Clay tablet in Turkey indicates ‘enemy’ influence on Hittite empire


An ancient clay tablet unearthed in central Turkey suggests a little-known rival ethnic group was closely involved in establishing the Hittite Empire more than 3,000 years ago, Japanese archaeologists have said.

The text engraved on the tablet was in the language of the Hurrians, who would once have been powerful enough to vie for hegemony in the ancient East with the Hittites and Egyptians.

“The clay tablet has major implications for the links between the Hittite royal family and the Hurrians,” said Kimiyoshi Matsumura, a researcher leading an expedition from the Japan Institute of Anatolian Archeology (JIAA).

“We hope to shed light on the details of the role that the Hurrians, who were to be a sworn enemy of the Hittites, played in the process of forming the Hittite Empire, which continued to prosper through its iron-making technologies. , the foundation of our contemporary society.”


A clay tablet with Hurrian text, seen here in the ruins of Buklukale, was unearthed at the archaeological site earlier this year. (Provided by the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

The tablet, measuring about 3 centimeters, was unearthed in June near the remains of Buklukale Palace, the ruins of a Hittite urban settlement in central Anatolia, Turkey, which expedition members said had ties to the royal family.

An adobe building more than 50 meters long, presumably a palace, probably stood atop the hill in its central part during the Hittite Empire, which flourished from 1,700 to 1,200 BC, officials said of the JIAA.

Buklukale, measuring around 500 meters on a side, had previously produced large-scale ritual sites, each containing a pile of around 3,000 earthenware bowls.

The text engraved on the tablet concerns a Hurrian religious ritual called purification. The calligraphic style shows the tablet was made during the cradle years of the Hittite Empire, officials said.

The Hurrians, who lived about 1,000 kilometers to the southeast, built the kingdom of Mitanni in an area stretching from present-day Syria to northern Mesopotamia.

The kingdom, which flourished roughly from 1500 BC to 1300 BC, has remained shrouded in mystery. Even its capital, known only as Wassukkani, has yet to be located.

Mark Weeden, associate professor of ancient Middle Eastern languages ​​at University College London, said the latest discovery is a “key find” which shows that Buklukale, an important site for the Hittite royal family since the early Hittite Empire, had close ties. with the Hurrian population.

“There are only three other places in Hittite territory where Hurrian clay tablets have been unearthed, all of which are known to have been closely associated with the Hittite royal family,” said Weeden, who worked with the JIAA expedition as a decipherer of Hurrian texts. on clay tablets.

“In addition to evidence of large-scale rituals, clay tablets related to religious rituals written in Ancient Hurrian have been discovered in the ruins of Buklukale, suggesting that Hurrian-language rituals were probably practiced there by the Hittite royal family. .”


The glass vessel fragment looked like this when it was first discovered in the ruins of Buklukale. It initially retained a vivid coloration which quickly faded after coming into contact with air. (Provided by the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

A glass vessel found in the remains of Buklukale Palace in 2010 also suggests the Hittites were under the influence of the Hurrians, who probably had the most advanced glass-making skills at the time, officials said. of the JIAA.

A 146 millimeter-long fragment of the top of the pear-shaped bottle was the only part of the container to be unearthed. Its opaque white base is decorated with patterns as well as pieces of colored glass embedded in it.

All glass vessels from the earliest period have so far been found at sites associated with the Hurrians.

A roughly 3,500-year-old glass vessel fragment discovered at the Turkish site of Tell Atchana on the Syrian border, which lies near the western edge of Mitanni territory, was previously believed to be the oldest of its kind.

The Buklukale find dates back around 100 years and may be one of the oldest glass vessels, officials said.

The JIAA, affiliated with the Middle East Cultural Center in Japan, has been excavating sites in Anatolia since 1986. The institute is currently conducting studies at three sites, including Buklukale, where excavations began in 2009.

Archaeologists hope to discover how Anatolia, the central base of the Hittites, was influenced by surrounding regions and how different ethnic groups and cultures rose and fell in the ancient East.

Around the time the Hittite Empire was established, Babylonia, a kingdom in Mesopotamia in southeastern Anatolia, began to show signs of decline after reaching its peak under King Hammurabi. The Kingdom of Egypt to the south was also politically unstable partly due to invasions from other ethnic groups.

The Asahi Shimbun


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