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The 1996 Field Season

By K. Aslihan Yener, Assistant Professor of Archaeology, and
Tony J. Wilkinson, Research Associate (Associate Professor)
The Oriental Institute
The University of Chicago

(This article originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 155, Fall 1997, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor.)


The second season of the Oriental Institute's Amuq Valley Regional Project in Hatay, Turkey, lasted from 21 August to 20 October 1996. The 1996 season was conducted under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Directorate General of Monuments and Museums. [Footnote 1] The team consisted of K. Aslihan Yener, the Director, with Lale Saraç from the Antakya Museum as the Turkish government representative. Tony Wilkinson directed a regional survey which included reconstructions of land use and geomorphological changes in order to assess the impact of human communities on the environment. Jan Verstraete steered a survey of Late Bronze Age sites as an interrelated parallel investigation in order to assess the nature of Aegean interaction in the Amuq Valley. The damage done by bulldozers to the large Chalcolithic site of Tell Kurdu prompted a site survey in 1995 by graduate student Scott Branting, who also initiated an exploratory sounding in 1996. Archaeologists Tülin Arslanoglu, Hatice Pamir, and Murat Süslü of the Mustafa Kemal University assisted both the survey and the excavation. Annemie Adriaens of Antwerp University, Belgium, undertook the analysis of previously excavated crucible fragments from Phase G Tell al-Judaidah. Elizabeth Friedman conducted instrumental analysis of metal artifacts from previously excavated Amuq Phases F and G sites at the new beam-line facilities of Argonne National Laboratory. Simrit Dhesi operated the Amuq database and Eleanor Barbanes executed the drawings.

Excavations at Tell Kurdu

In 1938 the Oriental Institute briefly sounded Tell Kurdu (site number 94, identified during the original survey by Braidwood; see OIP 48 [1937]), which is located in the central part of the Amuq Valley and measures 450 x 450 x 7 m, with a higher southern mound and lower peak in the north. Although Islamic and Roman wares were found on the surface, the preponderant assemblage consisted of Chalcolithic painted wares, which were classified as "provincial" or "true" Halaf wares since Ubaid-related materials were not yet recognized in 1938. Excavations at Chatal Hüyük, Tell al-Judaidah, and Tell Ta'yinat ultimately distinguished Chalcolithic Phases C to E. Four trenches - I, II, and III on the higher mound and IV on the lower northeast crest - had been dug at Tell Kurdu. Trench IV yielded Phases D and E in mixed levels on top, with Phase C below. Trench I yielded Phases C, D, and E and Trenches II and III had yielded Phase E. These excavations suggested that Phase E was confined to the higher summit, measuring roughly 150 x 200 m (three hectares). Because of the short, two-week time limit, the soundings had been excavated in arbitrary strata of 50 cm. Architecture consisted of mudbrick and tauf walls with stone foundations, although house plans could not be reconstructed because of the small exposures. Aside from the Ubaid-like monochrome painted ware and Ubaid-like bichrome painted ware, dark-faced burnished ware, old and new cooking pot ware, and simple ware constituted the bulk of the sherds.

In 1996 a site grid was constructed over the site, and work began within two of the 10 x 10 m squares. The placement of the initial 5 x 5 m trench in grid square 1009/1017 was selected in order to make best use of the existing bulldozer cut. The section provided a useful guide to anticipate horizons as the adjacent trench was taken down to a depth of ca. 1 m.

No coherent stratigraphy emerged from the topsoil and subsequent mixed layer, but a destruction event was found with collapsed architectural elements and carbonized grains spread over nearly the entire extent of the exposure. Fragments of mudbrick collapse and part of a wattle and daub wall of a structure was found with in-situ remains of several large pottery scatters. In the adjacent trench by the cut section a bread oven was reconstructed. Work was then stopped until a full excavation team and backup staff can come out for a full-scale excavation in 1998. The excavated material was registered, stored, and taken to the Hatay Museum for future study.

The Changing Environment

As with most archaeological areas, the Amuq Valley presents both problems and opportunities. Among the more obvious problems is that, as was noted by Leonard Woolley in the early 1950s, many archaeological sites are likely to be buried beneath a mantle of sediments. Consequently it is difficult to estimate changes in settlement through time, especially for the earlier periods of the archaeological record. In addition, although we were able to provide a rough sketch of the history of the Lake of Antioch during the 1995 field season, this picture still needed to be refined. Clearly the presence (or absence) of a large lake within the basin center must have influenced the economic sustenance of the inhabitants (for example by providing a source of fish), or the regional environment (by encouraging the presence of mosquitoes). Even more important, as was noted in the 1995-1996 Oriental Institute Annual Report, the existence of a lake would have restricted the amount of land available for cultivation. On the other hand, by providing an aggrading layer cake of sediments, each increment of which included a record of the prevailing environment, the plain provided a great opportunity for capturing a record of past environmental changes. Clearly the keys to these issues - burial of sites, the history of the Lake of Antioch, and regional environmental history - all lay in the deep sections that were exposed along numerous drainage canals and other cuts that were exposed throughout the basin. These cuts reveal not only the natural sedimentary layers deposited by the rivers that drained into the plain (the Afrin, Kara Su, and Orontes), but also any sites that were buried by such accumulations. However, to get at the more inaccessible, deeper parts of the plain, it was necessary to core down through the clay-silt deposits within the center of the basin (see fig.1). By so doing, from the contained pollen, microfossils, and minerals, we could obtain a record of the earlier lakes and the environmental history of the area, perhaps over many thousands of years. To this end, we therefore cleaned sections through the deposits of the Orontes and Afrin Rivers and, within the lake basin, cored through the lake beds, thereby providing a full sequence of sediments, potentially datable by contained carbon and archaeological materials (see fig. 2). In 1996 our team included three experts from the University of Gröningen, Netherlands (see fig. 1). Under the skilled direction of Henk Woldring, a long-time colleague of Willem Van Zeist and Sytze Bottema also of Gröningen, three major sequences were cored. The team, comprised of Rene Cappers, Reinder Reinders, Murat Süslü, and occasionally T. J. Wilkinson as team geoarchaeologist, has now produced a record going back at least 25,000 years. The evidence takes our sequence back into the Pleistocene period, to a time before the circumpolar ice sheets had attained their maximum size. This is, of course, well before the earliest post-glacial archaeological communities were established in the Amuq Plain.

The cores were drilled by hand to produce small 1" diameter cylinders of clay that could then be sampled for analysis. The primary aim was to record and count the pollen, the microscopic grains of which rained down on to the lake or ground surface roughly in proportion to the amount of different plants that grew in the neighborhood. By counting such grains, Woldring and his team could obtain an approximate record of the past vegetation, particularly the proportion of trees (arboreal pollen) to non-trees (grass sedges, weeds, etc., i.e. the non-arboreal pollen). The cores obtained, which extended down to 14.9 m below plain level in the Gölbasi core, ca. 3 m at Agirgölü, and 5 m in two cores within the Amuq lake itself, were then examined by Wilkinson in Gröningen to obtain a more detailed record of the sedimentary deposits.

Already it is evident that the deepest core, taken from Gölbasi (GPS 71; see fig.3), comprised a deep sequence of olive gray and brown muds. These muds were apparently deposited in lakes, and occasional signs of lake retreat were evident in the form of marsh deposits and woody roots of trees that may have colonized the surface. Although we have not yet received all the radiocarbon dates, deposits at 10 m and 13 m depths have provided dates in the range of 25,000 to 26,000 bp. These dates are before the so-called Late Glacial Maximum. The cores are exemplified by very organic, almost peaty, muds that appear to represent a stage when the lakes were diminished to mere marshes. These muds compare with a similar deposit recorded from Lake Beysehir in southwest Anatolia that is dated to 24,025 bp, which also suggests a lowered water level at that time.

Within the perimeter of the former lake, a 5 m core provided evidence of the Lake of Antioch in the form of a 1 m deposit in the top of the core (GPS 61; see fig. 2). Beneath this deposit and upon the underlying old land surface (buried land surface - palaeosol - humic palaeosol on the illustration) was a site dated to around 3000 bc by the characteristic "Amuq G" pottery (AS 181 on the illustration). Within the basin center below this buried land surface, enigmatic clays had slowly accumulated, either within an earlier lake or within the flood plain of the slowly aggrading Afrin River. We hope that pollen and microfossil analyses of these sediments will provide clues to the prevailing environment. What is already clear, however, is that toward the base of the sequence, the environment suffered a series of extreme events which resulted in the accumulation of clay within still water as well as windblown or beach sands. This event, dated by radiocarbon to around 7500 bc, may reflect an abrupt climatic change such as has been recorded in ice cores in Greenland around this time. Equally, however, these sediments may simply be a series of deposits that were left within the early channel of the Afrin River which must originally have passed through the center of the lake basin. Whatever the cause of these events, it is clear that within the center of the basin some 4.9 m of clays have accumulated over the past 7,500 to 8,000 years. Therefore, not only have sites been obscured from view within the Orontes flood plain and below the Lake of Antioch, but now we can see that early settlements such as those of the Neolithic may also be buried well below plain level.

From these cores we therefore have the potential for providing a record of environmental change back to the last glacial period and earlier. What we had not anticipated, however, is that such sediments may include a record of long term pollutants from metalworking activities in the region. For example, other researchers have demonstrated that in annual layers of snow, consolidated and transformed into glacial ice on the Greenland Ice Cap, traces of early pollution can remain in the form of trace elements such as copper and lead. Such traces of former pollution have been dated to the late first millennium bc and Roman periods, a time when increased large-scale smelting was taking place within the Roman Empire. If remote locations such as Greenland could enshrine a record of pollution, it seemed reasonable to ask whether lake sediments close to metal sources might also include such traces - and for earlier periods. Therefore, with this question in mind, we initiated a program of analysis of the lake basin sediments using the special high resolution capabilities of the Advanced Photon Synchrotron at the Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois. With the expert cooperation of Ercan Alp and Charles Johnson of the Advanced Photon Source, Experimental Facilities Division, Argonne, and assisted by Elizabeth Friedman, a graduate student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), we are subjecting small samples of sediment, taken every 10 or 20 cm through the cores, to high resolution x-ray analysis. This technique has the potential to enable the characteristic x-ray signature of the contained elements to be recognized and quantified. By employing these techniques we then hope to recognize peaks in certain elements, such as lead, copper, zinc, nickel, chromium, and so forth, that may have been produced in excess of normal levels by mining and smelting in the nearby Amanus Mountains (see fig. 4). Such work benefits from the fortuitous combination of an extraordinary level of analytical accuracy at Argonne, and the existence of sedimentary cores from an area that was probably important for metal extraction back to prehistoric times. This cooperation could not have gone ahead without a special grant that was awarded as part of a University of Chicago-ANL collaborative program (see News & Notes 154, Summer 1997). Although still at an early stage, we are now gaining some insights into the potential of the analytical methods, which are already showing a significant presence of chromium in the upper 1 m of the Gölbasi core. Tentatively this concentration might be linked with recent chromite mining that took place in the Amanus Mountains. By creating large quantities of dust that then settled out over the plain, the soil samples are providing hints of recent mining activities. Whether we are able to recognize such signatures for prehistoric mining activities remains to be seen.

The above summary, which provides a glimpse of the range of work that is going on in the Amuq, underscores the value of modern multi-disciplinary research methodologies. Although not every result can be anticipated, and opportunity and serendipity clearly play a role in the process, it is clear that the introduction of new techniques opens up a vast range of possible achievements.

1.In Ankara we were assisted by General Directorate of Monuments and Museums, Mehmet Akif Isik, as well as Ergun Kaptan at the MTA. In Antakya we are grateful for the help given by present and former Hatay Museum staff members Hüseyin Dinçer, Faruk Kilinç, Lale Saraç, and also to the newly established Mustafa Kemal University and its rector, Professor Haluk Ipek. Thanks also go to members of the Hatay and Reyhanli administrations: Utku Acun (Vali); Erdogan Özdemir (Assistant Vali); Ayhan Çiftaslan (Assistant Vali); Hasan Eliaçik (Culture); Ibrahim Oflazoglu (Tourism); Mehmet Hazirlar (Library); Ömer Doganay (Kaymakam); Mahmut Ekmen (Mayor). Halil Akgöl and his family kindly allowed us the use of his farm for our dig house.

K. Aslihan Yener is Associate Professor in the Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her work has previously appeared in News & Notes 140, 146, 148, and 152.

After training in high Arctic geomorphology, T. J. Wilkinson became interested in the archaeology of the Near East. He worked as a free-lance archaeological consultant for several years and became Assistant Director of the British Archaeological Expedition to Baghdad, Iraq. He joined the Oriental Institute as a Research Associate in 1992.

Revised: February 23, 2007

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