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Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze Age

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents data on the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) of southeastern and eastern Anatolia, which were more resilient than northern Mesopotamia and never endured the collapse suffered there at the end of the third millennium BCE. On the contrary, the mixed subsistence economy and the relatively lower levels of urbanism and reliance on intensive dry farming made these Anatolian societies more resilient and less prone to ecological disaster. Thus, the climatic catastrophe that devastated numerous urban centers of northern Mesopotamia did not affect the Anatolian regions, which instead show clear signs of continuity between the Early and the Middle Bronze Age periods. In addition, interregional exchange between these regions and northern Mesopotamia played an important part in the further development of these communities during the MBA and in creating the framework for the creation of important city-states, especially along the Upper Euphrates River Valley, and for strengthening local networks of chiefly estates, primarily in the Upper Tigris region.

Keywords: commercial exchange, Mesopotamia, subsistence economy, ecological disaster, city-states

The numerous rescue archaeology projects undertaken over the past forty years in eastern Anatolia have furnished archaeologists with a great amount of data that can be used to develop important interpretive and reconstructive frameworks for an area that has been terra incognita until recent times. This is particularly the case for the Middle Bronze Age period (MBA; ca. 2000–1600 b.c.e.), during which an increase in long-distance commercial exchanges between Mesopotamian (i.e., Syria and Iraq), Iranian, Transcaucasian, and Anatolian communities transformed the settlement patterns of the involved regions both in terms of density and size.


 Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger

Figure 14.1. Map of sites discussed in the text.

The area here considered (figure 14.1) is a wide region that is morphologically very diverse and divisible by geographical limitations into numerous ecological niches, such as the Euphrates Valley, the uplands of northeastern Anatolia, the Upper Tigris (p. 338) River Valley, the Muş Plain, the Van Lake area, and the high plains bordering modern Iran. These ecological niches conditioned the development of diverse cultural groups, which shared common elements but also express diversity in their archaeological records. In addition, climatic conditions have proven to be very effective in determining the forms of economic subsistence adopted by both ancient and modern societies, for example, an agriculturally based economy with a predominance of Mediterranean polyculture along the major rivers in southeastern Anatolia and a pastoral economy in the uplands and high plains of eastern Anatolia.

Within this geoclimatic landscape, different groups in the MBA developed interactions based both on internal and external forces and elements. The groups located along the Euphrates River basin were heavily involved in intense cultural and economic exchanges with neighboring societies located to the south (i.e., the city-states of Syria) and the north (i.e., the commercial ports of central Anatolia), whereas most of the other eastern Anatolian regions show strictly local material culture, continuity with previous periods, and few examples of imported prestige objects. Within this perspective and as available from both textual and archaeological data, the availability of raw materials, such as copper and other metals, and commodities, such as wine and ivory, requested by Mesopotamian élites from this area, created a form of asymmetrical exchange between local and exogenous groups from which private merchants and entrepreneurs profited significantly (Yener 2007).

However, clear local differences emerge from the archaeological data available from the MBA of eastern Anatolia, and as a consequence, to have a better picture of (p. 339) this area during the first half of the second millennium b.c.e., we have chosen to divide it into three major regional environs that group together some of the previously mentioned ecological niches into the following: the Euphrates River Valley, northeastern Anatolia, and, finally, the Upper Tigris River Valley and the neighboring regions. The important MBA city-state of Girnavaz (Erkanal 1991), located in the Nusaybin province near the northeastern Syrian border, is not included in this contribution due to its limited archaeological investigation, an almost total lack of published reconnaissance surveys in this region and, most particularly, because of its geographic and cultural similarities with the city-states of the Syrian Jezirah that make it a unique case in the Anatolian side of this wide plain.

Chronological and Cultural Frameworks by Region

In terms of chronology, the whole MBA can be subdivided into two major sequences: the MBA I, ca. 2000–1800 b.c.e., and the MBA II, ca. 1800–1600 b.c.e. according to the Syrian chronology (Akkermans and Schwartz 2003:fig. 9.2). The first phase corresponds to the involvement of the area in the Old Assyrian Trade Colony system, whereas the second phase appears to be marked by local cultural phenomena and contacts with the Old Hittite Kingdom.

The Euphrates Valley

By the end of the third millennium b.c.e., the phenomenon of urbanization that characterized the Euphrates Valley experienced a dramatic decrease in both the quality and quantity of settlement patterns and urban fabric, thus reducing the density and size of most of the settlements (Cooper 2006). However, the Euphrates alluvial plain guaranteed the ecological circumstances necessary to develop a combined agropastoral subsistence economy, a crucial component for the socially transformed groups inhabiting this region. This allowed them to survive the dramatic climatic changes that affected the whole region during this period (Dalfes, Kukla, and Weiss 1997). Archaeological evidence suggests continuity in numerous sites between the Early Bronze and Middle Bronze Age (Marro 2007), although written records inform us about an increasing ethnic fragmentation of societies resulting from the presence of groups with a variegated cultural background, for example, the Amorites and the Hurrians (Nichols and Weber 2006).

The beginning of the second millennium b.c.e. (i.e., MBA I) is marked by a “regenerative” process of urbanization featuring either settlements that were previously occupied or the constitution of new ones, all of which increased in importance (Cooper 2006:275–77). Along these lines, the Euphrates Valley became (p. 340) a central passage area used by the Old Assyrian merchants on their usual routes to reach the major commercial ports (kārums in Akkadian) located in central Anatolia (especially at the ancient site of Kaneš [modern Kültepe], see Michel, chapter 13, and Kulakoğlu, chapter 47 in this volume). For example, the site of Haḫḫum appears to be of great importance and was most probably located along the western bank of the Euphrates north of Şanlıurfa and across from Niḫriya (Barjamovic 2008; Forlanini 2006). Through an exchange of information between archaeologists and philologists, an attempt has been made to hypothesize the location of some intermediate stations (wabartum in Akkadian) or main ports. For example, the ancient site of Niḫriya has been associated with the ancient site of Lidar Höyük, and Šubat-Šamaš with Kazane Höyük (Forlanini 2006). This is, however, still in the realm of speculation, and only a few texts have been discovered during the archaeological excavation of these sites. However, the enactment of this commercial exchange was definitely a driving force in the development of settlement patterns along the Euphrates Valley, as is demonstrated by the architectural features discovered at numerous sites in which small areas featuring private dwellings were brought to light by archaeologists. Thus, the archaeological data of this period testify to an increasing presence of large centers (e.g., Carchemish, Samsat), medium-size sites (e.g., Lidar Höyük) and small fortified centers (e.g., Zeytinlibahçe Höyük, Şaraga Höyük, Horum Höyük) that probably served as fortified outposts along the river, based on the consistent presence of thick fortification walls at these sites (Abay 2007; Alvaro, Balossi, and Bloom 2004; Balossi, Di Nocera, and Frangipane 2007; Marro 2007; Sertok, Kulakoğlu, and Squadrone 2004). Of great importance for these smaller sites is the presence of areas dedicated to craft production such as potter’s workshops (Balossi, Di Nocera, and Frangipane 2007:374–75).

The creation of city-states in southeastern Anatolia during the MBA II was further increased after the collapse of the Old Assyrian Trading Colony system (ca. 1730 b.c.e.). This circumstance may have developed, as understood from letters of Old Assyrian merchants found at the kārum in Kaneš (Michel 2001:118–70), by the turmoil that emerged among the rulers of local Anatolian city-states, such as Anum-Ḫirbi, king of Mama and Ḫaššum, or by new restrictions and controls emanating from more centralized authorities, such as the Old Assyrian king Šamši-Adad I. The importance of these local rulers during and after the Old Assyrian Trading Colony system is also clearly rendered in the written texts from the royal archives of the most important northern Mesopotamian city-states, for example, the archive of King Zimri-lim at Mari/Tell Hariri and the archive of Šamši-Adad I at Šubat-Enlil/Tell Leilan. These texts testify to a continuous exchange of commodities, such as ivory and copper, as well as of skilled artisans, between the major city-states and peripheral units (Yener 2007). In particular, the cellars of the famous palace of Zimri-lim of Mari were constantly refilled with the famous wine produced and imported from the ancient city of Carchemish (Durand 1997:353). This extraordinary socioeconomic landscape of dynamic exchange was brought to a halt during the second half of the seventeenth century b.c.e. when we witness the military campaigns of the first rulers of the Old Hittite Kingdom, Ḫattušili I and Muršili I, (p. 341) in Syria and Mesopotamia (Akkermans and Schwartz 2003:325–26; and see Beal, chapter 26 in this volume).

With this historical perspective in mind, the written data also provide information about the different degrees of importance and the nature of relationships that the major political powers of Syria, for example, Mari/Tell Hariri, Ebla/Tell Mardikh, and Yamḫad/Alep, had with the Anatolian rulers. According to these texts, we can determine that the most prominent city-state of the MBA in the Euphrates region and surroundings was Carchemish, whereas Alalakh (modern Tell Atchana) and Ḫaššum were of secondary importance, while still functioning as the seats of important royal families which were vassals of the royal kingdom of Yamḫad (Marchetti 2006).

The increasing power of these southeastern Anatolian city-states is also demonstrated by the valuable archaeological data recovered in the excavations at these sites. Obviously, we are missing fundamental information available from the most important city-state (i.e., Carchemish), but other sites inform us about this period.

 Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger

Figure 14.2. Aerial photograph of the southeastern sector of the ancient city of Tilmen Höyük (phases MBA II and Late Bronze Age I) in which are visible (from left): Temple E; Royal Palace A; Fortress H and Gate K-6 with Building K-1; Area G; Building C and K5; and the monumental Staircase K-5 (courtesy Nicolò Marchetti, director of the Turkish-Italian Joint Archaeological Expedition at Tilmen Höyük by the Universities of Bologna and İstanbul).

Thanks to the Turkish and, later, Turkish-Italian projects, the modern site of Tilmen Höyük, located in the valley of the İslahiye River in the modern province of Gaziantep, enhances our knowledge of the complex urban fabric that characterized these MBA city-states (Alkım 1969; Duru 2003; Marchetti 2006). During the MBA II (ca. 1750–1550 b.c.e.), the city was divided into a lower town and a citadel (figure 14.2). The lower town was marked by the presence of a temple, areas dedicated to craft production (e.g., metalworking), fortresses, a fortification wall planned with the creation of a casemate and two posterns, a monumental entrance with a two-sided statue of lions, and a staircase that led toward the main fortified citadel. In the fortified citadel, archaeologists discovered a royal palace (building A), a ceremonial building (temple E), a fortress (H), and another possible palace (C). The impressive architecture found at this site shows a continuous use of basalt blocks to construct both the monumental walls and the buildings found inside, as well as for the decoration of some of the rooms’ walls with orthostats.

 Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger

Figure 14.3. Plan of Palace and Temple from the MBA citadel of Tell Atchana/Alalakh (level VII) (redrawn from Woolley 1955:fig. 12).

Another important city-state of the MBA in southeastern Anatolia is represented by the twenty-hectare site of Tell Atchana (ancient Alalakh), located in the plain of Antioch near the Orontes River valley; it was excavated initially by Leonard Woolley (1955) in the late 1930s and 1940s and currently by a team from the Oriental Institute of Chicago (Yener 2007). The site has multiple phases, and its chronological sequence has origins in the Neolithic periods. However, the most important phase of occupation, Levels VIII–VII, pertains to the MBA II period (Heinz 1992; McClellan 1989). During this period the site was the seat of the king of Mukiš, who was also a vassal of the kingdom of Yamḫad. The layout of the city is similar to other Syro-Anatolian city-states of this period. As in the case of Tilmen Höyük, it was divided into a fortified citadel and a lower town. Moreover, the fortification wall was similar to those of other northern Syrian cities, such as Ebla (Matthiae 1981), and was constructed with a very wide (about 15 meters) earthen rampart on top of which a thick mudbrick wall (about four to five meters wide) was built. The gateways were (p. 342) also built using the traditional MBA chained chambers system sided by two rectangular towers. The famous palace of King Yarim-lim I (ca. 1790–1770 b.c.e.) was discovered by the archaeologists within the limits of the fortified citadel (figure 14.3). The royal palace was constructed next to the inner fortification wall using a terrace system; it was monumental in plan and had basalt orthostats decorating the lower part of the walls, wooden columns to sustain roofs and decorate doors, and, in some rooms, frescoes with naturalistic motifs that were reminiscent of the Minoan palaces (Woolley 1955). However, the most extraordinary element of the palace is the presence of a royal archive in the northern (official) wing, featuring cuneiform tablets written using a local Akkadian idiom. This important discovery allows us to determine the ancient name of the city as well as understand the socioeconomic and political landscape of this period. Next to the palace, the archaeologists brought to light an in antis temple with very thick walls that recalls classic Old Syrian typologies; it was built using a fenced outdoor area and possessed a small antechamber that led to the main temple’s cella.

Due to its size, the site of Tilbeshar (approximately fifty-six hectares), located in the Sanjur River valley about twenty kilometers southeast of Gaziantep, might also be considered among the MBA city-states (Kepinski 2005). The site, recently excavated by a French archaeological expedition, is a multiphase settlement. The initial archaeological data illustrate an MBA settlement in which the lower town (about (p. 343) fifty hectares of extension) revealed private dwellings separated by thoroughly planned streets, drainage systems, and outdoor areas in which graves were found. Signs of craft production areas were also found in the lower town, where it has been possible to define a clear cultural continuity between the Early and Middle Bronze Age phases (for additional discussion on the Early Bronze Age, see Ökse, chapter 11 in this volume).

(p. 344) The MBA period is thus a period of increasing visibility of local city-states in the Euphrates Valley as well as the surrounding regions. The enhancement in long-distance exchange between Mesopotamian and Anatolian communities during the MBA I period might have been the cause for the blooming of the settlements. However, it is not only the size of the settlements that act as an indicator for an increase in social complexity in this region during this phase, but it is also the monumental architecture of religious and palatial buildings recognizable at some of these sites that gives us a clue of the socioeconomic and political importance reached by these city-states.

In fact, the continuous presence of royal palaces and associated temples stands as a marker of the Syrian and Anatolian, as well as Mesopotamian, city-states especially during the MBA II period (Marchetti 2006). The presence of such palatial structures in Anatolia (i.e., the Waršama Palace at Kaneš Level VII corresponding to the kārum Ib, the “Sarıkaya Palace” at Acemhöyük, the MBA II Palace at Tilmen Höyük, the “Burnt Palace” at Beycesultan, the Palace of Yarim Lim at Alalakh VII, and, possibly, other palaces at Oylum Höyük and Kinet Höyük) witness the presence of important families leading the commercial network with exogenous merchants (Akar 2009; Gates 2000; Lloyd and Mellart 1965; Marchetti 2006; N. Özguç 1965; T. Özguç 2003; Yener 2007; and see Kulakoğlu, chapter 47 in this volume).

In terms of pottery production, the MBA embraces types typical of the Syrian cultural horizon, such as mass-produced pottery with coarser tempers and carinated shapes, and, occasionally, the presence of vessels decorated with painted geometric motifs (e.g., Khabur Ware, Syro-Cilician Painted Ware), incised lines (i.e., “comb-decorated” ware), and applied grooved bands (Kaschau 1999; Nigro 1998; Oguchi 1998). The increasing availability of copper (from both central Anatolia, Cilicia, and, later, Cyprus) in the region’s market brought about a broader use of bronze weapons and tools, such as toggle pins with spherical and grooved heads, socketed spearheads, and fenestrated “duckbills” and shaft-hole axes, not only by the royal and religious élites but also by families of emergent entrepreneurs involved in long-distance trade (Yener 2007). Metal figurines made using portable trinket molds are also a late third millennium b.c.e. tradition that continues into the MBA period (Marchetti 2003). Handmade and molded human figurines are also typical of this cultural horizon. In addition, the cylinder seal impressions recognizable on the tablets found in the royal archive of the palace of Yarim-lim I at Alalakh/Tell Atchana helped art historians delineate the predominant type of iconography of this period, which consists of the famous scene of the king or the owner of the seal standing in front of a deity with a more diminutive goddess introducing them (Collon 1975).

In terms of iconography, the extraordinary discovery of the head of a male statue in basalt, considered by Woolley (1955) to be the head of the ruler Yarim-lim I, found in the palace of Alalakh, and the stele recently found at Tilmen Höyük (Marchetti 2006), on which a high dignitary is depicted standing before a deity, are fundamental elements in allowing the study of cultural connections between this region and Syria. However, the shift in the commercial routes for copper during the (p. 345) mid-eighteenth century b.c.e. from central Anatolia to Cyprus determined the stronger influences of Cypriot and Egyptian styles on the local material culture (Barjamovic 2008), as demonstrated by the frescoes and the head of an Egyptian male statue in basalt discovered at Alalakh Level VII (Woolley 1955). The cultural connection between these areas is also evident in the production of ivory objects found at numerous Syrian and Anatolian sites (e.g., Ebla, Acemhöyük, Kaneš, and Alalakh); moreover, the discovery of whole elephant tusks in the MBA II levels of Alalakh suggests that the ivory might originate from this region, indicative of the long-distance commercial exchange typical of this period (Yener 2007:fig. 1). Recent surveys in the Amuq region and near the site of Kinet Höyük (Yener 2005:197–200) demonstrate the possible location of ancient harbors in the area (e.g., the site of Sabuniye) and, consequently, the establishment of maritime commerce starting from this period (Akar 2009).

Given these data, we subscribe to Maurits van Loon’s view (1985:36) that “second millennium Anatolia, due to its Syro-Mesopotamian contacts, underwent an amalgamation of three traditions [local, Syrian, and Mesopotamian] in religion and iconography.” To this statement we would like to add that the artistic environment of the MBA expresses an “international style” that became typical during the Late Bronze Age, showing influences from both the Egyptian and the Minoan worlds (Molfese 2007).

The northern section of the Euphrates, including the Malatya and Elazığ provinces, is geographically quite secluded and during the MBA is marked by a local cultural horizon that is recognizable in the archaeological record from the sites of Arslantepe, İmikuşağı, İmamoğlu Höyük, Şemsiye Tepe, Pirot Höyük, Tepecik, Norşuntepe, and Korucutepe (Şerifoğlu 2007). At these sites, the recovered archaeological data give us a clear impression of a cultural continuity between the Early and Middle Bronze Age (Di Nocera forthcoming). Moreover, at Arslantepe, İmikuşağı, İmamoğlu Höyük, Norşuntepe, and Korucutepe fortification walls are found in the MBA II assemblage (Di Nocera 1998; Hauptmann 1982; Şerifoğlu 2007; Uzunoğlu 1985; van Loon 1980). In terms of other architectural features, most of the sites show rectangular private dwellings with stone foundations and mudbrick superstructure, as is the case at Imikuşağı (Sevin 1984). Arslantepe (level VI) features a private dwelling with a double horseshoe-shaped hearth in the main courtyard and a series of small rectangular houses placed next to circular and subcircular buildings in a pattern reminiscent of the Early Bronze Age period architectural layout. At Norşuntepe (Hauptmann 1982), the beginning of the second millennium b.c.e. is instead characterized by the abandonment of the Early Bronze Age palace and by the presence of several rectangular houses with rounded hearths. The importance of specialized craft production areas at the MBA sites of this region is demonstrated not only by the numerous architectural features associated with metalworking but also by the presence of features associated with pottery production, such as the example of the kiln found at the site of Tepecik (Esin 1982).

In terms of pottery, Black Polished Ware, Gray Ware, and Brown Burnished Ware are the most common categories of the upper Euphrates region (Di Nocera (p. 346) 1998). Among pottery types, the jars with “rail rims” are very common. Even though the whole region seems to be marked by locally produced ware (e.g., both Plain Simple Burnished and unburnished wares), some imported examples are recognizable in the archaeological record, such as the Red Slipped Ware that can link the region with central Anatolia and especially the kārum (level II) at Kültepe (Di Nocera forthcoming) or the Orange/Red Burnished Ware that shows clear Hittite influences (Şerifoğlu 2007:table 1). A category of pottery that can allow us to indicate links with more eastern regions is represented by the painted ware decorated with geometric motifs (Çilingiroğlu 1984) (figure 14.4).

 Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger

Figure 14.4. Drawings of MBA painted ware from (A) Arslantepe; (B) Van region; (C) Tepecik; (D and E) Erzurum region (redrawn from Di Nocera 1998:tafel 6.23; Esin 1972:table103.2; Özfırat 2001:lehva 38.1,4 and 103.4).

According to Şerifoğlu (2007:111–12, fig. 5) the whole area can be subdivided into three subregions, in which zone 1 (i.e., the region west of the Upper Euphrates Valley) has stronger links with central Anatolia (especially during the MBA II) and northern Syria, zone 2 (i.e., the region east of the Upper Euphrates Valley) is a buffer zone, whereas zone 3 (i.e., the Altınova region) has more connections with eastern Anatolia. This model for Zone 1 sites is further confirmed by iconographic comparanda between the few human figurines, such as a possible divine female figurine found at İmikuşağı (Sevin 1984), and stamp and cylinder seals found at İmikuşağı, Arslantepe, and Korucetepe, and those typical of central Anatolia and northern Syria (Şerifoğlu 2007:105).

Northeastern Anatolia

Moving further east toward the modern border with Georgia and Armenia, we encounter a more diverse geographical landscape characterized by the presence of mountains and uplands. In this environment, transhumance and nomadism have developed in conjunction with pastoralism as the primary form of subsistence for the groups inhabiting this region from prehistoric times until today. In this difficult geographical terrain, it has been almost impossible for archaeologists to undertake excavations or surveys, and only a few projects, most along the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline project, have revealed data for the creation of a coherent chronological framework for this area (Laneri et al. 2003; Sagona 2004, and Sagona, chapter 30 in this volume). This is particularly the case for the MBA, which, compared to the previous period, appears to be typified by a dramatic transformation in settlement patterns (Edens 1995). In fact, we witness a decrease in the density of permanent settlements that are very small in size and feature buildings with small rectangular rooms built using a combined system of cobble and stone foundations and mudbrick superstructure with rounded hearths in the middle, for example, at Sos Höyük Level IV in the Erzurum province (Sagona and Sagona 2000:figs. 3–4), and an increase in cemeteries, for example the necropolis of Ani (Özfırat 2001:68–70), that appear to be linked to temporary encampments similar to modern summer encampments, or yayla in Turkish. Although some of these cemeteries include simple cist graves, most common in this period are artificial funerary mounds of different sizes, known as kurgans, which consist of single or multiple cist graves covered with small to medium stones; kurgans are most often located along the (p. 347) edges of hills (e.g., Suluçem IV [Özfırat 2001:71–75, photo 28–31] and Sos Höyük IVA [Sagona 2004]). This type of funerary deposition is typical of a particular chronological horizon, the Martkopi cultural horizon, that begins at the end of the third millennium b.c.e. and continues well into the Middle/Late Bronze Age transitional phase, for example, the Trialeti/Bedeni cultural horizon (Edens 1995). Moreover, these mounded funerary features mark a wide area of the upland landscape of (p. 348) Transcaucasia that includes northeastern Anatolia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nahçivan, and northwestern Iran (Puturidze 2003).

We have only a few remains of MBA architecture, and thus the pottery found within the tombs allows us to create an important typology to determine the cultural framework (and, consequently, the relative chronology) of this period. Black Burnished Ware, Brown Burnished Ware, Polychrome, and Monochrome Ware are the most represented ceramic categories found in funerary contexts of the MBA in northeastern Anatolia (e.g., Ani, Küçük Çatma, Sos Höyük IV) as well as in northwestern Iran, Nahçivan, Armenia, eastern Georgia, and Azerbaijan (Çilingiroğlu 1984; Özfırat 2001:23–26; 2008). In terms of morphological properties, the painted ware assemblage (figure 14.4) consists both of closed (e.g., short-necked jars with everted rims) and open shapes (e.g., deep bowls with inverted and externally thickened rim) with an overall brown slip and red, black, and white painted decoration that consists of geometric triangles and wavy lines, and animal (e.g., wild goats, deer, ducks, and snakes) decorative motifs (Özfırat 2001:pl. 114). Together with this assemblage, the presence of pottery resembling wares widely known from eastern regions, for example the Trialeti Ware, suggests a strong social and cultural interconnection between northeastern Anatolia and the Transcaucasian area (Puturidze 2003:5.3–5.6; Sagona 2004). Additionally, Black Burnished Ware, which is also decorated with incised decorative patterns (Laneri et al. 2003), can also be used to synchronize interregional chronological sequences in the Upper Euphrates Valley with areas located further east, such as Georgia and the eastern Black Sea coast.

As already noted, another important element of this period is the increasing quality and quantity of metal objects made of bronze, gold, and silver found in the MBA funerary contexts in the whole region south of the Caucasus (Burney and Lang 1971:86–126; Puturidze 2003:5.7; Sagona 2004).

The Upper Tigris River Valley

Many of the major sites along the Upper Tigris River Valley were originally identified by Algaze in his surveys (Algaze et al. 1991; Algaze, Breuninger, and Knudstad 1994), but only recent excavations, as part of the Ilısu Dam Rescue Project, have fully illuminated the social and political landscape of the MBA in this region (Laneri et al. 2009). In addition, due to similarity in pottery assemblages, it is still difficult to chronologically distinguish an early (MBA I) from a later (MBA II) phase of the MBA and, thus, in this section the MBA will be discussed as part of broader chronological horizon. Moreover, this area lies at a crucial intersection between the developing states of central Anatolia and the reconfigured city-states of northern Mesopotamia. During the late third and beginning of the second millennia b.c.e., the Upper Tigris River Valley was marked by the emergence of numerous small to mid-sized settlements (e.g., Üçtepe, Kavuşan Tepe, Kenan Tepe, Salat Tepe, Ziyaret Tepe, Hirbemerdon Tepe, Müslüman Tepe, Ahmetli Tepe, and Türbe Höyük) that show forms of cultural continuity between the Early and Middle Bronze Age. (p. 349) However, it is during the MBA I that we witness an increase in terms of quantity and quality of archaeological data from this region.

Many of these sites were located on the Tigris’s lower terraces, surrounded by the floodplain and cultivable terraces (Doğan 2005; Kuzucuoğlu 2002), and may have been situated in such a strategic position as to control arable land (Ökse 2006). The majority of these sites had important similarities, which include architectural features containing storage facilities at Kavuşan Tepe and Ziyaret Tepe (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004; Matney and Rainville 2005), evidence of relative monumentality and centralized planning at sites such as Üçtepe Building Level 11, Salat Tepe Monumental Building, and the Hirbemerdon Tepe architectural complex (Laneri et al. 2006, 2008, 2009; Ökse and Görmüş 2006:fig. 7; Özfırat 2005), and signs of specialized craft production activities such as textile production at Salat Tepe (Ökse and Görmüş 2006), metallurgy at Kenan Tepe Operation C and at Kavuşan Tepe (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004; Parker and Dodd 2003:36), and wine making at Hirbemerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2008, 2009).

Hirbemerdon Tepe provides us with the greatest amount of detail concerning the social organization of communities inhabiting this region during the MBA period. During this long chronological period (2010–1464 cal b.c.e.), the site’s northern side of the high mound was characterized by the construction of a large architectural complex. Since the beginning of the archaeological work at the site in 2003, the Italian-American team has uncovered more than 1,000 m2 of the architectural complex (Laneri 2005; Laneri et al. 2008:181). Spatial distribution and functional analyses of Hirbemerdon Tepe’s different districts within the well-preserved architectural complex reveal that no building has any domestic features, such as central hearths or courtyards. The whole complex was differentiated into two main sectors: one central sector dedicated to ceremonial activities, and another area, separated from the central one by a long alley and a large outdoor space (the piazza) that is marked by long, narrow buildings built in an agglutinated manner with clear signs of working activities, such as mortars, pestles, grinding stones, and hydraulic facilities (Laneri et al. 2008:182).

In addition, this former sector dedicated to craft production was composed of narrow partitioned buildings, each with an entrance from the main alley. The architectural layout consisted of rooms for working activities and smaller rooms for temporary storage. The central room, paved with flagstones, may have functioned as an open area providing light for the other rooms (Laneri et al. 2008:185–86). As mentioned, all of the rooms in these buildings lacked hearths and were too small to have served as domestic spaces; the numerous ground stones found within these structures point to their use as food processing areas. Only one large room in this sector was probably dedicated to cooking activities as confirmed by the presence of a large circular burned feature and numerous cooking pots found in situ (Laneri et al. 2006).

Faunal remains from the architectural complex suggest that in general the animal economy was focused on domestic animals, with cattle supplying a significant proportion of meat. Deer hunting played a more important role than expected (p. 350) at this site during the MBA as is exemplified by the high percentage (approximately 35 percent) of deer bones encountered during preliminary analyses; this is quite high compared to other sites in the region (Laneri et al. 2008:195–200). In addition, the great abundance of deer antlers suggests that the hunting was focused not on subsistence but rather on craft production and ceremonial activities (Berthon in Laneri et al. 2009; Berthon forthcoming).

The botanical assemblage from Hirbemerdon Tepe is typical for the MBA in this region, in comparison to contemporary sites such as Tell Brak in northeast Syria (Charles and Bogaard 1997; Colledge 2004) and consists of cereal grains, barley, emmer wheat and wheat chaff, pulses such as lentils, and a single example of oat (Laneri et al. 2008:195). Similar assemblages were found at Kenan Tepe (Parker and Dodd 2003). Besides grain, wild or domesticated grape (Vitis sp.) seeds were also identified in these deposits (Parker, Creekmore, and Dodd 2004) as well as at Kavuşan Tepe (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004) and Salat Tepe (Ökse and Görmüş 2006). A high density of seeds and the whole fruit of Vitis vinifera (grape) were recovered in a specific room of the production sector at Hirbemerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2008:194). The Upper Tigris lies within the natural range of wild grapes (Zohary and Hopf 2000). Because the grapes of Turkey have smaller and fewer seeds, a low acidity, and are moderately sweet, they are ideal for wine production (McGovern 2003:20). Moreover, agricultural statistics in the Diyarbakır province from 1933 to 1950 demonstrate the high yield potential of grapes in this region (Gorny 1996:144). Wine is mentioned in the Old Assyrian texts (Oppenheim, Reiner, and Biggs 1971:203), and viticulture is well established in southeastern Anatolia in the MBA (Powell 1995).

Some of the built-in basins and drainage installations found in the northern sector of the MBA architectural complex at Hirbemerdon Tepe could also be associated with wine processing. In fact, the high density of seeds and the presence of a whole fruit of V. vinifera found in a room with drainage installations, in context with a curved stone bench, suggests that this space was part of a productive unit dedicated to processing wine. These and other stone benches and basins adjacent to the main alley bear similarities to plaster basins used for grape pressing at the late third millennium b.c.e. site of Titriş Höyük (Algaze et al. 2001; Algaze and Matney, chapter 46 in this volume; Laneri 2007; Laneri et al. 2008:186).

How wine functioned within the political economy of the region is of crucial interest. Wine may have served to bolster élite power in the contexts of feasting (Joffe 1998), and the control of its production could have provided economic strength to emerging élite households (Laneri 2007). Contemporaneous evidence from the Sinjar in Iraq points to the importance of wine in the palace economy of second millennium b.c.e. urban sites such as Tell al Rimah (Oates 1970). More than likely it was exchanged across the Tur ‘Abdin Mountains to cities in northern Mesopotamia, possibly by merchants, as ancient texts seem to imply (Forlanini 2006). In addition, texts from MBA contexts in northern Mesopotamia state clearly that wine imported from southeastern Turkey (e.g., the Carchemish area) was exported to important Mesopotamian city-states, such as Mari (Chambon 2009). The important (p. 351) role played by exporting wine from southeastern Turkey to northern Syria is an element that should be taken into consideration when dealing with the region’s economy during the MBA.

The control of productive activities in the settlements of the Upper Tigris region was probably enacted by local élites, who were also controlling the ceremonial activities within these complexes. This is clearly demonstrated by the case of Hirbemerdon Tepe, in which the central sector of the architectural complex consists of a large outdoor space (the piazza) and a series of buildings that might have had public purposes. This is especially the case for a building that lies east of the piazza that had one entrance from the main street and consisted of two vestibules and two long rooms with traces of altars built within them. In addition, the piazza itself likely had ceremonial purposes as demonstrated by the presence of a large stone basin and the deliberate disposal of numerous ritual objects (highly decorated ceramic vessels, human and animal clay figurines, and clay votive plaques) found next to the basin; such items have been found almost exclusively in this context (Laneri et al. 2008).

In terms of pottery categories, the area is marked by distinctive local wares that continue the tradition of the late third millennium b.c.e. Dark-Rimmed Orange Bowls (DROBs). The DROB has a distinctive dark red dusky-colored band along the exterior rim and chronologically belongs to a post-Akkadian, late third millennium b.c.e. horizon. DROBs have been found in excavations at numerous sites on the Upper Tigris region: at Üçtepe Level 13 to Level 11 (Özfırat 2005), at Kavuşan Höyük Level III (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004), at Ziyaret Tepe (Matney and Rainville 2005), and at Türbe Höyük (Sağlamtemir and Ozan 2007), as well as on the surface of numerous sites in the area such as Tepeköy, Çubuklu, Gökçetevek, Karacalı, Eliaçık, Yukarı Bağpınar, Beşiktepe, Kayapınar, and Körtepe to the north of the Tigris and at Kazıktepe, Tavşantepe, İncirtepe, Türkmenhacı, Ziyaret Tepe, Kazancı, and Aktepe along the Upper Tigris (Özfırat 2005). Material culture belonging to this phase has been radiocarbon dated at Hirbemerdon Tepe to the late third millennium b.c.e. (2297–2198 cal b.c.e.). Advanced petrographic, geochemical, and mineralogical analyses of DROBs suggest that they were manufactured in the Bismil area of the Upper Tigris River basin and then imported into northern Mesopotamia (Kibaroğlu 2008).

As mentioned before, DROB have strong similarities with a pottery category that first appears during the late third millennium b.c.e. and then marks the repertoire of the MBA settlements in the region. This pottery has been defined by Algaze as Red Brown Wash Ware (RBWW) (Algaze et al. 1991:184) and represents a distinct local pottery tradition found at all the MBA sites in the Upper Tigris region (Laneri et al. 2008; Parker and Dodd 2003). Because of its likely iron-rich composition, the slip coating covering either the entire exterior vessel body or only its upper rim-shoulder section can assume a color ranging from red to reddish brown to black based on its firing conditions (Laneri et al. 2008:187; Özfırat 2005).

The RBWW typology demonstrates MBA characteristics, including carinated shapes, straight walls, and slightly everted rims (Laneri et al. 2008:189; Nigro 1998). Examples include open shallow bowls with a carination near the rim at Hirbemerdon (p. 352) Tepe (Laneri et al. 2008:189, fig. 9), Giricano (Schachner 2002:fig. 35a), Üçtepe Level 11 (Özfırat 2005:pl. 34:13–18, 35–45; Sevin 1993:fig. 5:1–2), the Ziyaret Tepe brightly burned building (Matney et al. 2003:fig. 6:9–10), and deep carinated bowls at Hirbmerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2008:fig. 10), Üçtepe (Sevin 1993:fig. 4:2.4), and Ziyaret Tepe (Matney et al. 2003:fig. 5:5–6). Among the forms are numerous storage containers with a short neck and everted and externally thickened rims, as well as hole-mouth jars (Laneri et al. 2008:178). Moreover, decorative elements consisting of grooves and waves are usually applied below the rim or on the upper body of the vessel (Özfırat 2005).

Cooking jars with triangular lugs along the rim and decorated lids are also part of the pottery assemblages of the MBA in the Upper Tigris River Valley (Laneri et al. 2008:figs. 12–13). Moreover, the cooking jars were a standard part of the ceramic assemblage in this area as well as in other Anatolian regions since the mid-third millennium b.c.e. (Ökse and Görmüş 2006:187–88).

Cultural contacts with northern Mesopotamia are exemplified by the presence of Grey ware at sites such as Hirbemerdon Tepe and Kavuşan Höyük in this region (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004; Laneri et al. 2008), in addition to the presence of the characteristic painted ware from the northern Jezirah of Syria, known as Khabur Ware. This ware gives its name to the initial phase of the Khabur Ware period (ca. 1815–1550 b.c.e., Khabur Ware period 2–3 [Oguchi 1997:196–99, fig. 1]), and it has been found in small quantities associated with RBWW at Üçtepe (Sevin 1992:12–14, figs. 2–3, 1993:177, fig. 7), Kenan Tepe (Parker and Dodd 2003:66), Salat Tepe (Ökse and Görmüş 2006), Kavuşan Höyük (Kozbe, Köroğlu, and Sağlamtemir 2004), and Hirbemerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2006, 2008). At the site of Hirbemerdon Tepe all but three Khabur Ware sherds contained certain banded forms and were decorated using the same techniques as the RBWW rather than paint. These appear to be local imitations of this style from northern Syria, hence the application of the term pseudo-Khabur ware (Laneri et al. 2006:163, 2008:fig 13); the presence of pseudo-Khabur ware demonstrates a cultural influence from northern Syria rather than a large-scale material importation.

 Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia in the Middle Bronze AgeClick to view larger

Figure 14.5. Photo and drawings (section and frontal) of a clay votive plaque found within the MBA level at Hirbemerdon Tepe (courtesy Hirbemerdon Tepe Archaeological Project).

Cultural contacts and interregional exchanges with Anatolian as well as northern Mesopotamian regions are demonstrated by the presence of decorated andirons and portable hearths at numerous sites such as Hirbemerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2006:fig. 9), Salat Tepe (Ökse and Görmüş 2006:fig. 46), Müslüman Tepe (Eyyüp Ay, personal communication), and Üçtepe (Özfırat 2005:pl. 94:7, 95:13). Another distinctive cultural element of the Upper Tigris region is represented by the presence of decorated votive clay plaques (figure 14.5). These plaques were characterized by a central anthropomorphic or “stick” figure framed by a series of geometric elements. Some of these plaques were found at Hirbemerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2008) and Salat Tepe (Ökse and Görmüş 2006:176, fig. 21), whereas at Üçtepe tools used for decorating these plaques were found (Özfırat 2005:pl. 78:4, 79:4, 94:5–6). The plaques found at the MBA sites of the Upper Tigris are distinct from the contemporary ones discovered in southern Mesopotamia, and thus they appear to be unique examples.

Although societies in the Upper Tigris exhibit clear signs of complexity in the form of specialized production, ritual complexes, and settlement hierarchy, these (p. 353) (p. 354) communities do not seem to fit into classic hierarchical models of complex organization. For instance, elements of administrative control such as an impressed pottery fragment found at Hirbemerdon Tepe (Laneri et al. 2008:224) are rare and suggest the existence of an organization different from the standard Mesopotamian system of administration. In fact, apart from Pir Hüseyin, which has an area of about fifteen hectares but has never been properly excavated (Peasnall and Algaze 2010), none of the centers in the Upper Tigris exceed five hectares in size in the MBA, and there is no evidence that a hierarchical superstructure existed integrating these mid-range sites together.

It seems that a true heterarchical system of polities was operating in the Upper Tigris region (Crumley 1995), in which each mid-sized site served not as a population center but as a specialized production settlement, most likely serving a powerful kin group that legitimated its position through a ritual system that was publicly visible. The majority of the population most likely resided in small villages or pastoral communities (Ur and Hammer 2009) and contributed surplus staples and labor to sites such as Hirbemerdon Tepe.


It is clear from these data that southeastern and eastern Anatolia were more resilient than northern Mesopotamia and never endured the collapse suffered in northern Mesopotamia at the end of the third millennium b.c.e. On the contrary, the mixed subsistence economy and the relatively lower levels of urbanism and reliance on intensive dry-farming made these Anatolian societies more resilient and less prone to ecological disaster. Thus, the climatic catastrophe that devastated numerous urban centers of northern Mesopotamia did not affect the Anatolian regions, which instead show clear signs of continuity between the Early and the Middle Bronze Age periods. In addition, interregional exchange between these regions and northern Mesopotamia played an important part in the further development of these communities during the MBA and in creating the framework for the creation of important city-states, especially along the Upper Euphrates River Valley, and for strengthening local networks of chiefly estates, primarily in the Upper Tigris region.


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