History of exploration

The earliest description of the site is apparently that by J.G.C. Anderson (1903, 26-29) who, not unreasonably, identified it with the Galatian site of Mithradation. H.H. von der Osten visited in 1926 and the following year he and F.H. Blackburn produced a remarkably accurate map of the city defences in only three days. Von der Osten (1928, 86, 90) wrote an evocative account.

"As to the silent ancient city immediately before us, it is nothing short of imposing. The surrounding walls, which when viewed from the kaleh at the easternmost angle of the city appear like long welts of piled-up rocks...... The great expanse of ruins, once teeming with life and resounding with the voices of a powerful people who dominated most of Asia Minor, now lies mute and barren. A few scrub trees, stunted by the harsh winter winds which sweep over this now deforested region, timidly sprout from amongst the jumble of rocks...... Otherwise the great enclosure is a picture of desolation. 

In 1926 Kerkenes was also visited by the hittitologist E. Forrer who suggested that it was the work of the Cimmerians (Forrer, 1927).

As a result of von der Osten's enthusiastic accounts and his shrewd realisation that the city was indeed a pre-Hellenistic foundation of supreme importance, Breasted decided that the matter of the date and particularly the possibility of it being Hittite had to be settled. Thus, in 1928, with a permit from the Turkish authorities, Erich Schmidt was instructed to make a diversion from the main focus of Hittite Expedition's excavations at Alishar Hoyuk in order to make exploratory trenches at Kerkenes. Schmidt and his team dug a total of 14 test trenches in the space of a week. The results were clearly stated in a Marconigram sent from Kayseri to the breasted guranty trust company of Newyrok fifty Pallmall London. It said, simply, "Kerkenes posthittite preclassical + Schmidt". The late Iron age date had been correctly established and was clearly a disappointment, bluntly put in a letter from Schmidt to Charles Breasted written at Alishar on September 12: "We found, to our regret, that it is a post-Hittite town, built in preclassical times. We worked madly, up there, to cover the entire ruin territory in the shortest possible time. It took us eight days to accomplish that, and we nailed down the facts in quite a durable manner." The results were promptly published with exemplary thoroughness (Schmidt, 1929).

Scant attention was paid to the site thereafter. The Hittite Expedition from the Oriental Institute at Chicago (OIC) was primarily interested in the Hittites and their beginnings, von der Osten having deliberately chosen to excavate at Alishar Hoyuk because the mound afforded the opportunity to obtain a stratigraphic sequence. It is to the enormous credit of Schmidt and von der Osten that the Alishar excavation reports remain seminal to any current understanding of the pre-classical archaeology of the Anatolian plateau. Generations of scholars from the German expedition to Bogazkoy visited Kerkenes, Bittel himself showing keen interest and publishing a collection of local legends about the place, but energy was not to be diverted from Hattusa.

A new series of annual campaigns was begun in 1993 by Francoise and Geoffrey Summers under the auspices of the BIAA with a Permit granted by the Turkish Ministry of Culture.