Buried Treasure
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When McMahon first began working at the site, he hoped to find signs of the Hittites, a Late Bronze Age people who ruled Anatolia (ancient central Turkey) between 1,800 and 1,200 B.C. His search was rewarded: there were Hittites at the site, as evidenced by their pottery in several different places on the mound.

PIECED TOGETHER: A Late Chalcolithic (c. 3,000 B.C.) pitcher found at Cadir Hoeyuek.

The Hittite pottery, McMahon says, was likely used in ceremonies to worship ancient deities. Chariot-driving warriors, the Hittites cultivated wheat and barley and paid homage to multiple gods, who they believed ruled everything from fertility to the farmland and the thunder that rumbled in the sky.

"We think the mound was once an important cult or ceremonial site," says McMahon, who works as an assistant site director on the dig. "My real dream is to find written religious text or tablets explaining the rituals, or a temple's foundations."

Although they found Hittites, McMahon says they did not expect that "everybody else would also be there, beginning in the Chalcolithic period around 4,000 B.C., and continuing all the way to the middle of the Byzantine era in the 11th century A.D." Each successive civilization left a trail of unique pottery pieces in its wake--shards that are key to identifying people from the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages. Every year, other archaeologists come to the mound to compare their pottery finds to the shards unearthed by McMahon and his colleagues. "All archaeologists," acknowledges McMahon, "believe they are working at the most important site in the world." But because of the hoeyuek's continuous occupation, he says, "Anyone else in Central Turkey can match their pottery to ours to find out what time period they're looking at."

ENTRENCHED: The north side of Cadir Hoeyuek, from the Iron Age trench to the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze trench. Below, T. Brice Pearce '09G takes notes.

After multiple plane flights and rides along rutted dirt roads, McMahon and his four students arrive in the remote village of Peyniryemez (Turkish for "one who does not eat cheese"). With the help of grants from the UNH Center for Humanities and the Loeb Foundation, McMahon and his students make their home in a Muslim community of 100 people, where families harvest fields of chickpeas, sugar beets and fragrant stalks of wheat. During the month of July and seven days in August, the field students slip into the cadence of working and living in a village far from their own cities and towns.

The day begins with the Ezan, or Muslim call to prayer, as the gray light slips from the sky. It is 4:30 a.m., and from a loudspeaker in the local mosque's minaret comes the cry Allah Akbar ("God is great"). McMahon and the students try to steal one more hour of sleep. By 6 a.m., they are on the mound, a 10-minute walk away, fortified with a breakfast of fresh yogurt, homemade bread, cheese and American coffee. The air is cool enough for sweatshirts and the wind has not yet begun to stir as they gather trowels, picks, shovels and brushes and head to their assigned trenches. Below the mound, a shepherd herds his sheep in the fields. The UNH students work side by side with local Turks who are hired to help dig on the site. Each morning, McMahon greets them with Guenaydin ("the day is bright") and shakes their hands, knowing that the morning ritual is expected and appreciated.

"Personal relationships are everything to the Turks," says McMahon, who speaks fluent Turkish. "They are a very polite and gracious people." While the students and Turks dig, they glean, through broken English and Turkish, fragments of one another's lives. "We do a lot of charades and hand-waving," says Pearce. At one point, the younger Turks challenge Orion Wellinghurst '09, a towering member of the UNH ski team, to a wrestling match, a invitation he respectfully declines.

The Turkish men are quiet around the women at the dig. Kaleigh Brooks '08, a history major and the sole woman among McMahon's field assistants, explains: "They believe that we are a little crazy to be working in the fields, getting filthy and doing physical labor."

As the weeks pass and July presses into August, the rhythm and rituals of Peyniryemez and Cadir Hoeyuek grow familiar. The students come to expect the calls to prayer, blared five times daily, the wind that stirs just after 11 a.m., and the constant digging, bending, measuring in 100-degree heat that leaves them utterly exhausted by 1 p.m.

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