website comprises an institution/university website that contains scientific information about the project alongside other projects conducted by the same institution/university. In terms of the total project numbers, 76% of foreign projects and 43% of Turkish projects disseminate information using websites (Table 2).

Table 2: Website counts for archaeological excavations in Turkey carried out by Turkish and foreign teams
Turkish Foreign Total
Official 43 19 62
Unofficial 15 6 21
Total 58 25 83

When we identified a project website (official or unofficial), we looked for sections on bibliography, database, and a visual archive. For bibliographic information, we were interested in whether the researchers provided open-access publications, persistent identifiers (e.g. Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for bibliographic entries), or any other form of connections to open/closed access publication repositories. We were also interested in visual archives to evaluate if researchers provided traceable identifiers for their object images or drawings. Finally, we looked for open or closed databases or datasets on these websites.

We found that while 48 websites (created by Turkish or foreign excavations) provide a bibliography list, only 26 of these provide some form of access to the publications. Forty-five project websites provide an image gallery, none of which contains traceable identifications. Finally, five websites have databases, while only two of the five provide direct access to these datasets.

To further explore the open-access data publication efforts of these projects, we investigated two major data portals: Open Context and ARIADNE. ARIADNE contains entries for 71 of the projects, from historical entries to current data. Open Context contains information on eleven of the projects. Almost all of the projects in Open Context, however, contribute data as part of special research projects (e.g. botanical studies, dendrochronological studies). Finally, we cross-compared the projects' web presence with their efforts in publishing open access data. Our aim was to evaluate whether the projects that had a tradition of public access (via website dissemination) were also leading the way for open-access data. We used phi-coefficient to evaluate binary variables (web: presence, absence vs data portal: presence, absence). There appears to be a very low association (<0.2) between website presence and open-access data presence, suggesting older dissemination practices have been discontinued in the new data-sharing paradigm.

Finally, we analysed the occurrence of projects in the TAY database and the current portal of the Ministry (Cultural Portal). It is important to bear in mind that there is a bias in the TAY comparison since some projects began after the core data collection phase of the TAY database, resulting in their under-representation on the platform. It appears that while TAY researchers keep updating the inventory, the initial coverage remains the most comprehensive. Despite the temporal mismatch, 77% of the current 167 projects had been registered by TAY researchers. The statistic supports the early digital vision behind the TAY database. The Culture Portal, however, mentions only 56% of the archaeological projects.

5. Conclusions

Use of digital technologies for fieldwork documentation in Turkey has almost a three-decade-long history. The need for databases by various archaeological projects and individual researchers associated with public and academic institutions during these thirty years led to the creation of individual databases as closed systems, i.e. data silos. As it stands, the interoperability between and integration of datasets in these silos remains a major issue, owing to the limited investment in high-quality metadata creation and data modelling using standard ontologies such as CIDOC CRM. For settlement sites, although digital gazetteers exist covering archaeological sites in Turkey (e.g. Getty TGN, Pleiades), resolving the issue of toponyms, verifying existing data and aligning different gazetteers still requires a lot of work. One of the goals in building MUES and TUES, discussed above, has been to start indexing archaeological places in Turkey as linked open data and aligning these index entries with existing gazetteers.

At the moment, there are no good guidelines for best practice and standards for archaeologists working in Turkey when it comes to creating, curating and archiving archaeological digital resources. Such guidelines and standards are especially crucial when it comes to publishing archaeological resources online using semantic web protocols and technologies and in accordance with the FAIR guiding principles. By sharing best practices and translating useful guidelines into Turkish (e.g. the PARTHENOS Guidelines; Morselli et al. 2020) it should at least become possible to increase awareness about and make progress in archaeological digital archiving in Turkey. In addition, issues related to the new open science paradigm, including publication rights and research ethics, are still topics under discussion among the Turkish archaeological community. The introduction of international open science efforts through training and network events should be helpful here in explaining the logic of these efforts and making progress in practice.


We would like to thank the British Institute at Ankara for allowing us to consult their archives, Serihan Güner for helping data curation (web page analysis) and Eloise Jones for insightful proofreading. Our special thanks go to Julian Richards and Holly Wright for their generous help with improving the contents.

Internet Archaeology is an open access journal based in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

Terms and Conditions | Legal Statements | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Citing Internet Archaeology

Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.