Sunday, May 03, 2009

Luwian hieroglyphs near ancient Antioch shed light on "Dark Age"


I have been intrigued by the so-called "Dark Age" that engulfed the eastern Mediterranean since I first learned about it in Archaeology 101 many years ago. I know there has been much speculation about the cause of the collapse of many Bronze Age cultures like the Mycenaeans and the Minoans ranging from the effects of volcanic eruptions and resulting tsunamis to pandemics and marauding tribal societies from the Asian steppes. But researchers involved in the Tayinat Archaeological Project say their findings indicate a continuity of many civilizations across this cultural chasm.

An ancient temple in Turkey has been found filled with broken metal, ivory carvings, and stone slabs engraved with a dead language [Luwian]. The find is casting new light on the "dark age" that was thought to have engulfed the region from 1200 to 900 B.C.

Written sources from the era—including the Old Testament of the Bible, Greek Homeric epics, and texts from Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III—record the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age as a turbulent period of cultural collapse, famine, and violence.

But the newfound temple suggests that may not have been the case, say archaeologists from the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project, led by Timothy Harrison.

"We're beginning to find new archaeological evidence that there was a continuation of writing traditions, as well as cultural and political continuity from the Bronze Age into this Iron Age period," Harrison said.- More: National Geographic News

Like the early University of Chicago excavations in 1935 & 1938, the largest number of inscriptions have been Luwian hieroglyphs.

The Chicago excavations produced an extensive corpus of Akkadian, Aramaic and Neo-Hittite (or Luwian) inscriptions. Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions accounted for the largest number, a total of 85 fragments, 32 of which have been shown to come from seven distinct monumental inscriptions. One of these, comprised of six basalt fragments, had formed part of a colossal statue of a figure seated on a throne. Although the precise provenience of the statue remains unclear, the inscription makes reference to Halpa-runta-a-s(a), very possibly the same Neo-Hittite ruler who is listed as having paid tribute to Shalmaneser III in the mid-9th century BCE.

If this historical correlation is correct, it provides a possible date for the remainder of the Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions found at the site, and raises the possibility of isolating the Building Period, and cultural horizon, in which these monumental objects were erected.

With only a few exceptions, all of the fragments appear to have been found in the fill or foundation trenches of structures dating to the Second Building Period; in other words, in secondary and tertiary contexts. Moreover, all but one of the inscriptions (an altar piece in obvious secondary reuse in Building II) clearly had been smashed and destroyed intentionally before being discarded. The Halparuntas inscription, therefore, would appear to date the Luwian epigraphic remains at Tell Ta‘yinat to the mid-ninth century or earlier, while their stratigraphic context places this material in the First Building Period.

The Tayinat Archaeological Project’s primary aim is to assemble archaeological data from the central settlement at Tell Ta’yinat of a succession of prominent, historically-attested Bronze and Iron Age polities for comparison with existing data sets from comparable contexts (e.g. domestic, residential, administrative, or public) at rural village sites in the region. This explicitly regional approach, still relatively rare in Near Eastern Archaeology, is designed to facilitate multiple levels of analysis, and to produce the multivariate data needed to engage in more systematic investigations of the complex social, economic and political institutions developed by the first urban communities to emerge in this part of the world.

Tell Ta’yinat forms a large low-lying mound located 45 kilometres west of Antakya (ancient Antioch) in Southeastern Turkey. The Chicago excavations uncovered the remains of several large palaces (called bit hilani), a temple (famously compared with Solomon's temple), and numerous beautifully carved stone reliefs and sculptures demonstrated that the site preserves a lengthy settlement history that spans the Early Bronze (ca 3000 2000 BCE) and Iron Age(ca. 1200 550 BCE) periods. In addition, the Expedition discovered numerous inscriptions (in Luwian/Neo Hittite, Neo-Assyrian and Aramaic), which helped to identify the site as ancient Kunulua, capital of the Neo Hittite/Aramaean Kingdom of Patina/Unqi. - More: Tayinat Archaeological Project.

[Image: Tayinat Lions - Hittite, courtesy http://www.anadolugizemi.com/]