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Cuneiform Tablets Found In Ancient Turkish Temple

August 10, 2009

A team of University of Toronto archaeologists has uncovered a cache of cuneiform tablets dating back to between 1200 and 600 BCE at the site of a recently discovered temple in southeastern Turkey.

Found in the temple’s cella, or “Ëœholy of holies’, the tablets are part of a possible archive that may offer insights into Assyrian imperial aspirations during the Iron Age period.

The assemblage appears to represent a Neo-Assyrian renovation of an older Neo-Hittite temple complex, providing a rare glimpse into the religious dimension of Assyrian imperial ideology,” said Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology in the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T’s Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). 

“The tablets, and the information they contain, may possibly highlight the imperial ambitions of one of the great powers of the ancient world, and its lasting influence on the political culture of the Middle East,” he said.

The cella also contained gold, bronze and iron implements, libation vessels and ornately decorated ritual objects.

The structure of the building where the tablets were found was partially unearthed in 2008 at Tell Tayinat, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Palastin, which preserves the classic plan of a Neo-Hittite temple. 

It formed part of a sacred precinct that once included monumental stelae carved in Luwian (an extinct Anatolian language once spoken in Turkey) hieroglyphic script, but which were found by the expedition shattered into tiny shard-like fragments.

“Tayinat was destroyed by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BCE, and then transformed into an Assyrian provincial capital, equipped with its own governor and imperial administration,” said Harrison. 

“Scholars have long speculated that the reference to Calneh in Isaiah’s oracle against Assyria alludes to Tiglath-pileser’s devastation of Kunulua ““ ie, Tayinat.  The destruction of the Luwian monuments and conversion of the sacred precinct into an Assyrian religious complex may represent the physical manifestation of this historic event.”

The temple was later burned in a powerful fire and was found filled with heavily charred brick and wood that, paradoxically, helped preserve the finds recovered from its inner chambers. 

“While those responsible for this later destruction are not yet known, the remarkable discoveries preserved in the Tayinat temple clearly record a pivotal moment in its history,” said Harrison. 

“They promise a richly textured view of the cultural and ethnic contest that has long characterized the turbulent history of this region.”

Image Caption: An image of a tablet being prepared for removal. Photo: J. Jackson

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