Mors Mortis Museum is proud to feature Elifgül Doğan who will contribute to the Politics and the Dead section of the upcoming Routledge handbook: Museums, Heritage, and Death with her work tentatively titled: A quest for identity through archaeological human remains in Turkey.
Doğan says she became interested in studying death and related topics when she was 8 or 9. She recalled a memory of a bus ride with her older cousin. She says, “On the radio, there was a religious program where the host talked about the Islamic version of the story of Adam and Eve, which did not particularly sit right with my childhood self at the time. I could not help but ask my cousin: ‘How do we know Adam and Eve were the first humans and when did they actually die?’ My cousin appeared confused by this sudden interrogation and said, ‘you do not question such things,’ which was the answer that I was going to repeatedly hear from many people up until my high school years. Whenever I raised my seemingly strange question, I was advised against meddling with such subjects as it was inappropriate. I remember being scolded by a teacher at the school for raising the same question in class which he deemed sinful.”
Doğan says that years later, in high school, her family finally gained access to the internet, where she asked the same question of, “How do we know Adam and Eve were the first humans and when did they actually die?” She says, “Not only [were] my questions were finally answered, but [I] also met the world of Archaeology then.” After that point:
Doğan says her most meaningful memory is her first ever archaeological burial excavation during the summer of 2013 while working as a trench assistant in a Neolithic site in Turkey. She says, “Prior to finding the burial, I naturally found many pottery sherds, animal bones and stone tools and witnessed other people discovering burials at the site. Yet, the moment my brush revealed what appeared to be a human skull was such a special moment for me. I remember my hands shaking and my head feeling like [it was] spinning. Beside[s] my excitement for this first discovery, I was simply shaken by the reality of disturbing the grave of an individual who died more than 8000 years ago. It was nothing like finding nice pottery. It was a moment of encounter with another individual, a memory I will cherish forever.”
“Death is obviously a very interesting subject in itself, but how we deal with it as a society makes it much more interesting and complicated to study.” she says. “As a part of my research, I look at the Gallipoli Peninsula, a former WWI battlefield in North-western Turkey where tens of thousands of Ottoman, British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops died between 1914 and 1916. Gallipoli is a fascinating place not only because of its monumental importance for the history of the Turkish Republic, but also because of the ways in which the dead are commemorated here. It is an ideological battlefield where the ex-combatant countries continue to narrate their national stories of loss and sacrifice through their dead and burial grounds. Since the war ended in 1916, the bodies of some of the soldiers have been either repatriated or buried in war cemeteries on the peninsula, but a considerable number remain undiscovered in the battlefields. Owing to rapidly expanding tourism, as well as archaeological projects in the region, human remains are regularly encountered in Gallipoli. What makes Gallipoli perhaps different from other WWI battlefields in Europe, is not its cemeteries or undiscovered bodies, but the bodies that are currently displayed in its private ‘war galleries’. These human remains belong to the soldiers who died here more than a century ago and may still have living descendants. Thus, displaying these remains in sensationalist ways pose big ethical questions concerning ownership, and contradict the massive importance and respect given to the dead by means of commemorations here. To explore more about this discussion, you can have a glimpse at my co-authored article here:” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328965026_Archaeology_Museums_and_Tourism_on_the_Gallipoli_Peninsula_Issues_of_Human_Remains_Ordnance_and_Local_Decision-Making
Elifgül Doğan’s work predominantly focuses on management of human remains and the ethical issues of handling human remains in museums and archaeological projects. “In my PhD research, I bring together interdisciplinary methodologies from anthropology, archaeology, and heritage studies to investigate the problems and challenges associated with the management of archaeological human remains in Turkey.”
Her favorite museum is The Natural History Museum in London. She says, “the extent of their collection showing diverse manifestations of biodiversity and ancientness of our world is incredible. Of course, having come from a country where discussions surrounding human evolution are still considered a taboo, the NHM’s gallery dedicated to human evolution is a fascinating place for me and has a special place in my heart.”
You can find Elifgül Doğan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elifgul.dogan/
Her personal website, Humans of Anatolia: https://doganelifgul.wixsite.com/humansofanatolia
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Elifguel-Dogan-2
By Jesse Morgan, a Communication and Photography Student at Coastal Carolina University, USA.