The remains of two outsized earthenware pots, a ditch and evidence of a gate dating back more than 3,000 years are changing scholars' perceptions about the city of Troy at the time Homer's ``Iliad'' was set.
The discoveries this year show that Troy's lower town was much bigger in the late Bronze Age than previously thought, according to Ernst Pernicka, the University of Tubingen professor leading excavations on the site in northwestern Turkey.
His team has uncovered a trench 1.4 kilometers long, 4 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The full length of the trench, which probably encircled the city and served a defensive purpose, may be as much as 2.5 kilometers, Pernicka said in an interview in his office in Mannheim, Germany. Troy may have been as big as 40 hectares, with a population as high as 10,000, he estimates.
``Troy was not the center of the world, but it was a regional hub,'' Pernicka said. ``This year, we established that the trench continues around the town. We've found a southern gate, a southeastern gate, traces of a southwestern gate and I expect to find an eastern gate. So we have evidence of town planning.''
The discovery of the trench around the lower town vindicates Pernicka's predecessor, Manfred Korfmann, who faced accusations from a fellow German scholar that he was misleading the public in his interpretation of the ditch, which might have been for drainage. After Korfmann died in 2005, Pernicka took over his work and aims to publish the results of 20 years of digging and research.
``I think we have proven that the trench was not for drainage,'' Pernicka said.
Layers of Building
Excavating Troy is a challenge because the city was destroyed and rebuilt 10 times. Archaeologists have to sift through layers of Byzantine, Roman and Greek building to get to Troy VI and VIIa, the era in which the action in Homer's Trojan war epic is most likely to have been set, between 1500 and 1180 B.C.
Parts of two ceramic ``pithoi,'' or pitchers, were found in the trench near the edge of the town. The pots, which could be as much as 2 meters tall, were kept in or near homes, suggesting that houses in the lower town stretched to the trench, another indication that Troy's lower town was fully inhabited and the city was bigger than revealed in previous expeditions, Pernicka said.
``You can call them Bronze-Age refrigerators,'' he said. ``They were used for storing water, oil or maybe grain.''
Troy's wealth -- first discovered by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who excavated a hoard of gold from the site in the 19th century -- probably came from agriculture and horse breeding, Pernicka said. Hittite texts call the city Wilusa and describe it as a vassal state to the Hittite empire.
Pernicka sees no reason to question that the site in the western Anatolia region of Turkey is the setting for the ``Iliad,'' as a small minority of scholars still do. Homer described the topography, identifying rivers and islands that are visible today. Yet though there is evidence of conflicts, no archaeologist can prove that the Trojan War took place, he said.
``The Iliad speaks of a 10-year war,'' Pernicka said. ``That could be a metaphor. It could be that events that took place over decades were squeezed together. In Troy VIIa, in the 13th century B.C., there must have been an increased threat because at least three gates in the citadel were closed. The surrounding region was also much less populated than in the previous era.''
What archaeology has shown is that Troy's golden era ended in 1180. Where preceding Trojans had used potters' wheels for about 1,000 years, ceramics found on the site show the technology was lost with the arrival of a new people, probably from the Balkans, who reverted to hand-made pots. The newcomers also built their houses in a completely different style.
``Many other towns in the eastern Mediterranean declined at this time,'' Pernicka said. ``It could have been a kind of world war at the end of the Bronze Age.''
Funding for Pernicka's excavations runs out next year. One of the main projects for the future is a museum in Troy that will double as a research center. The Turkish government has promised funds for an architecture competition, and Pernicka hopes to find sponsors to help finance the museum.
Of the 500,000 visitors to Troy each year, about 80 percent are tourists, he said.
``They don't come just to see traces of walls,'' he said. ``In Troy, you have to imagine a lot, and you can only do that if you have read the `Iliad.' We can't expect, say, Chinese or Japanese tourists to have done that. It is important because it is the roots of Western culture, and that is something you can show much better in a museum.''
The findings of the latest Troy excavations form part of an exhibition at Mannheim's Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum, called ``Homer: The Myth of Troy in Poetry and Art,'' which runs through Jan. 18, 2009.