- Prof. Dr. Mihriban Özbaşaran
Principled posture, respectable and solid personality, deep-ground and vast knowledge. A scholar, who has made her mission to pass on the values of sharing, institutionalization, collaboration, unity, holistic approach, and many others that are disappearing today, to the generations she has raised. These concepts, which the name Ufuk Esin evokes in our minds, are perhaps the essence of the life story, work, and perception of life described at length below.
Professor Esin died in January 2008 due to a heart condition she has suffered since her youth. We miss and remember her with respect but most of all with longing as privileged people who had the opportunity to get to know her and work with her.
Ufuk Esin was born in Izmir on October 11, 1933, but spent her entire life in the Bebek District of the Bosphorus, in Istanbul. She finished her elementary school at 25th School, in Arnavutköy, completed her secondary education at Boğaziçi High School (formerly Feyzi Ati) and her high school education at private Sankt Georg Austrian High School. She graduated from the science department of Austrian High School and took the baccalaureate exam in the literature department at Galatasaray High School. The main motivation for her to keep an equal distance from social sciences and science throughout her archaeological life, to use scientific methods intensively in all her studies, and to closely follow new methods of analysis, probably stemmed from this.
Ufuk Esin started studying archaeology at Istanbul University in 1952, and there were only two students in that semester. In accordance with the requirements to select one Certificate and three Auxiliary Certificates by system, she selected prehistory as a Master Certificate, and Proto Asian Languages and Cultures, Classical Archaeology and Ancient Greek Languages and Cultures as an Auxiliary Certificate and participated in the courses and seminars of each of them and became the first graduate of the Prehistory Thesis Certificate program after four years. In 1957, Ufuk Esin became Professor Kurt Bittel’s assistant. While working as an assistant in the department, Ufuk Esin was also writing her doctoral dissertation under Bittel’s supervision. Prof. Bittel referred Ufuk Esin to conduct mining research in Stuttgart as part of her doctoral thesis, where she participated in the SAM (Studien zu den Anfaengen der Metallurgie) Project affiliated with the onset of metallurgy. Within the context of this work, Professor Esin started to specialize in spectral analysis and went to Iran to take samples for mining research, which would play an important role in the establishment of archaeometry unit within METU with the support of TUBITAK and a few years later the establishment of Aksay Unit Archaeological Remains by Spectroscopic and Analytical Methods.
Archaeometry, which started as a field of personal interest and research during Ufuk Esin’s doctoral work, titled ‘Copper and Bronze Mineral Works from the Beginning to the Assyrian Colonial Age in Anatolia through Quantitative Spectral Analysis’ in 1960, and later in their joint efforts with her colleagues, helped to institutionalize this field. In the same years, her work coincided with development of new approaches and theories in the world of archaeology in the West. The 1960s were politically, socially and culturally vibrant all over the world. Results of many positive and negative events, such as Vietnamese war, anti-war movement, events of ’68, Armstrong landing on the moon, were developments that would affect and change human history. This wind of change engulfed archaeology, and other winds began to blow in different directions against the traditional approaches under the name New Archaeology. While this change in the West reflected on Turkey clearly in political, economic and social fields, it has not affected the discipline of archaeology as much. However, the studies pioneered by Ufuk Esin, which would take several more decades to become institutionalized, such as the inclusion of new scientific methods in archaeology for analysis and statistical studies, were enthusiastically defended by the supporters of New Archaeology. Although Ufuk Esin was not involved in this new movement, with her contributions to shaping the present archaeology, she is perhaps one of the few representatives of scientific approaches advocated by the New Archaeology movement in Turkey.
Apart from individual examples in the new form of archaeology discipline in the 1960s, there was no problem-oriented, systematic research yet. In 1963, The Southeast Anatolian Prehistoric Project, started as a joint effort between The University of Chicago and The Istanbul University Prehistory Department under the co-direction of R. Braidwood and Halet Çambel, which was one of the leading research projects not only for Anatolia but also for the whole world with its questions, methodology and team. The discussion and information sharing environment created by the team members in the Project, which took place at the Prehistory Laboratory, would directly affect the fieldwork and many projects led by Ufuk Esin in the following years.
In 1966, Esin received the title of Associate Professor and began to work on the Neolithic way of life, which was one of the subjects of research in both theory and practice in the Department of Prehistory. She explored the emergence, adoption and spread of first Neolithic cultures in Southeast Europe from a broad and holistic perspective, especially in the context of the interaction of prehistoric communities with the natural environment. She earned her Professor title with this research in 1975 and her study was published in two volumes in 1975 and 1978:Anatolia and Southeast Europe in the Transition to First Production Phase (10500-7000 BP), Volume 1: Natural Environment; Volume 2: The Problem of Cultures. Professor Ufuk studied paleoenvironment and paleoclimate with a scientist’s utmost detail and diligence, but maintained the sensitivity to knead it with human preferences, needs, and thoughts. She transferred this vast accumulation to the new generations in the ‘Ecology and Economics’ courses she offered at the undergraduate level in the Prehistory Department. It is clear that interdisciplinary studies and holistic perspectives of today’s scholars, who were her students at the time, are due to this wide and deep range of knowledge of Professor Ufuk’s. One of the unforgettable undergraduate courses, Prehistoric Art was another course that Professor Ufuk offered, where she discussed from the paint details and construction techniques used in the cave murals to the world of thought of Paleolithic people, within a wide perspective including life, faith, art, symbolism, semiotics; these lectures were almost as if they were indicative of Professor Esin’s colorful diverse background and intellectualism despite the black and white slides.
Ufuk Esin continued her pioneering role in the fieldwork along with her research and publications. Her first fieldwork experience started with the Boğazköy excavations under the direction of Prof. Kurt Bittel. She conveyed the memories of the land and the atmosphere of excavation at the commemoration meeting held at the Prehistory Laboratory held on February 8, 1991, following the demise of Kurt Bittel:
“I was honored by Professor Bittel, being invited to participate in the post-war first campaign of Boğazköy. In the first campaigns, the budget of the excavation was extremely limited. We had to settle for one plate of meal in a day… On the one hand, it was depressingly hot and the work was strenuous and on the other hand we were all getting sick from the food. But the exuberance of the new finds in the excavations overcame them all, no one cared about the disease, we jumped out of bed as soon as our fever dropped. Who were among the visitors? We discussed the infamous Hittite temple Yazılıkaya gods and Hittite hieroglyphs with Prof. Laroche and we tried to find answers to the architectural and cultural problems of the Great Castle, which contained the palace and archive, with Prof. Frankfort and Seton Lloyd. Prof. Bittel explained his new views and the visitors were very excited by what they saw and heard. We first heard about the Neolithic presence in Anatolia from James Mellaart in Boğazköy. During the day, I was trying to digest what I had heard from these most competent scholars, and at night I was reading the publications about Boğazköy over and over again”.
The atmosphere that Esin briefly described, should have been the core of the scientific participatory environments in the excavations she led in the following years that she created with her personal efforts for her students, team and professionals despite the limited resources. In this sense, the excavation project of Aşıklı Höyük became a ‘school’ with the conferences and information provided by the respected people, fellow artists and friends invited by Professor Ufuk from her academic and intellectual circles. Lectures and presentations on a variety of subjects, ranging from health problems to atom physics, were a reflection of her versatile and sharing personality.
During the years of Boğazköy excavations, she also participated in the Istanbul Fikirtepe excavations under the leadership of A.M. Mansel, Professor Bittel and H. Çambel, and later worked with Nezih Fıratlı on the Excavation of Selçikler in Uşak. The Keban Project, specifically the Tepecik excavations which she led, was a great experience and achievement for Anatolian archaeology as well as for herself. Professor Esin introduced certain standards to the fieldwork in prehistoric archaeology with the excavations of Tepecik and Tülintepe. She directed the latter with the contributions of Güven Arsebük, where they established the principles of rescue excavations and ensured that they were applied directly on site. After the excavations of Tepecik and Tülintepe, Değirmentepe excavations started in Imamoglu village of Malatya in order to rescue the Obeid settlement that would be flooded under the Karakaya dam lake. In addition to this project, she also took on the scientific consultancy role of short-term İkiztepe excavations with her student and assistant, Savaş Harmankaya. Esin, who continued her studies on finds and publication activities in the years after Değirmentepe was flooded in 1986, received a call for another rescue excavation from Central Anatolia. She could not remain unresponsive to this call and started the excavations of Aşıklı Höyük in 1989.
She was a founding member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences established in 1993, was elected member of the Council and worked on two very important projects of the Academy on behalf of Turkish Archaeology. One of them was the publication of an international journal of archaeology. Esin was the chair of the editorial board however she was fully involved from the cover to the content and from terminologies to chronological issues. The second project she led, was the Cultural Sector in Turkey (TÜKSEK) project, which aimed the preparation of infrastructure that would allow the cultural assets to actively contribute to the social and economic life of the country and to be treated as cultural sector, and to lay ground work to prepare for cultural inventory in all regions.
Professor Esin retired in 2000 due to age, while she was the coordinator of TÜBA TÜKSEK Project. Due to her health problems, she no longer could go to the field but concentrated on writing at home. With her years of experience and extensive knowledge, her claim she developed in the first years of Aşıklı excavation that the Central Anatolia region experienced a distinctive neolithization process than the Near East, was the subject of her new research. Unfortunately, she did not have the opportunity to publish her fresh and brave thoughts on how different geographies and under different circumstances the development of lifeways could differ from each other.
Ufuk Esin is truly one of the most distinguished figures in Turkish archaeology. As the chair of the Prehistory Department, after she inherited from Professor Halet Çambel, Esin redesigned the department in accordance with the changing approaches, thoughts and understanding of archaeology and made important efforts for the development of the specialties and training of experts that are still lacking in Turkey. Professor Esin believed in multivocality. She did not give up on her principles and always prioritized the future of the Department and archaeology in Turkey, which she always reclaimed,
not her projects. She always expressed the importance of teamwork and described herself not as a director but as a stage manager, based on her drama experience in the past.
With the acknowledgement of the responsibility of the Aşıklı Höyük Research Project and its co-projects, which we inherited from Professor Esin and to continue in line with the principles that she has defended throughout her life, we remember her with respect and longing.