As the ruins of Ephesos had already appeared in the travel reports of the 17th -19th centuries, the British Museum in London began archaeological investigations at Ephesos. The architect, John Turtle Wood, directed the excavations of 1863-1874 which aimed to locate the Artemision: on New Year's Eve, 1869, Wood came across the marble revetment of the temple at a depth of 7 m. However, because the expected finds were not discovered, excavations were halted in 1874, and excavations under David G. Hogarth in the years 1904/05 represented the conclusion of English investigations at Ephesos.
Otto Benndorf, Professor of Classical Archaeology at Vienna University and the first director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute wanted Ephesos to be a research area for Austrian science; his initiative was supported by the Turkish and German sides. A donation by the businessman Karl Mautner Ritter von Markhof in April 1895 enabled the beginning of activities. The finds from the first excavations were were partly transported to Vienna and today these are exhibited in the Ephesos Museum of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Since 1906 all finds have been left in the country of origin, Turkey, and they can be seen at the Ephesos Museum in Selçuk. Since 1898, the yearly excavation license issued by the host country is
used by the Austrian Archaeological Institute with the aim of topographic, historical and architectural research of the city. Disruptions occurred in 1909/10, 1914-1925 and 1936-1953.
The first excavation directors concentrated their research on the area between the harbor and the agora as well as at the Artemision and the Basilica of St. John. In the late 1920s, excavations of the large gymnasia and of the Seven Sleepers' Cemetery followed. With the resumption of excavation after the 2nd World War, not only were vast excavations in the area of the Curetes Street and the Byzantine city undertaken, but also the first monuments were partially reconstructed, such as the Temple of Hadrian and St. John's Basilica. In the 1960s, a new excavation staff installed permanent projects in the area of the Terrace Houses and the Artemision. Systematic investigations of Terrace Houses 1 and 2 followed, and the Library of Celsus was reconstructed. In the 1980s and 1990s, research into the historical topography was intensified and excavations were carried out at the Agora, in the Artemision and in the Theatre, in the Church of Mary and in the region of the Stadium, while at the beginning of the 21st century, conservation and restoration formed the focal point of Austrian activities; the new protective building over Terrace House 2 was erected.
Today, in accordance with the
modified objectives of archaeological knowledge, the focal point of excavations is not the vast uncovering of antique ruins, but instead the systematic research and publication of various eras from the more than thousand-year history of the former metropolis of Asia. In addition to this, conservation and restoration of finds and monuments, and above all the scientific monitoring of monument preservation activities especially at such a highly developed tourist site as Ephesos is particularly important.
The research budget consists of funding from the Austrian Republic, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Foundation for Promoting Scientific Research and contributions from private sponsors. Since 1970 the 'Society of Friends of Ephesos' has been one of the biggest promoters of the Austrian excavation, enhanced in recent years by private sponsors, above all from the host country.