Tell Atchana/Alalakh
The 2001 Survey Season

 

2000

2001

2003

2004

2006

2007

2008

 


 

The seventh season of surveys and excavations in the Amuq Valley Regional Projects (AVRP) in Turkey concentrated part of its efforts on the impressive Late Bronze Age capital, Tell Atchana. Clearly, no understanding of the unique confluence of cultures in this valley could be achieved without shedding light on its hub, the capital city, Alalakh. First surveyed by the Oriental Institute teams led by Robert Braidwood, modern Tell Atchana (Amuq Survey-AS 136) is located at the center of the valley close to the bend of the Orontes river (Asi Nehri) and now measures 750 x 325 x 9 meters (22 hectares). Excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley between 1936-39; 1946-49 for the British Museum and Oxford University, the research yielded extraordinary architectural monuments, a wide diversity of imported preciosities, and extensive royal archives written in Akkadian, Hurrian, as well as inscribed materials in Hittite. However, only a small part of the whole site was originally excavated and the sequences derived from those excavations have consistently been questioned. Given the importance of a second millennium chronological sequence for the overall history of the region, a re-examination of Alalakh of the Kingdom of Mukish and its relations with its neighbors was urgently needed.

Operation 1: Topographical Map
A detailed topographic map of the mound was produced. Topographical and Digital Elevation Models were rendered covering almost the entirety of the mound with a heavy concentration in the old excavation areas on the northeastern tip. The points were anchored on main architecturally prominent nodes, such as the on-site column bases and staircase of the Level IV Palace entrance and the Level VII Gate. When composite maps of the previously excavated architecture were created (Fig. 1), it became readily apparent that the grid system as published by Woolley in 1955 contained a number of unusual and troublesome features. In an effort to align Woolley's grid system to the level IV Palace architecture, the grid had to be rotated more than 6º counter-clockwise, which was also the case for all the other architecture published in the preliminary reports and final publication. Since both the published maps and ours were aligned to magnetic north, the discrepancy was not the result of the difference between true and magnetic north. It was also unlikely that the unusual orientation was the result of a shift in magnetic north since the angle is too large. Furthermore, the location of the Level VII Palace may not correspond to the published report either, being off the original grid by approximately 3 meters to the east. Certainly our instrumental capabilities are more accurate, but it soon became apparent that in order to locate Woolley's field notes, section sketches and architectural plans before proceeding with the reactivation of excavations planned for the summer of 2003.

Fig 1: Topographic Map of Tell Atchana/Alalakh

Operation 2: Section Cleaning
The second arm of the AVRP field project involved a section cleaning operation at Atchana. While our renewed investigations at Atchana are not solely motivated by the desire to unravel issues of chronology and stratigraphy, understandably no investigation into regional and interregional dynamics can be accomplished without resolving these problems. To that end, we targeted a section cleaning operation at the Temple IV deep sounding. In May 2001, freak rainfall and massive flooding of the Orontes River caused certain sections of the Woolley excavation trenches to cave in, expanding the original deep sounding to over 30% its former size. A tantalizing glimpse of a hitherto-unknown wall emerged when the sides of the deep sounding collapsed. This was an opportunity not to be missed and taking advantage of this disadvantage, two section cleaning operations (grid squares N, O, P – 13-15) were initiated. Carefully aligning the new grid and correcting for the old, Section 1 is probably located in the Temple IV courtyard although the exact location will have to await new excavations.


The trees lining the outer edges of the trench provided Steve Batiuk with a secure anchor whilst he hung a mountaineering rope down the edge of the deep sounding trench, belling out at the bottom 9 meters below. The rope was fitted with a series of butterfly knots to which he attached himself and hung via a standard climber's harness (Fig. 3). Not only did this allow for section cleaning to be accomplished (Fig. 4) within the parameters of the survey permit, but it also proved to be safer and gave greater mobility during such jobs as drawing. Ten loci were defined and the combination of ceramics and radiocarbon dates confirmed a Middle Bronze Age sequence (2 sigma calibrated: Cal BC 1870 to 1600) which underlay the wall. Ceramics included early second millennium Middle Bronze Age, Syro-Cilician painted wares, and rail-rimmed vessels, dated to Amuq Phases K and L.

Fig 2: Stevie Batiuk Descending from the Temple Section with Mountaineering Equipment.

Fig 3-4: The cleaned Section of Woolley`s Temple Sounding

 

 

Operation 3: Documenting Finds
Woolley's long-forgotten and mostly inaccessible dig house depot situated on top of the mound provided access to a large collection of unpublished materials. These included Mycenaean and Cypriot wares as well as Anatolian and local ceramics. The window sills hid multi-faceted stone molds for metal casting as well as three copper bun (Fig. 5), crescent, and disk-shaped ingots, which resembled ones from the Uluburun-Kas shipwreck. Ample seaward commerce between various coastal regions, and perhaps Alalakh is indicated by the stylistically comparable ivory toiletries, jewelry and metals found on the shipwreck. The appearance of copper-tin-bronze and other preciosities suggest the existence of a developing or thriving exchange production in the eastern Mediterranean. Charcoal from the copper bun ingot revealed a date between 1620 to 1430 (2 Sigma Calibration:Cal BC).

Fig 5: A Copper Bun Ingot found in Woolley Depo

Fig 6:Bone and Ivory Fragments

 


Wooden drawers in the dig house depot contained other small finds including copper artifacts, beads of glass, amber and faience, as well as implements of iron, lead, and silver. Thousands of bone and ivory fragments for inlaying furniture (Fig. 6), clay spindle whorls, pieces of bitumen and what appears to be ebony were in other boxes. Further curated finds were documented in the Hatay Archaeological Museum depot. Scores of still-unpublished small cuneiform tablet fragments from earlier Atchana excavations were carefully wrapped in cotton (Fig. 7) and when joined may contain vital information about the social, economic and political environment of this region. Unpublished copper-based weapons, tools and gold jewelry, as well as cylinder seals, stone pyxides, sculpture and ceramics from the sites of Tell Tayinat, Tell Judaidah, Tell Dhahab, Chatal Hoyuk and Kurdu contained vital information about the settlements contemporary to Alalakh. An elegantly made Middle Bronze Age ceramic animal-headed cup (Fig. 8) found on the surface of Atchana provided clues to wider networks of interaction with the central Anatolian site of Kultepe, ancient Kanesh.

Fig 7: The published and unpublished tablets from Alalakh in the Antakya Museum

Fig 8: A Middle Bronze Age Zoomorphic Cup from Alalakh

 

Acknowledgements: The AVRP staff included the following people: Aslihan Yener, project director; Tony Wilkinson (survey field director), Jesse Casana, Tobin Montgomery Hartnell, Alexander Asa Eger (University of Chicago); Steven Batiuk, Heather Snow (University of Toronto), Rana Özbal (Northwestern University); Amy Gansell (Harvard University), Benjamin Diebold (Yale University); Bike Yazicioglu (Istanbul University); Hatice Pamir, Dilem Karakose (Mustafa Kemal University, Antakya); Gul Pulhan (Koç University, Istanbul); Shin'ichi Nishiyama (Institute of Archaeology, U.K); Fokke Gerritsen (Amsterdam Free University); Robert Koehl (Hunter College, New York. The Ministry of Culture was represented by Ünal Demirer.