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As a school assistant in Beit Jala/Bethlehem (West Bank, then in Jordan) he developed a great interest in archaeology. Thereupon he decided to pursue studies, from 1962 to 1970, on prehistory, ancient history and archaeology at the University of Frankfurt/Main and the American University of Beirut. He received his doctorate in 1970 at Frankfurt/Main. From 1971-72 he was a scientific researcher at the University of Frankfurt/Main with the project of mapping Africa funded by the German federal government. Among other things he worked from 1971-1978 as a scientific adviser to the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul, leading excavations of a small Bronze-age fortress at Demircihuyuk in north-west Turkey. From 1978 to 1982 he was an academic assistant at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin, where in 1980 he obtained his Habilitation, following which he undertook some lecturing work at the University of Frankfurt/Main. In 1982 he received a professorship of prehistoric and ancient archaeology at the University of Tübingen, where he became Director of the Institute for Prehistory.
He continued his research in Turkey, excavating from 1982-87 at Besik Bay, a few kilometres from the famous site of Hisarlik (the supposed location of Homer's Troy). In 1988 the Turkish government gave him an exclusive excavation license for Troy itself (which for academic purposes is internationally known as Troia, at his suggestion). Over many years, his team excavated large sections of the lower part of Troy, beneath the later Roman-era ruins. During the excavation campaign and under the direction of Korfmann, altogether 13,240 square meters of land were excavated by 370 archaeologists. Since Schliemann's work of Troy there has been much dispute over its cultural and historical interpretation. While many ancient historians doubt the significance of the lower part of the settlement, Korfmann presented his argument that the bronze-age city at Hisarlik was quite large, and had played a key role in trade around the Dardanelles. Also due to his initiative, in 2001 a major Troy exhibition was displayed in Stuttgart, "Troy - dream and reality". About 800,000 visitors visited this exhibition, but the way it presented the excavation findings, initially without proper labelling of reconstructions which were purely speculative, turned the scientific debate into a bitter controversy. In February 2002 in Tübingen, Korfmann presented the arguments for his conclusions over the decades of past scientific works in Troy. The main point of the controversy was the real size and interpretation of the bronze-age city; further excavation in August 2003 supported Korfmann's theory, and he announced that "Troy was much larger than so far accepted, which I can prove by my excavations". The diggings in the plains south of the hill and magneto-metric investigations told that Troy was 15 times larger than previous expected. Outside a moat was cut down into the bedrock measuring a width of 4 meters and a depth of 2.
Owing to Korfmann the interest in Troy rose enormously, for his excavations again rekindled enthusiasm for the myths about Troy. In 1996 he helped to establish a national park around the Troy site and two years later UNESCO declared this site as World Cultural Heritage; many tourists come to see the excavation site. Professor Korfmann had accepted in 2004 the Turkish nationality given to him by the government of Turkey for his contribution to that country; he also took Osman as his middle name, acknowledging years of being known by the nickname of "Osman Bey". Apart from excavations in Troy, he also turned to excavation in other places around the Black Sea, notably Didigora and Udabno in Georgia.
Manfred Korfmann died of lung cancer on August 11, 2005 at the age of 63 in his home in Ofterdingen near Tübingen. He hoped that the excavations would continue, and that the Turkish government would build a world-class museum near the site. He was survived by his wife, son, and daughter.
- University webpage of Korfmann
- Project Troia - University website of Troy project under the direction of Prof. Manfred Korfmann
- UNESCO-World Heritage
- The Truth of Troy - transcript of BBC
- www.troia.de - main website for the Troia-exhibition in 2001/2002
- Was there a Trojan War?, "The Archaeology Journal", Vol. 57, No. 3, May/June 2004 by Korfmann
- "Troy lost its best defender" "Turkish Daily News" tribute (in English)
- 'Ein Leben fuer Troia - A Life for Troia' (Joachim Latacz), http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/troia/st/fifteen/sttr15-obituary-Korfmann.pdf
- Manfred Korfmann (1942-2005). In Eikasmos 16, 2005, 405-407
- "The Boss" is no longer alive, Stuttgarter Zeitung, 12.08.2005
- Manfred Korfmann is dead, German weekly magazine "Der Spiegel"
- Faith in Homer: Troy excavator Manfred Korfmann died, German newspaper "Die Welt"
- Troja researcher Manfred Korfmann died, German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung"
- Obituary, SWR, 11.08.2005 with Photos (German)
- Joachim Latacz: Korfmann, Manfred Osman, in: Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie, 2. Aufl., München: Saur 2006. ISBN 978-3-598-25030-9
- Troia website of "Schwäbisches Tagblatt" at the Wayback Machine (archived October 15, 2004), February 15, 2002; articles appear in the local newspaper in Tübingen with comments by Kolb and Korfmann
- New York Times News Service