Tell Atchana/Alalakh
The 2003 Excavation Season










While most archaeologists secretly aspire to find the oldest, the largest, the first, and the most spectacular site to research, the Amuq Valley sites in southern Turkey have represented none of these ideal cases. On the contrary, it is known as a region where secondary power nodes emerged as is evident by the kingdoms of Mukish (in the Middle/Late Bronze Age), Unqi, Kunulua or Wadasatini (in the Iron Age) and Antioch (Classical and Islamic).

The first three seasons at Alalakh (2000-2002) were aimed at preparing the site for excavation by generating topographic maps, intensive surface surveying, and finally producing an inventory of previously excavated finds stored in the Antakya Archaeological Museum. In 2003, a full season of excavations was initiated at Tell Atchana between September 2 and October 8th with an international staff of 35 and 65 workers from the local villages. Our dig headquarters, long on the drawing board, are now successfully located in the village of Tayfur Sokmen, three miles from the site.

The tall, be-forested Tell Atchana is located at the center of the valley close to the bend of the Orontes (Asi) river (just over the Demirkopru bridge) and measures 750 x 325 x 9 meters (22 hectares). After clearing the overgrown brush, ten 10 x 10 squares were placed in three pre-selected regions (Areas 1-3) unexcavated by Woolley (Fig1 ). A total of 1025 square meters were exposed (840 sq. meters actually dug). In this new series of investigations, we have paid careful attention to fine-tuning an independent stratigraphy and have resisted the temptation to immediately link our strata to Woolley`s still controversial (Middle Chronology) dating scheme. Several phases (termed Phase 1, 2, etc.) were identified the earliest descending into Phase 6 and the Middle Bronze Age.

Fig 1: Plan of the excavated squares in 2003.Plan by Aaron Burke

Area 1 contained two of the 10 x 10 squares in the northern sector of the site, where a hump of earth had been left unexcavated in front of Woolley`s dig house. We suspected that we may be able to find the west wing of a Level II/III building called the "Military Fortress" by Woolley because of its massive walls. Actually, we now know that the monumental public building had been constructed in the style of Hittite architecture and informs on Hittite cultural suzerainty during the last two centuries (14-12th centuries) of the settlement. The tops of thick mudbrick walls and three chambers appeared and the squares were left intact for future exposure (Fig. 2). Much of the finds in this area came from the fill layers and thus have poor contextual provenance. Interestingly, we found that Woolley had used this area as his sherd yard and a great quantity of good local ceramics and coarse ware diagnostics had been buried in this region. Of particular interest also were abundant copper-based metallurgical residues and iron working indications. In addition, according to specialist Dominique Collon, a beautiful royal cylinder seal was found in the fill from this area. Made of glass (a very precious material) but much deteriorated, only part of the inscription was visible.

Fig 2: The Mud Brick Wall of the Hittite Fortress


Fig 3: Area 2, West Wing, Plan by Can Ercan and Euodora Bernsen.
Located at the center of the site, Area 2 coincided with an unexcavated sector adjacent to the cluster of the so-called "private houses."Four 10 x 10 squares were placed aligning the edge of the slope and the trees that marked the extent of Woolley`s excavations. These broad horizontal exposures were thought to represent the city just before a regional collapse. Settlement then would have shifted to neighboring site Ta`yinat which became the capital during the local kingdoms of the Iron Age (Fig 3).

Two large, multi-roomed mudbrick buildings separated by a street were exposed replete with hearths, drains and ceramics. Two more squares were placed close to the slope in an attempt to locate the edge of the fortification wall. A very impressive, multi-chambered pottery kiln was found suggesting the use of this area as a craft sector. Of the more interesting finds, two tablet fragments were found close to the topsoil during the first week of excavations. Jacob Lauinger identified one of them as a lexical text which contains a bird list; the other fragment is an economic tablet. Other epigraphic documents include an envelop fragment from the square closer to the slope, and a fragmentary Hittite hieroglyphic sealing.

Area 3, straddling the beginning of the slope was designed to expose the various fortifications of the city along the north eastern slope of the mound. In the square upslope an industrial production complex or a kitchen emerged with an in situ horseshoe hearth. Evidence of relining and other fragmentary hearths found in the fill indicate that workshop production continued for a span of time. Several andirons, 4 basalt grinders, 24 complete or restorable vessels and flint debitage were also found on the floor. In the squares down slope yielded a possible casemate wall, tentatively dated to the late MB/LB, c. 1700/1600 BC. The architectural style of constructing fortification walls as"casemates" became prevalent in the Old Hittite and was a hallmark of imperial Hittite wall techniques. The earlier dating is also echoed in a clay figurine find from this square .

But upslope on the step trench, the later phase Late Bronze Age fortification walls have, as yet, not clearly materialized. Instead, unexpectedly, ten burials and more fragments of eroded interments were found on the slope. Thus, we now had a necropolis on this part of the site, which may have important implications about the size of the Late Bronze Age city in its final phases. Of the burials, one stood out as special: a tomb (03-3017) with multiple interments and special grave goods (Fig.4). This burial consisted of a plaster arched structure on a cobblestone foundation. Two columns of baked clay tile headstones or possibly a superstructure were stacked four high and a row of cobblestones were found in the topmost portion. Within the arched plaster covering, which must have been over a wooden coffin (impressions were seen of the wood), were four individuals laid tete-beche, each separated from the other by a level of plaster. Person #2 was buried with slag placed under its chin and many gold, carnelian, ivory, amber, and glass beads. A number of gold appliques decorated with raised rosettes were found around person #3, probably from a since-disintegrated cloth or headdress placed over the head. There was a gold ring still on #3`s finger, gold sheet earrings or hair rings by the skull. A number of copper-based toggle pins were found, one of silver fastening burial clothing. Some of the pottery came in pairs - two Base Ring Ware vessels, two Red Burnished Spindle Flasks (also called Red Lustrous Ware Bottles), and two trefoil-mouth jars. Furthermore a leg of cattle, numerous bird bones, seeds, and sheep/goat remains were also found. The flasks would have contained beer or wine and the jars would have held other liquids. Thus these individuals had been buried with all the sustenance necessary in an afterlife.

Fig 4: Close up from the Burial 03-3017.Photo by Murat Akar

Acknowledgements: The 2003 Tell Atchana/Alalakh staff included the following people: Aslihan Yener, director, David Schloen, associate director, Amir Sumaka`i-Fink, senior field supervisor, Jacob Lauinger, Aaron Burke, Gabrielle Novacek, Eudora Bernsen, Glenn Corbett, Adam Miglio, Leann Pace-Mahoney, Samantha Stewart, Bike Yazicioglu (University of Chicago); Hatice Pamir, Tulin Arslanoglu, Can Ercan (Mustafa Kemal University, Antakya), Murat Akar (Middle East Technical University), Brenda Craddock, Franca Cole, Phil Andrews, Dominique Collon (U.K.), Amy Gansell, Stine Rossel (Harvard), Susan Helft (University of Pennsylvania), Fazil Acikgoz (Nigde Museum), Nita Lee Roberts (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University)