Marc Waelkens (12.4.1948-21.2.2021)
It is with great sadness that the Belgian School at Athens was informed of the untimely passing of Marc Waelkens, professor emeritus of the University of Leuven. Before receiving his PhD at the University of Gent in 1976, Marc had already obtained plenty of excavation experience at Pessinus in Turkey from 1968 onwards and later at Thorikos and Provatsa in Attica (1981-1983). He would continue participation in field work at Apamea in Syria, at several sites in Turkey (Hierapolis, Aphrodisias, Pisidia Survey, Sagalassos) but also occasionally in Italy and Egypt.
Marc’s scientific career started as a researcher of the National Fund for Scientific Research at Ghent University in 1970. In 1986, he was made lecturer in Mediterranean archaeology at the KULeuven and eventually (1996) full professor. At the KULeuven, he was member and head of the research council for many years, but also head of department as well as having a very busy teaching charge. His students, however, will always remember him for his enthusiasm, commitment and passion. The number of PhD’s that were defended under his guidance is impressive and many of his students went on to make successful academic careers internationally.
His interest in the mountain site of Sagalassos started in 1985 when, during the Pisidia survey with Stephen Mitchell, he explored its ruins for the first time, ruins that before had only occasionally been mentioned by a few early travellers. From 1990 onwards and for the following three decades, Marc (affectionally known as Marc Bey) directed the summer excavations at Sagalassos, which grew to be one of the largest archaeological projects ever to be undertaken in the Mediterranean. To fully understand the ancient city and its history, Marc felt the excavation not only had to be large, hence the size of the team, comprising dozens of local workers from Ağlasun and both Turkish and Belgian students, but it also had to be interdisciplinary, hence the variety of international experts involved. In 1988 already, Marc co-founded ASMOSIA (Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones used in Antiquity) and later at the KULeuven, the Center for Archaeological Sciences, both prime examples of the interdisciplinary approach Marc advocated. The publications on this interdisciplinary research count in the hundreds while final excavation reports were published in the Sagalassos Series of the Studies in Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology (SEMA), founded by Marc. It is a rare privilege for an archaeologist to see his dreams come true, which, in Marc’s case, was seeing Sagalassos gradually come alive. His close collaborating with an expert team of site conservators and architects made it possible to restore several buildings of the site on a scientifically sound basis, turning the city into a much-appreciated tourist destination.
Marc was also a co-founder of ROCT (Roman Arts and Crafts in East and West) in 1996 and PI of several programs, including a long-lasting one funded by BELSPO. Since 1998, Marc was a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Sciences, Letters & Arts and amongst the honours received are the Solvay prize for humanities (2001) and a distinction from the Turkish State (2002). He was also corresponding member of the AIA, of the DAI and other societies and was knighted in 2009, a rare honour for a Belgian archaeologist. He was honorary citizen of both Waregem and Burdur.
Marc’s energy was legendary and his annual lectures on the Sagalassos excavations in the Aula Magna in Leuven always had to be repeated several days, with each time more than 800 attendants, who came away enchanted by his charisma, enthusiasm and passion.
Of the things I recall Marc felt particularly happy was seeing the Sagalassos fountain again provide fresh water after 1500 years and the discovery of a colossal statue of the Emperor Hadrian in 2007. But also the exhibition Sagalassos: City of Dreams at the Gallo-Roman museum in Tongeren in 2011-2012 and Anatolia at the Bozar Museum in Brussels in 2015-2016 gave him great joy and pride.
While most of Marc’s career focussed on Anatolian archaeology, his work at Thorikos in the 1980s was instrumental since he contributed a chapter on tool marks and mining techniques in Mine n° 3 for Thorikos IX (1977-1982). We are lucky to have had him deliver the EBSA’s annual lecture in 2018 on his work at Sagalassos. A man larger than life……
J. Driessen, director EBSA
(a full publication of Marc’s work was published by Nezih Basgelen in 2020)