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The Iron Age of Southeastern Anatolia

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents data on the Iron Age of southeastern Anatolia that are a direct result of the excavation of dozens of archaeological sites with Iron Age components, undertaken as salvage initiatives in advance of the construction of the Karkamiş, Biricik, Atatürk, Karakaya, and Keban Dams on the Euphrates River, and the proposed Ilısu Dam on the Tigris River. Although most of the sites excavated in these regions have been published only in preliminary reports, they nonetheless form the basis for a reworking of the Iron Age chronology of southeastern Anatolia.

Keywords: archaeological sites, excavations, chronology

Archaeological fieldwork conducted over the past two decades has led to significant refinements in our understanding of Iron Age chronology in southeastern Anatolia. Much of this work is a direct result of the excavation of dozens of archaeological sites with Iron Age components undertaken as salvage initiatives in advance of the construction of the Karkamiş, Biricik, Atatürk, Karakaya, and Keban Dams on the Euphrates River, and the proposed Ilısu Dam on the Tigris River. Although most of the sites excavated in these regions have been published only in preliminary reports, they nonetheless form the basis for a reworking of the Iron Age chronology of southeastern Anatolia.

Geography and Setting

For purposes of this reassessment, I define southeastern Anatolia as the lowland area bordered by the Taurus Mountains on the north and the Tur Abdin Mountains to the south, the latter a low limestone mountain range with elevations between 900 m and 1,400 m (Radner 2006). The hinterlands of the Upper Euphrates River and its various tributaries form the natural western border of the area considered here, while the hinterlands of the Tigris River and its various tributaries in turn mark its eastern extent. The southern limit of the study area presents some difficulties. (p. 444) Both geographically and culturally, the high rolling plains of southeastern Turkey blend imperceptibly with the upper Mesopotamian plains of northern Syria and northern Iraq, and the historical trajectory of the upper Mesopotamian plains—now encompassed by the modern nations of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq—constitutes a single coherent unit of study in antiquity. At no time is this clearer than in the Iron Age, when developments in large portions of southeastern Turkey are closely tied to the ebb and flow of the political fortunes of the Assyrian Empire based to the south in what is today northern Iraq.

This region is characterized by well-watered, narrow valleys cut by the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers as they emerge from the Taurus Mountains and are fed by a number of major tributaries and smaller wadi systems. Between the rivers are fertile rolling plains with sufficient rainfall to support dry farming in all but the driest years (Weiss 1983; Wilkinson 1994). The same conditions allow pastoral exploitation even in its most marginal areas (Ur and Hammer 2009). However, the density of settlement within the plains was not homogeneous in antiquity. Rainfall, while sufficient for reliable cereal agriculture, is highly seasonal, so that sustained human occupation in this region could only take place immediately near the rivers or their perennial tributaries that provided year-round sources of potable water or, if away from the rivers, in lower lying portions of the plains where wells could tap into the water table.

Crafting an outline of the historical trajectories of Iron Age societies within as large and diverse an area of study as outlined is inherently difficult and is further compounded by two factors. First, large portions of areas within modern southeastern Turkey remain largely unexplored through systematic archaeological reconnaissance. Second, where surveys exist, they are of varying intensity, reliability, and coverage, making regional comparisons difficult. One of the challenges of this chapter, then, is to bring into a single coherent framework the Iron Age chronologies from a large area which, as will be shown, was differentially affected by cultural and political influences during the late second and first millennia b.c.e.

Accordingly, much of the historical trajectory of the Upper Euphrates and Upper Tigris regions of Turkey in the Iron Age is defined by political events happening elsewhere in the ancient Near East, for example, the rise and fall of the Hittite, Middle and Late Assyrian, Urartian, and Achaemenid states (see Beal, chapter 26, Radner, chapter 33, and Harl, chapter 34 in this volume). Constructing a chronology for these areas of southeastern Turkey in the Iron Age therefore requires that we correlate the larger historical trends that affected much of the ancient Near East with the material culture derived from archaeological excavations outside the limited area of specific concern here. This can be achieved via careful periodizations based on changing ceramic types and their associations with absolute dates, when available. The problem with such an approach, as outlined recently by Çevik (2008), and by many others before, is that changes in pottery sequences often do not neatly correspond with shifts in social systems (see also Summers 2009:658), and this problem is accentuated in areas marginal to newly emergent centers of power elsewhere. Mindful of these caveats, I do not attempt to introduce either an entirely new (p. 445) strategy for discussing Iron Age chronology in southeastern Anatolia or to radically alter existing schemes. Rather, what I propose to do is to update the criteria currently in place for discussing the Iron Age chronology of southeastern Turkey to allow for cross-cultural comparisons with contemporary regions across the ancient Near East.

Chronological Sequences

Iron Age chronology is traditionally divided into three periods: Early, Middle, and Late; this convention is followed in this chapter as well. In addition to the description of source material used to describe these periods, brief descriptions of relevant ceramics, their find spots, and their appearance or disappearance help to shape the parameters of each period.

Source Material

Two primary sources form the basis for this reassessment of the Iron Age chronology of southeastern Turkey: published data from excavated sites and contemporary textual sources (see Radner, chapter 33, and Zimansky, chapter 24 in this volume). Additionally, however, there is also some pertinent survey data as well, and these data are noted when relevant. Although existing survey data are key to properly understanding broad social and demographic trends within southeastern Turkey in the Iron Age, readers should note that what surveys we do have were mostly done before significant excavation had taken place in southeastern Turkey, and their results are generally marred by the lack of accurate ceramic typologies. This affects all periods, to be sure, but is particularly acute for the Iron Age because early surveyors were often able to recognize the previously well-documented foreign assemblages and wares of intrusive imperial powers centered elsewhere (i.e., Assyrian, Achaemenid, etc.) but were generally not able to recognize the material culture of indigenous populations that existed in southeastern Turkey before and after those intrusions, which are only now being defined through site-specific excavation. Because of this bias, we must rely foremost on excavated data for our reconstruction.

 The Iron Age of Southeastern AnatoliaClick to view larger

Figure 19.1. Map of sites discussed in the text.

In the Upper Euphrates region, archaeological work was undertaken in large part as salvage work in advance of a series of hydroelectric dams which were built as part of the Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi (GAP). A number of dams were completed along the Euphrates River, creating a series of lakes and flooding hundreds of archaeological sites. These dam projects include Keban Dam (1975), Karakaya Dam (1987), Atatürk Dam (1992), Karkamiş Dam (1999), and Birecik Dam (2000). In terms of the chronology of the Iron Age, a number of key sites were excavated as part of this decades-long salvage operation. The sites of Norşun Tepe, Lidar Höyük, (p. 446) and Tille Höyük (figure 19.1) are of primary importance to our understanding of Iron Age chronology, as they have long Iron Age stratigraphic sequences (Müller 2004). In the upper Tigris region, salvage excavation started two decades after that in the Euphrates region, as the proposed construction of the Ilısu Dam led first to broad reconnaissance work in the late 1980s (Algaze et al. 1991) and finally to new site-based excavation projects starting in the mid-1990s. In the past decade, over two dozen sites have been excavated in the Ilısu project area; most remain published only in preliminary fashion. Similarly, excavations along the main Tigris tributaries—the Batman, Garzan, and Bohtan Rivers—are now under way. Preliminary results of these projects are published in the journal Kazı Sonuçları Toplantısı by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and fieldwork done from 1998 to 2001 can be found in a bilingual series of edited monographs published by the Middle East Technical University (Tuna, Greenhalgh, and Velibeyoğlu 2004; Tuna and Öztürk 1999; Tuna, Öztürk, and Velibeyoğlu 2001, 2002).

An important secondary source for the chronology of the Iron Age are the proceedings from a series of six conferences specifically focused on the Iron Age chronology of Anatolia organized by Altan Çilingiroğlu (Çilingiroğlu 1987; Çilingiroğlu and Darbyshire 2004; Çilingiroğlu and French 1991, 1994; Çilingiroğlu and Matthews 1999; Çilingiroğlu and Sagona 2007; for a history of the conferences see Roller 2009). Finally, a volume of Ancient Near Eastern Studies titled “A Re-Assessment of Iron Ages Chronology in Anatolia and Neighboring Regions” represents an important secondary source for Iron Age chronology (SFACSA 2008). None of these secondary sources, it must be noted, are devoted exclusively to southeastern Anatolia.

(p. 447) Early Iron Age

Unlike the coastal regions of the Levantine littoral, southeastern Anatolia was not directly affected by the invasions that took place around 1200 b.c.e. traditionally associated with the so-called Sea Peoples (Bartl 1995). However, southeastern Turkey was certainly touched by the related historical dislocations that also affected much of the ancient Near East at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Two such events are particularly pertinent to this discussion: the collapse of the Hittite Empire centered in the Anatolian plateau that had occupied large portions of the Upper Euphrates basin all the way down to Carchemish in the first half of the twelfth century b.c.e. and the collapse of the Middle Assyrian Empire centered along the Tigris in northern Iraq, which had extended minimally up to the southern bank of the east–west-running Tigris River south of Diyarbakır in the first half of the eleventh century b.c.e. In a sense, the sequential disappearance of these foreign occupying powers from both the Upper Euphrates and Upper Tigris basins represents the start of the Early Iron Age in southeastern Anatolia, a period that is largely documented only through material culture.

 The Iron Age of Southeastern AnatoliaClick to view larger

Figure 19.2. Groovy Pottery typical of the Early Iron Age in southeastern Turkey. Ziyaret Tepe, 1–9.

Archaeologically, the last centuries of the second and the first century of the first millennia b.c.e. in southeastern Anatolia are marked in part by the arrival and widespread distribution of a new type of pottery known as Groovy Pottery (figure 19.2). With some variations, Groovy Pottery is recognized widely across the Upper Euphrates and Tigris region, east to Lake Van and northwestern Iran (Roaf and Schachner 2004:fig. 4). Groovy Pottery in southeastern Anatolia is predominantly handmade, with hemispherical and deep bowl forms, occasionally with spouts or handles, and decorated with horizontal grooved lines around the rim (see Bartl 2001 for a general description; also Roaf and Schachner 2004:116; see also Khatchadourian, chapter 20 in this volume).

As already noted, the start of the Early Iron Age in the Euphrates region has traditionally been correlated with political events surrounding the collapse of the Hittite Empire and the abandonment of the Hittite capital of Ḫattuša around 1180 b.c.e., although the effect that this event had on different settlements of the Euphrates region is far from uniform. Müller (2004; see Seeher, chapter 16 in this volume) has argued that the transition in material culture from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age is a gradual one without significant social disruptions and that the shift to Early Iron Age material culture took place earlier in the north than in the south of the Upper Euphrates region. The appearance of Groovy Pottery at Norşun Tepe in the early twelfth century and at Lidar Höyük in the late twelfth century b.c.e. (Müller 2004:111–13) is taken by him to mark the beginning of the Early Iron Age. Similar pottery is well known from other Keban and Karababa Dam sites at Korucutepe, Tepecik, Değirmentepe, Habibuşağı, İmikuşağı, Değirmentepe, Köşkerbaba, and Tille Höyük (Bartl 1995:208).

Groovy Pottery is also found in the Upper Tigris region, but it appears to have been introduced there later than was the case along the Euphrates, possibly because the Upper Tigris area continued to be occupied by the Middle Assyrians (p. 448) for a century or so after the Hittite collapse in the west. This is suggested by recent excavations at Giricano Tepe and Ziyaret Tepe, which have confirmed the claims made in Assyrian Royal Annals that the upper Tigris region was under the control of the Middle Assyrian kings starting with the reign of Šalmaneser I (1273–1244 b.c.e.). An important discovery of cuneiform tablets at Giricano Tepe, written (p. 449) between 1068 and 1056 b.c.e., shows that this part of the Upper Tigris River remained in Assyrian hands at least through the middle of the eleventh century b.c.e. (Radner 2004; Roaf and Schachner 2004:119), after which time the Upper Tigris region presumably came under the control of nascent Aramaean polities, which filled the vacuum left behind by the Assyrian collapse. As Roaf points out, there is no evidence of building activity by an Assyrian king between 1030 and 935 b.c.e., although continuity from the Middle to Late Assyrian periods is seen, for example, in the location of royal tombs and stelai at Assur from the fourteenth to the ninth centuries b.c.e. (Roaf 2001). This continuity is seen in the Assyrian heartland of northern Iraq, but not in the peripheral regions of the empire, where significant discontinuities are seen archaeologically. At this point, the Late Bronze Age ceramic tradition of wheelmade Middle Assyrian pottery in the Tigris region is replaced by handmade Groovy Pottery, now widely recognized as typical of the Early Iron Age across southeastern Turkey (Roaf and Schachner 2004; see also Köroğlu and Konyar 2008). As summarized by Szuchman: “Whenever Groovy Pottery appears in Turkey, it seems to coincide with the end of Hittite or Middle Assyrian political authority. The Upper Tigris Valley, however, was unaffected by the events that brought the Bronze Age to an end in Syria and western Anatolia. Correspondingly, EIA pottery appears later in the Upper Tigris than it does elsewhere” (Szuchman 2009:59–60).

Although the dates of the transition away from imperial (Hittite or Middle Assyrian) control or influence differ by as much as a century and a half on the Upper Euphrates and Upper Tigris Rivers, respectively, what is clear is that the onset of the Early Iron Age in both areas is characterized by significant changes in social organization. The principal exception to this is Carchemish, which, perhaps owing to its privileged position at the head of a historical Euphrates ford, became the center of an indigenous Iron Age city-state claiming to be a successor to the Hittite Empire (Thuesen 2002). Samsat, now flooded, may have been the capital of the lesser Neo-Hittite city-state of Kummuḫ, which also survived the Hittite collapse (Thuesen 2002:49). However, such exceptions aside, what is most striking about southeastern Anatolia at the onset of the Iron Age is its nonurban nature.

Bartl is correct when she argues that “the Early Iron Age … is characterised by a less developed settlement structure, seemingly a conglomerate of non-centrally organised villages” which “seem to echo the former presence of a rural culture void of any higher form of centrality, be it of cultic or administrative nature” (Bartl 1995:209). Such Early Iron Age villages have been uncovered at Korucutepe and Norşun Tepe, both in the Keban area, and others are common in the Elazığ-Malatya, Middle Euphrates, and Upper Tigris regions area as well (Köroğlu and Konyar 2008:128–29). Further down on the Euphrates, in the environs of Samsat, the Iron Age occupation at Lidar Höyük was characterized by houses clustered on the site’s acropolis (Müller 2004:112), and a similar case obtains at the larger regional center of Titriş Höyük, where surveys show that Iron Age remains are limited only to the acropolis and a small portion of the site’s terrace (Algaze and Matney, chapter 46 in this volume). A comparable case existed in the Upper Tigris, where surveys and (p. 450) excavations indicate that Iron Age occupations were restricted in extent and amounted to nothing more than small agricultural villages or hamlets (Algaze, Breuninger, and Knudstad 1994; Parker 2001). The collapse of urbanism in the Tigris region at the onset of the Iron Age is best seen at what had been the major Middle Assyrian urban centers of Üçtepe/Tidu (Köroğlu 2003) and Ziyaret Tepe/Tušḫan (Matney et al. 2002). Both were dramatically reduced in size, and although Early Iron Age ceramics at these centers are widely attested, they appear largely associated with pits or small isolated houses.

Szuchman has attempted to explain the ruralization of southeastern Anatolia in the Early Iron Age in the context of tribe-state encounters, arguing that the widespread adoption of Groovy Pottery after the collapse of Middle Assyrian interests along the Upper Tigris River may have been an explicit rejection of “Assyrian forms of cultural and political domination” by a largely Aramaean population (Szuchman 2008:62). This is not to say that Groovy Pottery is strictly an Aramaean marker; such an inflexible identification of specific ceramic types with individual linguistic or ethnic groups has already been widely, and correctly, rejected (Matney 2010; Roaf and Schachner 2004; Szuchman 2009), but rather to note that the spatial and temporal extent of Groovy Pottery and available historical evidence for an Aramaean presence in southeastern Anatolia are at least partly coterminous. Basing his argument largely on available Assyrian historical documentation, Postgate argues that by 900 b.c.e., Aramaean groups had coalesced into minor dynasties across much of northern Mesopotamia (Postgate 1992:249). This may be so, but there is little evidence in the archaeological record of southeastern Anatolia for such petty regional polities, unless of course the polities in question were hierarchically organized agropastoral groups with dual fluid, sedentary and nomadic components such as the tribal confederacies in southwestern Iran in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Barth 1961; Beck 1986). If so, the Iron Age pattern we observe over much of southeastern Anatolia may be but the visible half of polities that also had a substantial pastoral nomadic component of the sort that often escapes easy archaeological recognition.

The end of the Early Iron Age in southeastern Turkey is best defined by reference to the historical trajectory of two imperial polities with cores outside of the region, namely, the rise of the Late Assyrian state in northern Iraq and the spread of their influence up the Tigris River Valley, and the Urartian state in eastern Turkey and its subsequent expansion in the Euphrates region (see Radner, chapter 33, and Zimansky, chapter 24 in this volume). As will be discussed, these events occur across nearly the entire ninth century b.c.e., leaving us without a single unifying event or date to mark the end of the Early Iron Age.

Middle Iron Age

The relative homogeneity in the rural nature of Early Iron Age occupations across southeastern Anatolia away from the historical fords of the Euphrates came to an end during the transition from the Early Iron Age to the Middle Iron Age in the early (p. 451) ninth century b.c.e., when a disjuncture between the developmental trajectories of the Euphrates and Tigris regions becomes apparent. In the Upper Euphrates region, the Middle Iron Age is marked by the rise of the Urartian state and the arrival of Urartian pottery, seen in the Keban-Malatya area of the Euphrates starting in the mid-ninth century b.c.e. (Bartl 1995:208; Köroğlu and Konyar 2008). Some scholars have suggested that there may have been a hiatus of occupation between the Early and Middle Iron Ages in the uppermost reaches of the Euphrates in Turkey, spanning as much as a century or two (Bartl 1995:207–208), whereas others argue for a continuous occupational sequence, as seen at sites such as Norşun Tepe (Müller 2004:108).

 The Iron Age of Southeastern AnatoliaClick to view larger

Figure 19.3. Late Assyrian wheelmade pottery typical of the Middle Iron Age in southeastern Turkey. Ziyaret Tepe, 1–10.

In the Tigris region, the transition to the Middle Iron Age is usually marked in political terms by the reestablishment of an Assyrian occupational presence under Aššurnaṣirpal in 882 b.c.e. and the introduction of a standard, wheelmade Assyrian ceramic tradition (figure 19.3). In both cases, however, it is clear that the (p. 452) Early Iron Age ceramic tradition of Groovy Pottery continued into the Middle Iron Age. This is seen, for example, in the presence of indigenous pottery found together with Late Assyrian pottery on floor deposits at Ziyaret Tepe (Matney et al. 2009) and in eastern Anatolian Urartian graves at Yoncatepe and Karagündüz, both in the Lake Van Basin (Köroğlu and Konyar 2008:129–130; see also Roaf and Schachner 2004:121). It is now certain that this “hallmark” of the Early Iron Age continues in use until the seventh century b.c.e. in parts of southeastern and eastern Turkey.

As had been the case for the Middle Assyrian period at the end of the Late Bronze Age, the Tigris River formed the northernmost frontier of the aggressively expanding Late Assyrian Empire in the Middle Iron Age. Accordingly, the Middle Iron Age in the Tigris basin of southeastern Turkey saw the imposition of a string of fortified urban settlements along the southern bank of the Upper Tigris River by the Assyrian state at Ziyaret Tepe/Tušḫan, near the modern town of Tepe, Üctepe/Tidu, just west of modern Bismil, and Pornak/Sinabu, some thirty kilometers west of Bismil, as well as smaller satellite military outposts situated at periodic intervals between the larger urban settlements along the southern bank of the river (Kessler 1980). Assyrian military control was secure, and the land along the Tigris was clearly part of the “Land of Assur” as the province of Tušḫan (Matney et al. 2002:50–51; Postgate 1992).

The Assyrian presence along the Upper Tigris, however, also appears to have included a significant demographic component away from the larger administrative and military centers, and it is quite possible that deportees from elsewhere may have been forcibly resettled along the Upper Tigris (Oded 1979). In fact, the southern bank of the Tigris is dotted with small agricultural communities with a strong Late Assyrian material culture. Excavated examples of such communities include Kavuşan Tepe (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004), Hakemi Üse (Tekin 2004), and Müslümantepe (Ay 2004) (see Matney 2010 for a model of this system). Small rural sites with a predominantly Late Assyrian material culture also exist toward the highlands north of the Tigris River at sites like Grê Dimsê (Karg 2002). Finally, small non-Assyrian or indigenous communities still populated the uplands away from the river itself; these are attested largely on the basis of survey (Parker 2001).

In the Upper Euphrates region, it appears that Urartian fortresses do not come further west than Altıntepe in the vicinity of modern Erzincan, near the very source of the river’s headwaters (Summers 2009:661). Accordingly, we have no evidence that the bulk of the Euphrates region to the south ever came under Urartian control, although some interaction did take place between the Urartian Empire and southeastern Anatolian Iron Age polities, because scattered Urartian pottery and other artifacts have been recovered at the sites of Kaleköy and Habibuşağı, both in the Elazığ region (Köroğlu 2003:233). In contrast, Assyrian interest in the Upper Euphrates region was long-standing and left very clear and much more permanent archaeological traces. Assyrian activities in the area started with military campaigns under Aššur-dan II in the late tenth century b.c.e. and (p. 453) culminated in the campaigns of Aššurnaṣirpal II (reigned ca. 883–859 b.c.e.), who campaigned in the area in his eighteenth regnal year, receiving tribute from the Neo-Hittite indigenous kingdoms of the Upper Euphrates while camped at the site of Sultantepe, near Harran. Much of the area, today corresponding to the Şanlıurfa province, was annexed to Assyria in 856 b.c.e., early in the reign of Šalmaneser III after he defeated a coalition of petty kings. Arslantaş, forty-five kilometers southwest of the modern city of Şanlıurfa, was selected as the site of a royal palace and military stronghold (Kuhrt 1995:483–87; Kulakoğlu 2006:517). Harran and its immediately surrounding plain, in fact, remained firmly in Assyrian hands throughout the Middle Iron Age, until the collapse of the Assyrian Empire, but those developments are well known and need no elaboration here (e.g., see Kuhrt 1995). To the south, Til Barsip (now located within modern Syria) helped anchor the Late Assyrian presence on the Euphrates and served as an advance point for further expansion westward toward the Levantine coast (Bunnens 1997).

In general terms, then, the Upper Euphrates and Tigris regions in the Middle Iron Age were firmly under Assyrian control, and we see the emergence of urban centers connected directly with the Assyrian imperial policy of expansion and military control, for example, Ziyaret Tepe, Üçtepe, Pornak, and Diyarbakır/Amedi along the Tigris and Harran-Sultantepe along the Euphrates. A network of smaller Late Assyrian settlements also existed leading to and from these larger settlements. Again, this is best documented along the Tigris on the basis of textual documentation discussed by Kessler (1980) and more recent archaeological research on the upper Tigris (see Matney 2010). No doubt comparable connecting sites also existed in the Euphrates basin, although details are less clear.

Nonetheless, as strong as the Assyrian grip on southeastern Anatolia may have been in the Middle Iron Age, the earlier occupants of the area were generally not displaced as part of the otherwise widespread deportation policies of the empire, and indeed there is a continuing presence of earlier groups in the material record. For example, Groovy Pottery was found in Middle Iron Age levels at Köşkerbaba, İmamoğlu, and Habibuşağı in the Lake Van region, the latter dated in part by an inscription of the Urartian king Sarduri II in the mid-eighth century b.c.e. (Köroğlu and Konyar 2008:129–30). Groovy Pottery is also found in secure Late Assyrian contexts at Ziyaret Tepe/Tušḫan (Matney et al. 2009:54). Likewise, Neo-Hittite and Aramaean artistic influences are clearly seen in the Middle Iron sculptures of Carchemish and other sites in the Şanlıurfa region (Kulakoğlu 2006:517).

Late Iron Age

The transition to the Late Iron Age is marked politically by the collapse of the Urartian kingdom in the late seventh century b.c.e. at the hands of Assyria and the subsequent collapse of the Late Assyrian Empire, in turn, after the sack of Nineveh in 612 b.c.e. by the Babylonians and the Medes. It would seem logical that either the Babylonian or Median kings, having destroyed the Assyrian heartland, would take (p. 454) control of the Upper Tigris and Upper Euphrates regions, filling the void left by the loss of Assyrian control. The Babylonian king Nabopolassar spent the years 609 to 607 b.c.e. securing the northern Babylonian mountain boundary, but thereafter Babylonian interests largely focused on the struggle with Egypt for control of northern Syria (Kuhrt 1995:590). Although there is little evidence for Neo-Babylonian influence in the Upper Tigris region following Nabopolassar’s reign, the justly famous Stela of Nabonidus, which was found reused as a paving stone in the medieval mosque at Harran, leaves no doubt of the renewal of Babylonian cultural interest in parts of southeastern Anatolia by the end of the Neo-Babylonian period (Gadd 1958). That interest must have been accompanied by some sort of presence on the ground, as it included the rebuilding the temple of the moon god Sin at Harran (Kuhrt 1995:598–601), but we know little about the scope of Babylonian activities in southeastern Turkey away from Harran itself.

The nature of Median control of the Upper Tigris region is even less clear, in part due to their lack of a written tradition (Van der Mieroop 2007:270). Herodotus tells us that under a series of strong kings, starting with Deioces, the Medes emerged as a unified state in the Zagros Mountains that for a time was able both to subjugate the Persians and, under Cyaxares, to capture Nineveh (Herodotus, Histories I:96–107; see Brown 1986). The zenith of Median influence was, however, short-lived as the Persian king Cyrus led a revolt against the Medes, culminating in a decisive victory of Cyrus II over Astyages in 550 b.c.e. (Herodotus, Histories I:123–30). Summers has noted that there is no Median pottery identified in eastern Turkey, except at the site of Tille Höyük on the Euphrates, where pottery of the Median occupation is “almost indistinguishable from those of the preceding two levels (post-Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian respectively)” (Summers 1993:88). In short, we have no convincing evidence that either the Babylonians or the Medes rushed in to take political control of the Assyrian interests in southeastern Turkey.

Since we have no recognizable ceramic horizon markers that can definitively be attributed to that time period, some scholars have suggested that the Upper Tigris and Upper Euphrates were largely unoccupied for most of the sixth and fifth centuries b.c.e., or were only inhabited by nomadic or semi-sedentary peoples. Be that as it may, when occupation across these regions is again recognized archaeologically, the predominant ceramic form is a type of pottery that Dyson has dubbed “Western Triangle Ware” (Dyson 1999b:127) and that he has dated using comparative materials and radiocarbon dates between 400 and 250 b.c.e. in the area of northwestern Iran; this is equivalent to the Hasanlu IIIA phase (Dyson 1999a); see later discussion. The initial survey of the Upper Tigris region by Algaze failed to find any evidence for occupation between their Iron Age/Late Assyrian and Hellenistic periods (Algaze et al. 1991), but again it is unclear whether this represents an actual pattern on the ground or simply our lack of familiarity with the ceramic indicators spanning that chronological range. If we presume the former, it follows that it is not until a century and a half after the foundation of the Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus in 559 b.c.e. that recognizable Achaemenid ceramics become commonly distributed in southeastern Turkey in the early fourth century b.c.e.

(p. 455) Archaeologically, it seems highly likely that Late Assyrian forms continued to be in use in southeastern Turkey well after the end of the empire. In the Upper Tigris region of Iraq, just south of the current border with Turkey, British excavations at Qasrij Cliff and Khirbet Qasrij also found a substantial amount of ceramic continuity between the Late Assyrian and immediately following periods (Curtis 1989). A similar but better documented situation also obtains in the Khabur region of northeastern Syria, for instance at Tall Sheikh Hamad, where an extensive study of the ceramics from the Red House excavated by Hartmut Kühne has shown convincingly that Late Assyrian ceramic forms continue in use through the sixth and into the early fifth centuries b.c.e. (Kreppner 2008). The dating of this structure comes from four inscriptions mentioning the reign of Nebuchadnezzar; a later squatter occupation dated via three inscribed Aramaic ostraca appears firm and extends the use of Late Assyrian ceramic forms, at least in the Khabur region, 100 to 150 years after the fall of the empire (Kreppner 2008:151). Kreppner also cites a similar pattern for other sites in northeastern Syria, notably at Tell Shiukh Fawqani, Tell Barri, and Tell Ahmar (Kreppner 2008:149). Additional data are needed to confirm that the same conditions held in the Upper Tigris and Euphrates regions of southeastern Turkey, but it appears likely that further research will show that the current “dark age” between the Assyrian Empire and the arrival of Achaemenid interests in southeastern Anatolia should not be interpreted as a wholesale abandonment of these rich river valleys, and that future excavations may eventually reveal a continued use of Late Assyrian ceramic forms.

There is circumstantial evidence supporting this hypothesis in the textual sources, especially Xenophon and Herodotus, as well as Strabo writing several centuries later, who suggest that southeastern Anatolia was inhabited during the sixth and fifth centuries b.c.e. (Xenophon, Anabasis IV:1–4; Strabo, Geography, XI:12:3–4, XVI:21–25; Herodotus, Histories V:52–54). Sagona has argued that up until a treaty between Darius and the kingdom of Carduchia on the Aras River in 552 b.c.e., the area around the Batman River was possibly inhabited by a tribal remnant of the Median state, known alternatively as the Mardii by Ptolemy and the Mardi or Amardi by Strabo (Sagona 2004:86–87). Herodotus describes the Mardians as “tribes of nomads” among the Persian tribes (Herodotus, Histories I:25; Briant 2002:729). The Achaemenid system of rule has been described as a patrimonial kingdom, following the concepts of Weber and Eisenstadt (Root 1991:4). In this system, local élites were allowed to continue administering their territories in peripheral areas that were incorporated within the Achaemenid Empire, as long as tribute was paid to the Achaemenid king. Root notes that edicts were written and promulgated in local languages, an important symbolic procedure typical of this approach, for example, the Behistun inscription. The implication of this for archaeologists is that we are less likely to see a sudden appearance of Achaemenid material culture into the Upper Tigris region than was true in the Assyrian period when a strong military presence was imposed and then forcibly maintained along the fortified Assyrian centers: Ziyaret Tepe/Tušḫan, Üçtepe/Tidu, and Pornak/Sinabu (Kessler 1980).

Complicating the issue of the archaeological visibility of the Achaemenids in the Upper Tigris region during the Late Iron Age is the fact that much of the area (p. 456) along the river within southeastern Turkey was situated between the established satrapies of the Achaemenid rulers. These include the satrapies of Cappadocia to the northwest and western Armenia to the northeast, which form a northern border for the Upper Tigris region. Summers (1993) suggested that the sites of Altıntepe and nearby Cimin Tepe II, near Erzincan, were the seat of the latter, being built on an earlier fortified Urartian settlement. Briant (2002:742–43) has questioned the degree to which these satrapies were in control of the region, noting that evidence of Achaemenid material culture is largely limited to the Van region through excavations at Altın Tepe, Arin-Berd, and Armavir-blur. Xenophon describes the area immediately east of the Upper Tigris while leading the remains of Greek mercenary forces away from Babylon after Cyrus the Younger’s unsuccessful coup attempt. He notes numerous villages from which provisions are obtained by the fleeing Greek forces, showing that the region was occupied by indigenous groups, although villages were often located away from the rivers (i.e., where archaeological surveys have been conducted) due to warfare, for example, with the Carduchians (Xenophon, Anabasis IV:4). Similarly, Sagona notes that Achaemenid influence “was felt most strongly in maintaining routes of communication and the troops that policed them” (Sagona 2004:89) hence their control of the rivers in the Upper Tigris region but not the areas away from the river.

 The Iron Age of Southeastern AnatoliaClick to view larger

Figure 19.4. Painted Iron Age pottery from southeastern Turkey. Triangle and Festoon Ware (1–6): 1–2. Giricano Tepe (redrawn after Schachner 2004:fig. 5); 3–6 Ziyaret Tepe. Plum Painted Ware (7–12): 7 Grê Dimsê (redrawn after Karg 2001:fig. 9, not to scale, no original scale provided); 8–10 Norşuntepe (redrawn after Bartl 2001:figs. 3:12–14); 11–12 Ziyaret Tepe.

As already noted, toward the end of the fifth, and certainly by the early fourth century b.c.e., we see the arrival and spread of a new painted ceramic type called Western Triangle Ware in the upper Tigris and Euphrates regions (figure 19.4:1–6). Dating of Western Triangle Ware at Hasanlu IIIA to the beginning of the fourth century b.c.e. accords with the dating in the Van region (Sevin 2002:476–77). It has long been recognized that this painted ware tradition enters into the archaeological record of western Iran during the Hasanlu III period at a point of a “marked cultural shift” (Young 1965:59). This has been confirmed at a variety of other sites in Iran, and Stronach, arguing that the painted pottery traditions of western Iran were part of a single coherent tradition of the late first millennium b.c.e., links Triangle Ware with Festoon Ware. The latter dates to no earlier than 400 b.c.e. based on excavated materials from Pasargadae and Susa (Stronach 1974:244–45). A detailed restudy of Triangle Ware by Dyson led him to define three variations: Classic Triangle Ware, a Western Triangle Ware variant, and an Eastern Triangle Ware variant (Dyson 1999b:127). Only the western variation is present in eastern Turkey where it is widely distributed at, for example, Köskerbaba Höyük, Altın Tepe, and Van Kalesi (Dyson 1999b), and more specifically in the Upper Tigris region in a variety of contexts on the citadel at Ziyaret Tepe (Matney et al. 2009:53), at Üçtepe, where it is found on a floor with other Hellenistic materials (Köroğlu 1998), and at Kavuşan Höyük and Salat Tepe (Köroğlu 2008).

Dyson described the Western Triangle Ware as wheelmade and hard-fired; common forms tend toward deep or shallow carinated bowls. The fabric is usually grit or sand tempered (Dyson 1999a:102). Designs frequently comprised groups of radial lines, zigzags, or rows of solid triangles. Vessels tended to be heavier, thicker, and larger than the Classic Triangle Ware, generally smoothed or slightly burnished (p. 457) with pinkish-buff cores, often with a yellowish or pinkish cream slip which overfires to a greenish hue. Paint is usually dark brown or red (Dyson 1999b:125). Importantly, Dyson also notes that the clays used to make the Western Triangle Ware vessels at Hasanlu were local, based on neutron activation analysis (Dyson 1999b:125). We would expect, therefore, that sherds of similar style found in the Upper Tigris would show local variation, if only in clay source.

(p. 458) The origin of the Western Triangle Ware in western Iran is not clear. Dyson notes that this painted pottery assemblage “appears after a long hiatus in the Hasanlu occupation. It appears fully developed from elsewhere, although generally made locally. It has no obvious connections with earlier pottery at Hasanlu, but has clear connections with other areas of Azerbaijan, eastern Turkey, Georgia, and eastern Iran” (Dyson 1999a:105). Recently, excavations at Ziyaret Tepe in the Upper Tigris region have recovered what appears to be a possible early variant of the Triangle and Festoon Wares. This pottery type has been provisionally called Plum Painted Ware because the paint is a plum or purple-red color, which contrasts with the later Triangle and Festoon Wares which are redder in color in the Upper Tigris region (figure 19.4:7–12). The painted designs feature dots and curvy lines organized into bands, with occasional wavy lines and triangles, and the forms are small bowls, usually handmade with thick walls. The paint is found on the exterior surfaces and the rim (Matney et al. 2009:56, fig. 17).

The Plum Painted Ware at Ziyaret Tepe comes from good Early Iron Age contexts, including a well-stratified pit (Matney et al. 2002:66–68) and a layer of leveling fill sealed by the construction of a two-meter-thick Late Assyrian mudbrick platform on the citadel at Ziyaret Tepe. Likewise, Plum Painted Ware is also found in the so-called Warrior’s Tomb at Grê Dimsê (figure 19.4:7; Karg 2001:fig. 9). This tomb had a Plum Painted Ware jar with an upturned Groovy Pottery bowl serving as a lid, suggesting an Early Iron Age date to Karg (2001). Its occurrence at Ziyaret Tepe and Grê Dimsê in the Early Iron Age layers, that is, before Aššurnaṣirpal II’s arrival in 882 b.c.e., would suggest a long developmental sequence in which the Triangle and Festoon Wares of the Achaemenid period that appear in western Iran around 400 b.c.e. developed in fact out of the Plum Painted Ware that had its origins some five centuries earlier.

Conclusion: The End of the Iron Age

Providing a terminal date for the end of the Iron Age in southeastern Turkey is a somewhat arbitrary exercise. As noted, the region under consideration is not of particular political interest to the conquering Babylonians, nor to their successors, the Achaemenid Persians. The material culture of southeastern Turkey during the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries b.c.e. is poorly documented, although a few painted ceramic horizon markers are now known. Neither the terms “post-Assyrian” nor “Achaemenid” appears to accurately describe the last centuries of the Late Iron Age in the region culturally. The Late Iron Age ends with the conquests by Alexander of Macedon and the beginning of the Hellenistic period in the latter third of the fourth century b.c.e.

In summary, the periodization of the Iron Age of southeastern Anatolia has traditionally been defined by reference to events occurring outside of the region. (p. 459) Recent salvage archaeological fieldwork stimulated by the ambitious GAP economic development project has produced a wealth of new information on the Iron Age chronology of the region, and although much of these data are still only preliminarily published, we now have a skeletal internal chronology. The material culture recovered via surface survey and excavation has started to fill in the gaps present in the historical records, especially in areas peripheral to the great imperial centers. There are still important elements to flesh out. For example, a more precise developmental sequence of Groovy Pottery would add substantially to our understanding of Early and Middle Iron Age chronology. Likewise, the painted pottery traditions of the Late Iron Age are still only rudimentarily documented in southeastern Anatolia and require more fieldwork and systematic study. Consequently, much of what is presented here will need to be revised considerably within the next decade as the final reports, specialist analyses, and broader syntheses of these salvage projects are brought to publication.

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