where an archaeological expedition of the University of Rome has brought to light a very long sequence of overlapping settlements.
Starting at least from 5000 B.C.E. and up to the Middle Ages several human groups have chosen to live, to build, to govern, and to bury their dead in this place.
The archaeological site of Arslantepe, inscribed on the permanent list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (2021), is the result of this overlap of human settlements, one over the other.
Arslantepe and the surrounding fertile plain
For sixty years the archaeological excavations of the Italian Archaeological Expedition in Eastern Anatolia (Sapienza University of Rome), in total collaboration and under the authorization of the Turkish directorate of antiquities, have continued to uncover, level after level, this unique mound, which narrates complex stories of changes, villages and cities, houses and palaces, of temples and burials, of ruinous collapses and moments of prosperity.
Ivory plaque from the Neo-Hittite levels
Until the Roman age, Arslantepe has always been the largest and most important settlement in the region. In particular, Arslantepe became a crucial center of eastern Anatolia in the 4th millennium BCE.
Here, in fact, it is possible to follow the formative stages of the formation process of early state societies.
More recently, around the end of the twelfth century BCE, Arslantepe became the capital of one of the kingdoms that followed in the once only peripheral regions of the empire upon the collapse of the Hittite empire (1400-1200 BCE).
In Melid/Malizi (the name of Arslantepe in this phase) local elites reworked the traditions of the imperial period in original ways. The most significant evidence of this phase are certainly the stone reliefs with religious and mythological scenes.
Starting in the mid-19th century, Arslantepe, like other important archaeological sites in the ancient Near East, was a destination for western explorers. The first true evidence of the site dates back to 1894 thanks to the publication of a stone bas-relief by D.G. Hogarth. The discovery aroused the interest of many scholars, including the famous traveler and writer G. Bell who visited Arslantepe and its surroundings in 1909, providing a fundamental photographic reportage of these early finds.
It was however the French archaeologist L. Delaporte who conducted the first real archaeological excavations at Arslantepe, bringing to light, in the northern portion of the site, the famous “Lions’ Gate “ of the Neo-Hittite period, known above all for the richness of its iconographic repertoire and Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions. Although the beginning of World War II marked the end of this first series of investigations, in 1948 a new French expedition led by Claude Schaeffer undertook, even though for only one year, another excavation campaign.
The Italian Archaeological Expedition, directed by S.M. Puglisi and P. Meriggi of the University of Rome La Sapienza and the University of Pavia, resumed the investigations of the northern area of Arslantepe deepening and widening the French excavations. This allowed, on the one hand, to investigate in a more extensive and detailed manner the Neo-Hittite levels but also to reach, for the first time, the oldest remains of the II, III and IV Millennium BCE. The extension of the excavation to the Roman and Byzantine period also allowed the development and an even larger and more relevant historical sequence.
The finding of the Chalcolithic levels at the bottom of the sequence that was brought to light in the northern area of Arslantepe marked a fundamental shift of the investigation interests towards these oldest periods. The small dimensions of the area, however, forced the opening of a new and wider sector on the southern slopes of the site. The extensive excavation conducted here under the direction of Alba Palmieri represented a crucial turning point in the history of research at the site, which began with the discovery of the famous “Temple A” of the Late Chalcolithic period.
Excavation activities conducted uninterruptedly in the southern area of Arslantepe, as well as the introduction of a wide range of different methodologies and approaches related to the studies of the different materials brought to light, have allowed over the years the understanding of a very detailed archaeological sequence. The results of the extensive excavation of the Late Chalcolithic Palace obtained under the direction of Marcella Frangipane provided indispensable information for the understanding of the development of the first complex societies at the margins of the fertile Mesopotamian crescent.
Despite the extraordinary characteristics of the discoveries made in the southern area of Arslantepe, especially related to the Chalcolithic levels and the Early Bronze Age, the interest for the study of properly “historical” periods has never faded. The excavation of the northern area of the site was in fact resumed in recent years in the area previously investigated by the French expeditions and the first Italian interventions, bringing to light the sequence of Hittite and Neo-Hittite levels and the monumental structures contemporary to the use of the “Lions’ Gate”.
In recent years excavations have continued in the southern, western and northern sectors, investigating the oldest phases of the Late Chalcolithic and the transition between the Late Bronze and Iron Age. The discovery of the “Audience Hall” made it possible to ascertain that the building complex of the end of the Chalcolithic represents a real residential palace. Under the current direction of Francesca Balossi Restelli the investigation of the most ancient phases, as well as that of the properly historical periods, proceeds fruitfully and in continuity with the long history of research conducted on the site.
Il sito archeologico di Arslantepe, Grande Scavo della Sapienza Università di Roma dal 1961, è stato inserito nelle liste del Patrimonio Mondiale dell'UNESCO. Read more
Un complesso monumentale di edifici sulle rive dell’Eufrate anatolico testimonia la nascita dello stato più di 5mila anni fa. Read more