Anatolian Archaeology

Two Outstanding Turkish Excavations
A "Fulbright" in Turkey

By: Samuel Noah Kramer

Originally Published in 1952

View PDF

October 29th of next year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of the Turkish Republic. On that day, just thirty years ago, convened the Turkish National Assembly which proclaimed Turkey a republic, and elected Kemal Ataturk as its first president. In the decades that have followed, Turkey has made noteworthy advancement in many fields of human endeavor, material and spiritual. Agriculture, industry, and commerce are thriving and flourishing as never before. Its political, social, and educational institutions have undergone revolutionary changes of a marked progressive character. From a land on the brink of dismemberment and collapse, Turkey has risen to be the leading power in the Middle East, and, as has been clearly demonstrated on the Korean battleground, one that respects its international obligations in deed as well as in word. As the responsible Turkish leaders will readily admit, Turkey still has far to go, but it is well on its way. Its upward climb is watched with keen sympathy by the more progressive-minded people the world over, and has their best wishes for ultimate and lasting success.

Natural rock formations carved into churches.
Figure 20. “Skyscraper” churches and monasteries tunneled out from castle-like rock formations; some have Byzantine wall paintings of Biblical scenes.
A painting showing Judas betraying Jesus.
Figure 21. “Christ Betrayed by Judas,” a Byzantine wall painting in one of “Coneland’s” churches, now known as Karanhk Kilise.

But all this is for others to document and debate-political scientists, economists and educators. As a mere Orientalist I am concerned primarily with the ancient rather than the modem culture of Western Asia. What interested me as a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey was, therefore, what progress the Turks were making in such research fields as Anatolian archaeology and ancient history.

Until the birth of the Turkish Republic, Anatolian archaeology was almost entirely in the hands of Western institutions and scholars; with a few rare exceptions-the name of the late Halil Edhem, the “father” of archaeological and museum research in Turkey, at once comes to mind-the Turks themselves showed little interest in these activities. Today, I found, there are dozens of Turks, both men and women, who have had years of scholarly and scientific training in archaeology, epigraphy, museum practices, physical anthropology, history of art, in short, in all the major studies and techniques revolving about the digging, conserving, and interpreting of the ancient Anatolian monuments. The older among them are largely Western-trained, since not a few of the professors in Turkey’s two major learned institutions, the Universities of Istanbul and Ankara, were Western professors whom the wise Ataturk and his far-sighted group of advisers encouraged to come to Turkey to teach. The younger men, and, in the nature of things, the new generation of archaeologists will be largely Turkish-trained. However, to judge from the attitude of Turkey’s more experienced and responsible educators, this will by no means lead to a policy of archaeological isolationism. Science, and the scientific study of the history of civilization, in particular, knows no national boundaries, and even the younger Turkish archaeologists, the future leaders in Anatolian research, are quite aware that scholarly contact and cooperation with their fellow workers the world over will prove valuable and fruitful in every way and to all concerned.

A tall chalice.
Figure 22. Gold chalice.
A pitcher with zig zag pattern pressed into the metal.
Figure 23. Gold pitcher.
An assortment of circular jewelry.
Figure 24. Diadem (?) and ornaments of gold.

As representative examples of the Anatolian archaeological research pursued in recent years by Turkish scholars, let me describe briefly the results of two excavations generally known as Alaca (pronounced Alaja) and Karatepe. The two sites are located in central Anatolia, but hundreds of miles apart. Alaca is situated to the north, in the bend of the Halys River, and in the general territory where flourished the Hittite, and later, the Phrygian civilizations. The Alaca excavations are particularly noteworthy for the discovery of a group of pre-Hittite tombs filled with metal objects of rare beauty and workmanship, the remarkable product of a still unidentified people. Karatepe, on the other hand, is situated far to the south, in territory which faced the Semitic civilizations of the “fertile crescent.” Its main find consists of a series of inscribed and sculptural panels lined up along the walls of two gateway buildings in a rather small fort, which will enable scholars to decipher the still largely unknown Hittite hieroglyphic script and language. The description here presented of some of the more important discoveries at Alaca and Karatepe is based on the excavators’ published reports, on private conversations and discussions with some of the excavators themselves, and on visits to several excavated sites-including Alaca but not Karatepe-in the course of a brief archaeological tour of inner Anatolia.8 The accompanying photographs were generously supplied by the excavators and other authorized Turkish officials.

A bull figure with concentric circles on its sides.
Figure 25. “Tattooed” bull on shaft. (Copy prepared by the Turkish Department of Antiquities.)
Bull figure on a shaft.
Figure 26. Bull on shaft. (Copy prepared by Turkish Department of Antiquities.)
Figurine of a deer with antlers, concentircal circles and zigzags on its body.
Figure 27. “Tattooed” deer on shaft.

Alaca was excavated under the direction of Hamit Kosay, who was until quite recently the Director-General of Antiquities, and in that capacity played a leading role in encouraging and developing Turkish archaeological, ethnographic, and museum research. The Alaca excavations began as early as 1935 and have continued sporadically until recent years. Starting from the surface of the mounds and going down to virgin soil, the excavators unearthed four main ancient cultural periods, the Phrygian, dating largely from the first half of the first millennium B.C.; the Hittite, covering most of the second millennium; the “copper,” from the second half of the third millennium; the chalcolithic, sometime in the fourth millennium B.C., and ending about 2500 B.C. It is in the layers dating from the “copper” period that the excavators made their unexpected and, in some respects, revolutionary discoveries: a group of “royal” tombs, ranging in date from approximately 2350 to 2100 B.C., filled with funerary gifts made of gold, silver, electrum, copper, bronze and even iron; both in quantity and quality the finds in these tombs compare not unfavorably with those of the now famous Royal Cemetery of the Sumerian city of Ur.

The tombs consist in the main of rectangular rooms measuring at times as much as six meters by three, and about one meter in depth. The walls, and now and then the floor as well, are built of stone; the flat top is covered with wood. Dogs accompanied the dead as well as food in the form of parts of cattle, sheep and goats.

Square disc with interlocking geometric pattern.
Figure 28. Diamond-shaped disc with swastika motif.
Circular disk with hanldes, triangular pattern inside.
Figure 29. “Bar-handled” oval disc with small circular disc attached.

As for the objects placed in the tombs as funerary gifts, they consist of a varied assortment of stone and metal vases (Fig. 22), cans, and pitchers (Fig. 23) as well as pottery; of ornaments and jewelry such as golden diadems (Fig. 24), bracelets, earrings and necklaces; of toilet articles such as metal combs, mirrors, pins and needles, and hooks; of weapons such as swords and spears; and finally and most important, of a number of remarkable metal objects which are usually classed as divine symbols. These consist of figures of bulls (Figs. 25, 26) and deer (Fig. 27) made of copper, some of which are silver plated and have silver inlays; a varied assortment of metal discs in the form of semicircles, diamonds (Fig. 28), and ovals (Fig. 29), which seem to have served as heads of standards; a group of metal “sun-ray” discs out of which seem to step figures of bulls and deer (Figs. 30, 31). It is generally thought that all these figures and discs are cult objects of religious significance. In any case they are, at least for the moment, practically unique in Anatolia; in particular they have no counterparts in the Hittite civilization which flourished there in the centuries that followed. The people responsible for this “copper” period culture in inner Anatolia is still unidentified; the excavators see a close connection between them and the people responsible for the Kuban and pre-Scythian White Russian cultures. But whoever they finally turn out to be, it is clear from the Alaca excavation that these ancient Anatolians are to be credited with a major and hitherto unsuspected contribution to man’s technological progress, particularly in the field of metallurgy.

Deer figurine surrounded by ring.
Figure 30. Disc with statuette of deer. (Copy prepared by Turkish Department of Antiquities.)
Bull and deer figurines surrounded by a ring with handles.
Figure 31. Disc with statuettes of a deer and two bulls.

Unlike Alaca where not a single inscribed document has as yet been found, Karatepe, the second of the two excavations selected to illustrate the progress of Turkish archaeological activities,9 made its major contributions in the field of epigraphy and linguistics. The excavations were conducted by Th. Bossert, a Turkish citizen of German origin, and his two diligent and experienced Turkish assistants, Bahadir Alkim and Halet Çambel, all three of the University of Istanbul. They began in 1947 and have continued on and off until this year. Karatepe is a small fort approximately 430 by 190 meters in size. Situated in the modern district of Adana in the hills bordering the Cilician plains, it was originally built by a king named Asitawanda as a fortress, hunting castle, and summer resort. The fort is surrounded by an impressive protecting city wall fortified with rectangular towers. There are two main entrances, one situated toward the northeast and the other toward the southwest. Each entrance has a T-shaped gateway building complex consisting of a central passage leading up to a hall with two lateral recesses. It is in these two gateway buildings that there were found sculptured and inscribed monuments which will make the term Karatepe Panel take rank alongside the Egyptian Rosetta Stone and the cuneiform Behistun Rock in the history of linguistic studies.

View of massive stone panels with registers of scenes from daily life carved into them.
Figure 32. Feasting scene with servants, waiters, and musicians (two left panels); hunting god standing on bull and warriors on horse-back (two right panels).
Stone relief of a hunter.
Figure 33. Hunter with falcon and spear.

The scenes depicted on the Karatepe sculptured panels represent a variety of subjects and, to quote one of the excavators, “give a general impression of liveliness, unconventionalism, and eclecticism.” There are the expected gateguarding lions, sphinxes, and bull-men, as well as mythological and ritual scenes whose meaning is not too clear. A considerable number of panels, however, contain scenes of a more earthly character, which depict the life and leisure of the court and people; one of the more impressive is a feasting scene with the king as the central figure (Figs. 32, 33). In between these sculptured panels, a few of which are themselves inscribed in part, there were found whole slabs of basalt covered with nothing but writing; in some cases these panels, both sculptured and inscribed, were actually found lined up against the walls in their original positions. The inscribed slabs to the left of the entering visitor are in the Semitic Phoenician (Fig. 34), a script and language related to Biblical Hebrew, and therefore quite well known to scholars. Those to the right were inscribed in the still largely unknown Hittite hieroglyphic script (Figs. 35, 36). After a careful study of all the inscribed material, the excavators realized that they had three Phoenician and two Hittite versions of practically the same royal inscription, and that the Phoenician version will therefore provide the key for the decipherment and translation of its Hittite hieroglyphic counterpart (Fig. 37). Moreover, as a result of this decipherment, it will be possible to read and understand, far more intelligently than before, the Hittite hieroglyphic texts found inscribed on numerous monuments scattered through- out Anatolia and Syria, and ranging in date from the twelfth to the eighth century B.C.10

Large stone lion.
Figure 34. Gate-guarding lion with Phoenician inscription.
Stone relief of a servant fanning a seated queen.
Figure 35. Fanning the queen; Hittite hieroglyphic inscription at bottom of panel.
Stone relief of two people and three animals.
Figure 36. Ritual scene of obscure meaning. To the right is part of a Hittite hieroglyphic inscription.
Hand copies of hieroglyphs.
Figure 37. Selected sentences from the two hieroglyphic versions (lines 1 and 4) of the inscription of King Asitawandas, together with the corresponding text of the better preserved Phoenician version (line 2). Line 3 is not on the inscription at all, but was added by the excavators for purposes of illustration; it represents in modern Hebrew characters those Phoenician words on the inscription which the excavators believe correspond to the Hittite words immediately above and below. This plate is from a preliminary report of the Karatepe excavations, published in 1950.

8 I was accompanied on this trip through inner Anatolia by Armas Salonen, professor of cuneiform studies at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and by Franz Rosenthal, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Pennsylvania. It was in the course of this trip that we were privileged to visit one of the strangest sights on the globe, the Cappadocian “Coneland,” which offers its viewers a combination of natural scenic marvels and important archaeological remains of Byzantine days. If any of the readers of this BULLETIN ever travel to Turkey, a visit to “Coneland” will prove to be a thrilling experience. It is situated not far from the city of Kayseri, in central Turkey, and consists of a broad expanse of miles and miles of what seem to be multihued cones, pyramids, and minarets. Carved out of cracked volcanic ash and lava by the erosive action of wind and rain over the millennia, many of these skyscraper-like structures came to he used as human abodes (Figs. 1 and 20). Particularly during the Byzantine Empire, many of these rocky cones were hollowed out by the Christian inhabitants of Cappadocia and transformed into churches, monasteries, and hermitages (Fig. 21). The Turkish guard and his English-speaking assistant take the visitors through some of the more important of these rock-carved ancient buildings in many of which there are still preserved the colored murals and frescoes of Biblical scenes painted by Byzantine artists and craftsmen. Readers who wish to know more about this Turkish wonderland will find a detailed description and a group of excellent photographs, some in color, in the National Geographic Magazine, Vol. LXXVI, No. 6, pp. 763-802.
9 One other excavation should at least be mentioned by name, the Kültepe excavations conducted for the past several years by Tahsin Ozglüc of the University of Ankara. Kültepe is a mound not far from the city of Kayseri, which has long been known to scholars as the place from which thousands of tablets, excavated clandestinely, have found their way to the museums here and abroad. These tablets, which date from the first quarter of the second millennium B.C., are written in the cuneiform script and in the Semitic language known as Assyrian. Many of them have been copied, published, and translated, and we know that the ancient name of the site was Kanesh, and that an Assyrian trading colony, which did a thriving commerce with the indigenous non-Semitic population, was settled in one of its districts. Scientific excavations at the site were first undertaken by the eminent Czech scholar, Bedrich Hrozny, and his eagerly awaited publication of the results is now expected any day. The new excavations, undertaken by the Turks themselves and sponsored by the Turkish Historical Commission created by Kemal Ataturk, have already brought to light numerous important discoveries, inscriptional and archaeological. The future years may well prove this site to be of major significance for the study of ancient Anatolian history and culture.
10 It should perhaps be stressed at this point that the Hittite hieroglyphs on the Anatolian and Syrian monuments have now been studied for some two decades by a group of scholars and a certain amount of progress in their decipherment had been made previous to the discovery of the Karatepe bilinguals; the name of Ignace Gelb, of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, is particularly noteworthy in this connection. Nevertheless it is generally admitted that the Karatepe bilinguals will prove to be of epoch-making importance particularly in regard to the grammar and vocabulary of the language written with the Hittite hieroglyphs, and the excavators are not unjustified in acclaiming their value.

Cite This Article

Kramer, Samuel Noah. "Anatolian Archaeology." Museum Bulletin XVII, no. 2 (December, 1952): 43-56. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to