Azerbaijan Georgia Turkey Project

Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age

Anatolia was known as the “Land of the Hatti” by the Akkadians as early as the third millennium BC, after the Bronze Age people who dominated the region. The Hittites, an Indo-European-speaking people, replace the Hattis as rulers of Anatolia early in the second millennium BC. The Hittites adopted cuneiform writing from Assyrian traders and assumed control of the trading colonies spread throughout Anatolia. At its height, the Hittite Kingdom extended to Syria and Upper Mesopotamia, with its capital at Hattusa.

These cave dwellings, built into “fairy chimneys” near Goreme in Cappadocia in central Turkey, appear to have been occupied in the Late Bronze Age, around the time of the Hittite Empire. (Image courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey)

By the second half of the 13th century BC, the Hittite Kingdom was in decline and being pressured economically and politically by its neighbors. It fought the Egyptians in the Levant under Ramses II, saw the Assyrians defeat its vassal state of Mittani in northern Syria, and faced incursions by the Sea Peoples (a confederacy of seafaring raiders). In 1180 BC the Kingdom collapsed and devolved into a number of neo- Hittite city states, including Tabal in southeast Anatolia and the Mushki Kingdom in Cappadocia (both now part of Turkey), Carchemish (on the frontier between Turkey and Syria), and Kammanu (in south-central Anatolia). The end of the Hittite Kingdom caused established political, military, economic, and social relations to change throughout eastern Anatolia, leading to the political and economic instability of the Early Iron Age.

An Early Iron Age Settlement at Büyükardıç Hill presented difficult conditions for settlers. Agriculture in this mountainous area was difficult due to the high altitude (2,050m), and long distance from the creek valley below. Yet within this context of a hilltop overlooking a key transportation corridor in northeastern Anatolia, a successful settlement appears to have flourished. This intriguing settlement yields insights into what was happening in this period of political unrest. Even though this region was a great crossroads for trade and culture, in some historic periods those relationships declined very significantly, and there was a pronounced shift in focus to self-sufficiency in preference to trade. Büyükardıç Hill would have been strategically significant to any ambitious King because it was situated at the center of crucial east-west trading routes that extended from the Araxes and Karasu valleys of the Caucasus, connecting Persia to Eastern Anatolia. Passing through this territory, given its high altitude would have only been possible from spring to autumn, as snowpacks blocked winter travel.

As the forces holding the region together (primarily the power of the Hittite Empire) collapsed, as major trade and population centers were abandoned or ruined in warfare, and as the movement of goods and people became a perilous undertaking, self-sufficient settlements like Büyükardıç emerged in easily defended mountainous areas. Evidence of this change were uncovered in Büyükardıç: the discovery of a possible Early Iron Age metal working shop suggests that an attempt at a measure of self-sufficiency, and the ceramics found at the site appear to be mainly of local origin. The settlement’s location on a hilltop and the discovery of several metal arrow points also suggest its occupants were very concerned with defense, even though the site itself was unfortified. Yet despite Büyükardıç’s residents apparent desire for selfsufficiency, the turbulent political climate of the region forced smaller communities to occasionally form alliances in order to survive threats.

The abundance of coarse, handmade pottery without surface treatment found at Büyükardıç is typical of the Early Iron Age. However the 6,650 potsherds categorized into nineteen distinct ware groups uncovered at this site establishes the diverse range of stylistic and developmental attributes present onsite. Functionally, archaeologists have determined that some Büyükardıç potters used wheellooms, while others were hand-made. In terms of design, Büyükardıç pottery displays red-slip, burnished, grooved, notched, incised, concentric circular impressions, rosette stamps, and painted decorations. Many of these features share commonalities with vessels found in Northwestern Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and Eastern Thrace. Thus providing further evidence that trade was prevalent at Büyükardıç.

This grooved clay vessel uncovered at the Büyükardıç site contained iron residue and the two holes in its shoulder. The vessel, an artifact commonly found at Bronze and Iron Age sites in eastern Anatolia, was likely used for heating and creating metal objects.

Findings at Büyükardıç represent the transitional period from Late Bronze to Early Iron Age that occurred in Anatolia during the 12th century and was probably built soon after the collapse of the Hittite capital. Most Early Iron Age settlements of the region were fortified and resettled following the collapse. The site is unique in that respect because it was not resettled, and thus provides crucial material evidence that has not been disturbed as drastically as related sites that were resettled.

During the 6th and 5th centuries BC, the Persian Achaemenid Empire had spread outwards with increasing power from its capital at Susa. In the middle of the 1st millennium BC, the Empire came to include all of Anatolia and the southern Caucasus highlands. Sites excavated during the pipelines project at Tetikom and Tasmasor, situated along one of the ancient roads connecting central Anatolia with the highlands to the east and the Araxes River valley, have vastly enriched knowledge of the region under Achaemenid rule during the Late Iron Age.

Perhaps the longest continuously inhabited site found during the archaeological excavations during this project was Tasmasor. Discovered at Tasmasor Hill, and located on the Erzurum Plain of Northeastern Turkey, Tasmasor was of great geopolitical importance as competing empires vied for dominance in the ancient world. The Erzurum and Pasinler Plains separated by the Kargapazari mountain range form a natural pass just south of Tasmasor connecting two important regions of Northeast Anatolia, as well as allowing access from Anatolia into the Caucasus and Iranian steppe. Control of this gateway, known as the Deveboynu pass, was crucial for east-west trade connections in Anatolia, and was one of the few passable routes available for Iron Age empires.

Guided by Assoc. Prof. S. Yücel Şenyurt, the excavation of Tasmasor Hill initially uncovered a medieval housing complex dating to the 12th century AD, which contained minimal material remains. In the midst of unearthing this structure, Şenyurt’s team chanced upon two pit burials that displayed characteristics common to this region during the Iron Age. Soon after structural foundations made from river stones were found accompanying the previously discovered graves.

Unfortunately the original provenance of artifacts discovered at Tasmasor has been lost as the natural stratigraphy of this site was unsettled from continuous reoccupation. This hindered the ability for Şenyurt and his team to accurately cross-reference material found at Tasmasor with that of neighboring sites believed to share cultural characteristics.


Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine Periods

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