Penn Museum researcher helps empower Turkish women

Gordian Museum Turkey

Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann

For the past several years, Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, right, a research scholar at the Penn Museum, has been helping women in a Turkish village set up a women’s cooperative market.

The Turkish archaeological site of Gordion is best known for the “Midas Tomb”—a dome of earth built to house the remains of an ancient notable who, until recently, was believed to be Phyrgian King Midas, famed for his wealth. (More recent dating suggests the tomb, constructed around 750 B.C.E., was actually dedicated to a predecessor of Midas.)

Since 1950, researchers from the Penn Museum have worked at Gordion to learn about the habits and culture of its ancient people. But amidst the ancient settlement, a modern village thrives.

It is called Yassıhöyük and it, as well as 12 others, has caught the scholarly attention of Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann, a research scholar at the Penn Museum. Gürsan-Salzmann has spent a portion of every year but two since 1995 conducting what she terms “ethno-archaeological” research in Turkey, using an anthropologist’s eye to study residents’ agricultural and pastoral practices.

“I’ve always been interested in how people make a living by working on their land,” she says.

Women play a valued role in these communities. While men attend to much of the agricultural work and animal husbandry, women are responsible for raising and processing garden crops and milk byproducts—important sources of family income. As a result, women hold elevated positions in families and in village life, Gürsan-Salzmann says.

Turkey Clothes

Ayşe Gürsan-Salzmann

Officially launched in 2011, the cooperative sells handmade crafts, including knitted clothing and lacework, amulets made from seeds, and beaded jewelry.

In the past few years, Gürsan-Salzmann has taken steps to help women in Yassıhöyük further elevate their status. Providing logistical and financial support, she has helped establish a women’s cooperative market that offers goods to village locals and tourists. Officially launched in 2011, the cooperative sells handmade crafts, including knitted clothing and lacework, amulets made from seeds, and beaded jewelry. The women also produce foodstuffs to sell, based on the foods they preserve for the winter. These include cheese, fruit jams, and a traditional Turkish soup called tarhana.

“The powdered soup they make is wonderful,” Gürsan-Salzmann says. “It’s the most organic thing you’ve ever eaten. It consists of yogurt, wheat, sundried tomatoes, sundried pepper, and then added to this is dry mint. Every ingredient is produced in the village.”

The women now contribute a portion of their sales back into the cooperative to fund the production of the next season’s goods. Not only does the market provide the women with a small amount of additional income, it is also affecting a deeper change in those who participate, Gürsan-Salzmann notes, due to the influx of tourists from all over the world.

“The women are beginning to be very aware of their interactions with people outside of the region, even if they don’t speak the same language,” she says. “They’re gaining an understanding of themselves, the world outside the village, and the historical landscape of which they and their families are a part.”

Originally published on December 20, 2012