Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal is Turkey’s most prominent archaeologist, whose research is closely followed in the world of historical and archeological studies. During his long university career, he trained hundreds of the young archaeologists desperately needed by a country overflowing with ancient sites left by scores of civilizations over the past twelve thousand years.
As well as lecturing at Turkish and foreign universities, Akurgal has engaged in innumerable excavations with his students, publishing the results in hundreds of papers and several books. Like all truly great men, Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal is a thinker of broad perspective, who does not focus merely on revealing and interpreting the evidence of past civilizations but takes a close interest in modern society, seeking the historical roots of current events and proposing solutions for present and future.
Akurgal’s work has given him insight into the way in which societies have influenced one another throughout history, so generating constant change. He points out that just as we must take the influence of the Hittites, Phoenicians, and other civilizations into account when examining Greek art, so we cannot ignore the Persian, Arab, Greek, Roman and Byzantine influences on Anatolian Turkish culture and art. Every culture absorbs borrowed elements and reinterprets them within its own cultural framework, and this is the process which has been repeated over and again in Turkey. In this sense, the modern Turks are the cultural descendants of the Hittites, Urartians, Phrygians, Lydians, Carians, Lycians, and the many other peoples who have inhabited this well-trodden land.
Akurgal was born on 30 March 1911 on his grandfather’s farm at Tulkarem in Haifa, now part of Israel. The famous ruins of Caesarea were very close to the farm, and one day when his mother was wandering around the ruins she discovered an old Turkish coin dating from the fifteenth century. Having attached some blue beads to divert the evil eye, she pinned this coin on baby Ekrem’s jacket. This was a mere coincidence, but an interesting one for a child who was to spent his life searching for artifacts amidst ancient ruins.
In 1913, the family moved to Istanbul, and apart from a brief interlude living on another farm at Akyazi near Adapazari, remained there. He completed his primary and secondary education in Istanbul and went on to study law. A year later he won a scholarship to Germany and abandoning law he spent the next nine years in Berlin studying archaeology, history and Turkish Art, where he received his Ph.D.
Armed with his doctorate Akurgal returned to Turkey, and in 1941 began teaching at the Department of Archaeology at Ankara University. He became a professor in 1957. In 1958 he was appointed the dean of the faculty and took the opportunity to establish a new library.
Akurgal has been awarded several medals and orders in recognition of his achievements by diverse countries ranging from the United States to Russia. Although he retired in 1981, Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal has continued his writing and research at an undiminished pace. Indeed, he declares that retirement has left him, even more, time for research than before. He finally lived in Izmir on the Aegean Coast, close to Bayrakli where he led his first excavation in 1948 and passed away on November 1, 2002.
- Griechische Reliefs Aus Lykien. (Deutsch. Arch. Inst) Berlin 1942
- Remarques Stylistique Sur Les reliefs de Malatya. Istanbul 1946
- Spathethitische Bildkunst (Ankara University). Ankara 1949
- Phrygische Kunst (Ankara University). Ankara 1955
- Die Kunst Anatoliens von Homer bis, Alexander. W.de Gruyter, Berlin 1961
- Die Kunst der Hethiter. Max Hirmer, Munchen 1961 (English and Italian 1962)
- Orient und Okzident. Holle, Baden-Baden 1966 (English 1968, French 1969)
- Treasures of Turkey (in collaboration with Mango and Ettinghausen). Skira
- Geneva-New York 1966 (French, German, Italian and Spanish)
- Urartaische und Altiranische Kunstzentren. Turk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 1968