Stanford archaeologist Ian Hodder honored by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has honored Stanford anthropologist IAN HODDER for his work in archaeology and his contribution to the relations between the United Kingdom and Turkey.

Stanford anthropologist Ian Hodder
Stanford anthropologist Ian Hodder (Image credit: Jason Quinlan)

Hodder, the Dunlevie Family Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, received the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George – a British order of chivalry usually awarded to diplomats and people who have made important contributions to the country’s foreign affairs.

Hodder received the Companion (CMG) class of the order. He was among 15 people who received the order, according to the U.K.’s announcement about the honor.

Over the past 25 years, Hodder has led an international effort to reconstruct the story of humanity’s past in a Neolithic village in modern-day Turkey. The project, known as the Çatalhöyük Research Project, has involved thousands of researchers over the time that Hodder has been its leader. The core team of researchers consists of about 160 people from 22 different countries.

“It’s a pure gift out of nowhere,” Hodder said about the honor from the queen. “It’s nice to be recognized for my non-research work. This is an award for building bridges and ties between the U.K. and Turkey.”

Hodder said that he got an email and a call from British Ambassador to Turkey Dominick John Chilcott several weeks before the award was announced.

When he saw a letter in his email box from the ambassador, Hodder said his mind went to the worst-case scenario.

“I thought I must have done something really awful, and I was terribly worried about what it might be,” Hodder said. “And when the ambassador told me about the award I thought that he made a mistake. It was a big surprise.”

Hodder said that the award reflects not just his work but the work of the entire team at Çatalhöyük, which is a 9,000-year-old Neolithic city. The site is now directed by Turkish scholar Çiler Çilingiroğlu after Hodder stepped down from the position in 2018.

Excavations at Çatalhöyük first began in 1961 under James Mellaart, a British archaeologist whose digs continued through 1965. After a controversy involving forged and missing artifacts, the Turkish government banned Mellaart and the excavations at the site halted for about 30 years.

“It was a terrible shame and a blight on Turkish archaeology,” Hodder said. “When I was able to start on the site in the early 1990s, there were a lot of diplomatic issues between the U.K. and Turkey that had to be smoothed over.”

Hodder said he had to work with local and national politicians in Turkey to get support for his excavation team. He was also in charge of getting support from commercial figures in Turkey and the media so that the excavation could receive appropriate funding.

“The big task during my first years on the project was to alleviate the suspicion among Turks toward the British and build trust,” Hodder said.

Hodder said that the most challenging part of his work on the site in Turkey was juggling the competing interests.

“Keeping all the balls in the air was the most challenging part,” Hodder said. “I needed the money from commercial sponsors, but they were only interested if there was a lot of publicity about the site. But the press was only interested in interesting findings, which I could only deliver with a big team, which required funding.”

As a result of Hodder and his team’s work, the Çatalhöyük site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. It also became a model for other similar projects in Turkey.