The top 10 archaeological finds in Turkey and North Cyprus in 2020

Archaeology website Arkeofili has compiled a top 10 list of the most exciting archaeological discoveries in Turkey this year. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, many important discoveries were made and site digs continued across the country.

Here are the most important archaeological developments of the year. Many of these sites were discovered in previous years but have only yielded significant findings in the past year:

10 - A mysterious building under Haydarpaşa platforms

Haydarpaşa archaeological excavations

Haydarpaşa archaeological excavations in 2019 by Alicia Fagerving via Wikimedia Commons

During the excavations at Haydarpaşa Train Station in Kadıköy, a special rectangular structure with a large marble floor and a mass grave was found.

The floor of the East-West oriented building, which has not been fully unearthed yet, is paved with large marble stones. The mysterious building is not a church, however. A mass grave was found inside the apse, with many bones belonging to 38 people found in it. A separate burial chamber was found under the marble floor. There are many single tombs in the vicinity of this building belonging to the early Byzantine period. It is thought that this structure may be a mausoleum belonging to an important person or persons.

According to Daily Sabah, “Nearly 18,000 coins from past centuries were found in earlier excavation work in the area which was named Chalcedon during the Byzantine rule of Istanbul.”

9 - A mosaic church in Mardin from 386 AD

Ancient Syriac Inscriptions on Facade of Saint Hirmiz Chaldean Church - Mardin

Ancient Syriac Inscriptions on Facade of Saint Hirmiz Chaldean Church in Mardin by Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons

A basilica church built in 386 was found during the excavations in Mardin's Derik district. Traces of the church were discovered in September 2019 and it was later declared an archaeological site.

In the Gola Settlement of Mardin, a mosaic structure with human and animal figures, geometric and floral motifs, as well as an Estrengelo (ancient Syriac) inscription, was unearthed. From the inscriptions of the basilica planned church and baptistery from the Early Byzantine Period, it was determined that it belongs to the last quarter of the 4th century AD. The mosaics show an inscription between two human figures, one carrying an animal on his shoulder and the other holding a bird in one hand and a rooster in the other. 

8 - Dragon head bracelets on the arm of an Urartian baby in Van

Çavuştepe Castle

Çavuştepe Castle by gordontour via Flickr

A baby’s skeleton with two dragon-head bracelets on its arm was found in Çavuştepe Castle in Van's Gürpınar district.

The 2,750-year-old necropolis is thought to be the place where Urartu’s aristocrats were buried in Çavuştepe Castle. Two dragon-head bracelets and a child skeleton with jewelry on the neck were unearthed. The approximately 3-year-old baby had an amulet and a bead necklace on its neck. The burial shows that the child was likely from an important family. The finding shows that the Urartians carefully decorated their babies and sent them off to the afterlife, and is a very important discovery for Urartu archeology.

7 - Stele with Old Phrygian inscriptions in Eskişehir

Inkaya Phrygian rock-cut tomb in Eskişehir

Inkaya Phrygian rock-cut tomb in Eskişehir by Zeynel Cebeci via Wikimedia Commons

During surveys conducted in Eskişehir, a stele in the form of an idol with Phrygian inscriptions was found. The clear part of the inscription read: “Atas. My monument is a boundary stone.”

The stele was found in Eski Cami Höyük, a mound or tell 1 km southeast of Gümüşbel Village and 15 km east of Seyitgazi District in Eskişehir Province. An Islamic cemetery was built on top of the mound. Anadolu University Faculty Member Assoc. Dr. Rahşan Tamsü Polat told Arkeofili that the stele was an unprecedented example of Phrygian monumental inscription.

The 100 cm high and 50 cm wide stele was engraved into a solid block. On the stele, there is a Paleo-Phrygian inscription consisting of a single line at the top and three lines at the bottom. The figures on the stele include the Mother Goddess, Cybele, and other gods accompanying her. As can be seen from the inscription, the stele was probably used as a boundary stone. 

6 - An unknown ancient city in the Yesemek Sculpture Workshop

Yesemek sculpture workshop by Klaus-Peter Simon

Yesemek sculpture workshop by Klaus-Peter Simon via Wikimedia Commons

The ruins of an ancient city were discovered for the first time in connection with the Yesemek Quarry and Sculpture Workshop, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

Yesemek, which is the largest and oldest known sculpture workshop and stone quarry in the ancient world, contained hundreds of sculptures and various architectural elements, most of them in draft form. Now the ruins of a city associated with this workshop have been discovered spread over an area of ​​about 200 hectares. According to the surface finds, it is thought that this city was not completed and was left unfinished. 

It seems that the Hittite Empire had started construction of a large fortified city project that controlled the "Northern Levant Corridor" between the Amanos and the Kurt mountains. The city, understood to be linked to the Yesemek Sculpture Workshop and Stone Quarry, is a new and very important discovery. It is hoped that more information will be gained with the work to be done. 

Unfortunately, according to Arkeofili, the area is in danger due to a water treatment plant built nearby. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently attended the opening ceremony of the Gaziantep Düzbağ Drinking Water Transmission Line and Doğanpınar Dam.

5 - A 3,400-year-old Akkadian cuneiform tablet in Hatay

BJ945 Cuneiform  British Museum, London 2005.

Akkadian cuneiform tablet in the British Museum via Flickr

In the excavations carried out in Aççana Höyük, a mound or tell which has been identified with the ancient city of Alalah, an administrative tablet with Akkadian cuneiform writing dating to the first half of the 14th century BC was found. The mound is in the Reyhanlı district of the southeastern province of Hatay. According to Hurriyet Daily News, “Alalah was the capital of the regional Kingdom of Mukish”.

The tablet is dated to the period between the end of Mitanni rule and the beginning of Hittite rule. The inscription mentions a "king" whose name is not mentioned in the text. Written documents presenting data on what happened during the period from the collapse of Mitanni to the Hittites' domination of the region during the reign of Suppiluliuama I (ca. 1400-1350 BC) are rare. This tablet, which was found during the 2020 excavations of Aççana Höyük, is an extremely important find since it belongs to that period. 

Excavation head Murat Akar told Hurriyet that despite not knowing the name of the king described in the text, “the tablet is still very important to us, within the time period between 400 and 350 years B.C. We know that there was a fight between the Mitanni and the Hittite Empire in the region, and the regional kingdom between this fight actually served the Hittite empire once and then the Mitanni empire.”

4 - Sculpture head carved into the bedrock at Karahan Tepe

Karahan Tepe in 2013

Karahan Tepe in 2013 by Deporte, Actividades y Participación UC3M via Flickr

In Karahan Tepe, which is located in Şanlıurfa, a statue head and ritual areas carved into the bedrock were discovered. The site is from a similar time period to Göbekli Tepe, which is considered to be the oldest religious site in the world, and possibly even older than that. The site has been being excavated since 1997, with up to 250 animal images carved into rocks being found since then.

In the excavations carried out this year in Karahan Tepe, which is about 35 kilometers from Göbekli Tepe, structures carved into the bedrock were found. In one of these structures, a 50 cm diameter statue head was found, also carved into the bedrock. Other human images are among the finds unearthed during the 2020 excavations. Excavations to be carried out here are expected to answer some questions about Göbekli Tepe and similar settlements.

Professor Necmi Karul of the Prehistory Department at İstanbul University, who leads the excavations told Hurriyet that “This year we have found very important finds highlighting the human symbolism. We discovered sculptures and new buildings. The statue head is quite interesting. The statue head, 50 cm in diameter, is carved into the bedrock. Again, we found structures carved into the bedrock around it.“

3 - Mysterious Ancient Egyptian anchor off the coast of Northern Cyprus


A 3,200-year-old anchor with Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs has been unearthed along the northern coastline of Cyprus.

The process of converting from a stele to an anchor was a practice of this period, as hieroglyphic scripts were believed to have protective and apotropaic power. The dolphins, birds, scarab and similar signs on it represented the belief of the crew in the ship's protective power in any storm. This anchor, which is a Syrian Type single-hole stone anchor, is dated to the Late Bronze Age, approximately 1200 BC. An inscription mentions Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose II.

According to Cyprus International University (CIU) faculty member Dr. Müge Şevketoğlu, it is the first stone anchor to be discovered in the Mediterranean that is so densely covered in hieroglyphs. The CIU website notes that the anchor “could be a tombstone belonging to a grave used in Egypt, or a monument inscription belonging to a religious tradition, and [Şevketoğlu] pointed out that it was... turned into an anchor for the second purpose of use, which was a general practice of the period.”

2 - The best preserved amphitheater of Anatolia in Aydın

During the surveys conducted in Aydın's Nazilli district, an underground amphitheater was discovered in an area covered with dense trees.

The structure, which is part of the ancient city of Mastaura, is of great importance for Anatolian archeology. Few well-preserved amphitheater buildings in Anatolia have survived until now, as the stones were usually reused for other buildings. Work has been started to clean and unearth the Mastaura Amphitheater, which was built in the Roman Imperial Period, about 1800 years ago. As the trees and shrubs are cleaned, the monumental building with a width of 100 meters and a height of 20 meters is emerging from the ground.

Researchers from Aydın Adnan Menderes University were inspired to look for the structure after reading accounts of European travellers in the region 200 years ago who mentioned an amphitheatre. Aydın Culture and Tourism Provincial Director Umut Tuncer told Hurriyet Daily News that “we have some theaters in our region that we have identified before, but these theaters were in the shape of half a moon. This is a complete Colosseum structure. There is no such strong structure in Anatolia”.

1 - An Iron Age Hittite kingdom in Konya

Neo-Hittite rock inscription of Topada with Luwian hieroglyphs, 2nd half of the 8th century BC, Turkey

Neo-Hittite rock inscription of Topada with Luwian hieroglyphs, 2nd half of the 8th century BC, Turkey by Carole Raddato via Flickr

During the surveys carried out in Konya, a hitherto unknown Iron Age kingdom was discovered with a monument proclaiming: "I am the great king Hartapu!"

During the survey conducted at Turkmen-Karahöyük in Konya, a large stone with Luwian inscriptions dating to the 8th century BC was found in the irrigation canal. The inscription reads, “I, the great king Hartapu, was attacked by other kings when I invaded the land of Amulet. With the help of the Storm God and the other gods I defeated all the other kings!”. 

Hartapu is a king whose name was known from seven different inscriptions before. However, we do not know the name of the kingdom he ruled. Hartapu was thought to be the king of Tarhuntassa, a city for which several possible locations had previously been suggested. 

According to Smithsonian, the Luwians are possibly identified with the ‘Sea Peoples’, who Egyptian records blamed for the conflicts that precipitated the Bronze Age Collapse. The time frame of the 9th to 7th centuries BCE suggests that the Luwian inscriptions may refer to a conflict between Hartapu and Phrygia, which was ruled by the legendary King Midas.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.