Hellenistic-era Temple Found at ISAW's Excavation at Kınık Höyük

By lda5@nyu.edu

Journalists Hamza Tav and Abdullah Ozkul of Anadolu Agency released an article a few days ago about the new finds at the site of Niğde Kınık Höyük that I direct. The excavation project is a joint research project of the Dept. of Humanities, the University of Pavia, and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. Besides funds provided by the two institutions, the project is supported by a grant from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the fund for excavation projects at The Metropolitan Museum of New York.

The articles published by the journalists are correct, but they mainly report on the discoveries of the campaign 2014-2016. In those years excavations in Operation A, sector A1, led by ISAW PhD Candidate Andrea Trameri, uncovered and investigated four rooms of a sanctuary with two main levels of occupation: one Late Hellenistic and one Late Achaemenid to Mid-Hellenistic. Characteristic finds of the earlier levels were zoomorphic vessels mainly representing birds, often birds of prey. In the Late Hellenistic period, besides a number of coins hoards and other precious metal objects, fragments of three female figurines were found: two of them were recognized as a Kybele and an Aphrodite (the latter an import from Tarsus), the third is too fragmentary to suggest an identification. Excavations continued in this sanctuary also this year and are still ongoing while I am writing.

The great news of the year, however, is the discovery of new monumental public architecture and finds east of the sanctuary. Excavations in this new trench (Operation E), directed by Dr. R. Casagrande Kim uncovered the citadel walls of the Hellenistic and Achaemenid period, and likely the northern gate of the acropolis of the temple-city, leading into its monumental public space. Inside of the walls, a stone-paved piazza excavated for a surface of more than 110 m2 offered an open public space east of the sanctuary. In the easternmost portion of the piazza, which dates to the Late Hellenistic Period, a debris of stones and tiles had broken the floor. Over the building materials, we found hundreds of ceramic fragments that we now understand to have originally belonged to at least ten statues of bulls. Reconstruction of the statues is ongoing, but from the dimension of the bull-heads, there were two main sizes: statues of ca. 50 cm length (head ~15cm), and statues of more than 1m (head ~35cm).

Some more fragments of these ceramic statues had figurative appliques of Greek gods Athena and Dionysus, and a molded panel of Silenus on a donkey in a frame of grapes. Votive inscriptions and marble architectural decoration complete the set of finds. We interpret this context as deriving from a second sanctuary located to the east of the piazza, possibly dedicated to Dionysus. The presence of an Hellenistic cult of Dionysus in the region is particularly attractive because it may be considered a Greek interpretation of the Neo-Hittite local cult of Tarhunzas of the vineyard, well-known beyond the specialists thanks to its representation on the IVRIZ relief. To confirm this hypothesis, excavations will resume in 2019 on the eastern side of the piazza.    

Excavations in other Operations also produced noteworthy results, and particularly important are the results of the sector D2 directed by Dr. Nancy Highcock: the operation consists of a deep sounding investigating the stratigraphy of the lower town of Kınık Höyük. In the first weeks of excavations, we reached for the first time in 8 years the Early-Middle Iron Age levels; this implies the existence of a lower town at Kınık Höyük in the early 1st millennium.

Even more surprising was however the discovery at the end of the campaign of a new level from which we recovered a complete wheel-made, red-slipped, carinated, collared juglet dating to the Middle Bronze Age: historically also defined as the Assyrian Colony Period. Besides this find, fragments of metallic ware jugs in secondary contexts make it very likely that the lower town of Kınık Höyük was also occupied during the Early Bronze Age II-III (mid-third millennium), as well as in the Middle Bronze Age. Early Bronze Age ceramic fragments had been already found at Kınık Höyük during the intensive survey in 2008, but this is the first time that clear diagnostic vessels dating to these early periods are found in excavations. Given the importance of the position of the site along north-south caravan routes, as well as in relation to the mining industry of the neighboring Bolkar Dağ (Taurus), the discovery that Kınık Höyük was a main center with a lower town during the third and the early second millennium BCE brings a completely new dimension to the significance of the site and the strategy for the excavations in the following years. 

Follow the link to see an on-site interview with Professor Lorenzo d'Alfonso at the Hellenistic-era temple conducted by the Turkish press.