The University of Toronto has just posted this news release on their website detailing an important discovery at one of their dig sites…
University of Toronto archaeologists find cache of cuneiform tablets in 2,700-year old Turkish temple
TORONTO, ON – Excavations led by a University of Toronto archaeologist at the site of a recently discovered temple in southeastern Turkey have uncovered a cache of cuneiform tablets dating back to the Iron Age period between 1200 and 600 BCE. Found in the temple’s cella, or ‘holy of holies’, the tablets are part of a possible archive that may provide insights into Assyrian imperial aspirations.
The assemblage appears to represent a Neo-Assyrian renovation of an older Neo-Hittite temple complex, providing a rare glimpse into the religious dimension of Assyrian imperial ideology,” says Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology in the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T’s Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). “The tablets, and the information they contain, may possibly highlight the imperial ambitions of one of the great powers of the ancient world, and its lasting influence on the political culture of the Middle East.” The cella also contained gold, bronze and iron implements, libation vessels and ornately decorated ritual objects.
Partially uncovered in 2008 at Tell Tayinat, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Palastin, the structure of the building where the tablets were found preserves the classic plan of a Neo-Hittite temple. It formed part of a sacred precinct that once included monumental stelae carved in Luwian (an extinct Anatolian language once spoken in Turkey) hieroglyphic script, but which were found by the expedition smashed into tiny shard-like fragments.
“Tayinat was destroyed by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BCE, and then transformed into an Assyrian provincial capital, equipped with its own governor and imperial administration,” says Harrison. “Scholars have long speculated that the reference to Calneh in Isaiah’s oracle against Assyria alludes to Tiglath-pileser’s devastation of Kunulua – ie, Tayinat. The destruction of the Luwian monuments and conversion of the sacred precinct into an Assyrian religious complex may represent the physical manifestation of this historic event.”
The temple was later burned in an intense fire and found filled with heavily charred brick and wood which, ironically, contributed to the preservation of the finds recovered from its inner chambers. “While those responsible for this later destruction are not yet known, the remarkable discoveries preserved in the Tayinat temple clearly record a pivotal moment in its history,” says Harrison. “They promise a richly textured view of the cultural and ethnic contest that has long characterized the turbulent history of this region.” (http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/main/release_tablets-in-Turkish-temple)
Background information on the Tayinat archaeological site
The discovery of a remarkably well-preserved monumental temple in Turkey — thought to be constructed during the time of King Solomon in the 10th/9th-centuries BC — sheds light on the so-called Dark Age.
Uncovered by the University of Toronto’s Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) in the summer of 2008, the discovery casts doubt upon the traditional view that the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive.
Ancient sources — such as the Homeric epics and the Hebrew Bible — depict an era of widespread famine, ethnic conflict and population movement, most famously including the migrations of the Sea Peoples (or biblical Philistines) and the Israelites. This is thought to have precipitated a prolonged Dark Age marked by cultural decline and ethnic strife during the early centuries of the Iron Age. But recent discoveries — including the Tayinat excavations — have revealed that some ruling dynasties survived the collapse of the great Bronze Age powers.
“Our ongoing excavations have not only begun to uncover extensive remains from this Dark Age, but the emerging archaeological picture suggests that during this period Tayinat was the capital of a powerful kingdom, the ‘Land of Palastin’,” says Timothy Harrison, professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Toronto and the director of the project. “Intriguingly, the early Iron Age settlement at Tayinat shows evidence of strong cultural connections, if not the direct presence of foreign settlers, from the Aegean world, the traditional homeland of the Sea Peoples.”
Excavations uncovered the temple’s southern approach, which once faced a broad stone-paved courtyard, and consisted of a monumental staircase and porticoed-entrance, supported by a large, ornately carved basalt column base.
In addition, fragments of monumental stelae — stone slabs created for religious or other commemorative purposes — carved in Luwian (an extinct language once spoken in what is now Turkey) hieroglyphic script, were found. They are thought to have once stood on stone platforms in the courtyard.
“The building’s central room was burned in an intense fire. It was filled with heavily charred brick and wood, as well as a substantial quantity of bronze metal, including riveted pieces and carved ivory fragments — clearly the remains of furniture or wall fixings. Fragments of gold and silver foil were also found along with the carved eye inlay from a human figure,” added Harrison.
The temple’s inner sanctuary — also know as its ‘holy of holies’ — will be the focus of the 2009 field season which begins on July 1.(http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/main/temple)
Read more about this discovery: http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/main/tayinat-backgrounder.pdf
Visit the University of Toronto’s Tayinat Archaeological Project homepage: http://www.utoronto.ca/tap