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New Alphabetic Inscription From Zincirli (ancient Sam’al) In Southeast Turkey

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On July 21, 2008, the Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli, directed by Prof. David Schloen of the University of Chicago and by associate director Amir Fink, found an inscribed basalt stele at the site of Zincirli (pronounced “Zin-jeer-lee”) in Gaziantep province in southeastern Turkey. The remarkably well-preserved stele, 70 centimeters wide and 95 centimeters tall, was found intact in its original location. It was set into a stone wall with its protruding tenon still inserted into the stone-paved floor. The alphabetic inscription on the stele is written in Sam’alian, the language spoken in the region of Zincirli (ancient Sam’al) during the Iron Age. It commemorates the life of “Kuttamuwa servant of Panamuwa,” probably a high official of King Panamuwa, who reigned during the eighth century B.C. A bearded figure is depicted on the stele, seated in a chair in front of a table laden with food. Beside him is a thirteen-line inscription, elegantly carved in raised relief and preserved in almost pristine condition nearly three millennia after it was inscribed. It describes the establishment of the memorial stele and associated mortuary rites. This stele is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus is an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture. An analysis and translation of the inscription will be presented by Prof. Dennis Pardee of the University of Chicago at the November 2008 meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in Boston and will be published soon thereafter.

Zincirli is the site of the ancient walled city of Sam’al, capital of an Iron Age kingdom that inherited both West Semitic and Neo-Hittite (Luwian) cultural traditions. The 40-hectare (100-acre) site was first excavated more than a hundred years ago and produced a number of royal inscriptions and other fascinating finds that are on display in various museums. Since 2006, Zincirli has been excavated annually by a team from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago—the Neubauer Expedition, a large-scale and long-term project of archaeological research at this important site.

Revised: April 28, 2009

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