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Ziyaret Tepe

Mesopotamia at Cambridge


Ziyaret Tepe

 Ziyaret Tepe Mound

The site of Ziyaret Tepe is located 60 km east of Diyarbakir in the upper Tigris region of southeastern Turkey. Now clearly understood to correspond to ancient Tushan it was a provincial capital and garrison town at the northern limits of the Assyrian Empire.

The site morphology comprises two distinct elements: a high mound 30 m high which contains a succession of remains which appear to form a continuous sequence from at least the late Uruk period up until the end of the Assyrian empire; and a surrounding lower town of approximately 30 ha. where the stratigraphy is in the region of 3 m deep. Sadly Ziyaret Tepe is now threatened with destruction by the flood waters of the Ilisu Dam.


These circumstances led to the formation of the Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project, an international collaboration led by Prof. Tim Matney of the University of Akron, Ohio, under whose coordination we currently have teams led by Dr. John MacGinnis of the University of Cambridge McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Dr. Dirk Wicke of the University of Mainz and Prof. Kemalettin Köroğlu of Marmara University (Istanbul). Previously Prof. Michael Roaf of the University of Munich also worked on the site, excavating a step trench on the east side of the high mound, and in the early years we were very fortunate to have Prof. Simo Parpola of the University of Helsinki as Senior Epigraphist. At present the British contribution is the largest single contribution to the project.

Cylinder seal

Following three years of surface survey and remote sensing, excavation at Ziyaret Tepe commenced in 2000. The overall strategy has been mapping by remote sensing followed by targeted excavation in multiple locations supported by a full range of scientific methods. While our colleagues from Mainz and Istanbul have been working on the high mound, the British Expedition has concentrated on the lower town. An advantage here is that the Neo-Assyrian remains, which in this case can be dated to 882 - 611 BC, are readily accessible just below the surface.

ZTT 22

To date the majority of work our work has been in the western half of the lower town, where among other operations we have uncovered a major administrative complex (Area G/R) and a monumental city gate (Area Q). There have been some outstanding finds, not least an archive of cuneiform tablets dating to the very end of the Assyrian empire (both before and after the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC) and including a sensational letter written in reply to a request to raise a unit of chariotry which depicts the military infrastructure in freefall collapse. Another text, from the palace on the high mound, has proved to be a list of names which are written in Assyrian script but appear to belong to a language hitherto unattested.

With the completion of work on both these areas in 2010 our attention is now directed further east and in 2011 we commenced a new three year phase of the project in the course of which, in addition to continuing the survey by resistivity, we plan to excavate an area of private (low or middle status) housing, one or more elite residences and an architectural complex, most likely barracks block or storage facility, north of the monumental gate. Beyond this we aim to maintain a degree of flexibility in order to accommodate the possibility of excavating in additional parts of the site in the event of any new discoveries thrown up by the resistivity survey. The eventual aim of our fieldwork is to reconstruct the layout and organisation of the city plan and to set this in the context of the nature and development of the impact of Assyrian rule on Anatolia. In all this we are never forgetful of what an immense privilege it is to be working on such an extraordinarily great site and of our duty to recover as much as possible of this unique heritage before it disappears forever.




  • MacGinnis, J.D.A. & T. Matney. 2009a. Archaeology at the Frontiers: Excavating a Provincial Capital of the Assyrian Empire: in Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies 23, pp. 1-19.
  • —. 2009b. Ziyaret Tepe: Digging the Frontier of the Assyrian Empire: in Current World Archaeology 37, pp. 30-40.
  • —. in press. A Neo-Assyrian tablet from the governor's palace of Tushan (JNES).
  • Matney, T. 1998. Preliminary Report on the First Season of Work at Ziyaret Tepe in Diyarbakir Province: in Anatolica 24, pp. 7-30.
  • —. 2010. Material Culture and Identity: Assyrian, Arameans and the Indigenous Peoples of Iron Age Southeastern Anatolia: in S. Steadman & J. Ross (eds.), Agency and Identity in the Ancient Near East: New Paths Forward, London, pp. 129-147.
  • Matney, T. & A. Bauer. 2000. The Third Season of Archaeological Survey at Ziyaret Tepe in Diyarbakir Province: in Anatolica 26, pp. 119-128.
  • Matney T. & L. Somers. 1999. The Second Season of Work at Ziyaret Tepe in the Diyarbakir Province: in Anatolica 25, pp. 203-219.
  • Matney, T. et al. 2002. Archaeological Excavations at Ziyaret Tepe, 2000 and 2001: in Anatolica 28, pp. 47-89.
  • —. 2003. Archaeological Investigations at Ziyaret Tepe, 2002: in Anatolica 29, pp. 175-221.
  • —. 2005. Archaeological Investigations at Ziyaret Tepe, 2003-4: in Anatolica 31, pp. 19-68.
  • —. 2007. Report on Excavations at Ziyaret Tepe, 2006 season: in Anatolica 33, pp. 23-74.
  • —. 2009. Excavations at Ziyaret Tepe, 2007-2008: in Anatolica 35, pp. 37-84.
  • Parpola, S. 2008. Cuneiform Texts from Ziyaret Tepe (Tushan), 2002-2003: in SAAB 17, pp. 1-137.
Map of the Assyrian Empire
Map of the Assyrian Empire