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Kilise Tepe

Mesopotamia at Cambridge

Cuneiform

Kilise Tepe

 

Kilise Tepe

The mound of Kilise Tepe is in southern Turkey, at the western limit of the Assyrian empire in "Rough Cilicia". After five years' excavation here in the 1990s, work started again in 2007 and is scheduled to continue in 2010-12. The site is a typical small Near Eastern mound (see picture), which takes its significance from its position guarding the route which passes down the Göksu Valley from the central Anatolian plateau to the Mediterranean coast at Silifke (Hellenistic Seleucia). Under the foundations of a 5th Century Byzantine church, from which the mound takes its name, are a good 10 metres of Iron Age and Bronze Age settlement going back to about 2800 BC, giving us the opportunity to compare archaeological evidence with our expectations derived from the historical sources. These suggest that the Hittites would have dominated the valley in the 14th-13th century, and indeed our excavations at the NW corner of the mound have exposed a substantial looking building of the Late Bronze Age with a reception room from which came an ivory stamp seal with an official's name in hieroglyphic script (see picture), suggesting the site was indeed a (small!) administrative centre serving the Hittite rulers.

Ivory stamp seal

At some point around 1300 BC this building was flattened, and a quite different structure put up. The plain pottery of the Hittite period is joined by new shapes with painted designs (see picture) which belong to the Cilician region and are not found on the central plateau, a change which may reflect a local dynasty. The new building had 10 rooms arranged round a space with a central hearth. It seems to have been both a shrine, with an altar and some interesting foundation deposits and a storehouse, and we called it the "Stele Building" from a rough stone stele found lying on the floor, shattered by a fierce fire which destroyed the building. Though it was rebuilt, it was burnt down again not long after, and the Mycenaean style pottery found on the floors tells us this was in the early 12th century, not long after the disruption around 1190 BC when the dynasty at Hattusa collapsed, along with many of the palace regimes in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Henceforth documentary sources for the area are very scarce until it appears in the Painted Pot Kilise Tepemargins of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires about 500 years later, when their armies clash with local dynasts lurking in the mountains above the Cilician seaboard. To find out what went on in the "Dark Ages" at Kilise Tepe, we are concentrating on a sounding south of the basilica. Here there had been domestic houses in the Hittite period, but at about the time the Stele Building was destroyed these were abandoned; at one point two concentric rings of postholes suggest there was a large (but ephemeral) circular structure, but later on there were only successive open spaces until we reach a final pre-Classical surface dating from 700-600 BC. At first the pottery becomes coarser and sometimes very roughly hand-made, and then gradually we begin to see wares which are familiar in the Eastern Mediterranean, either imported or imitated, signalling that the people of Kilise Tepe had re-established links with the south before transferring elsewhere in the valley.

 

The Kilise Tepe Archaeological Project is a joint venture with Newcastle University, and is sponsored by the British Institute at Ankara as a component of its strategic research initiative on the settlement history of Anatolia. In 2007-2009 the project was supported by the British Academy, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory in Philadelphia, the National Geographic Society (for the bio-archaeological work), the Isaac Newton Trust, and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. From 2010-2012 the work will largely be underwritten by a grant from the AHRC. The report on the 1990s excavations was published as: J.N. Postgate & D.C. Thomas (eds.), Excavations at Kilise Tepe, 1994-1998: From Bronze Age to Byzantine in Western Cilicia, 2 vols. (McDonald Institute/British Institute at Ankara 2007).