Visit Us | Contact Us | Membership | Make a Gift | Calendar | Order Online | What's New

Print this Page

Home > Research > Publications > News & Notes


By K. Aslihan Yener, Associate Professor of Anatolian Archaeology
The Oriental Institute, and the
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The University of Chicago

(This article originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 169, Fall 2001, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor.)


Have you ever wondered what Sir Leonard Woolley did after his excavation was completed at the Royal Cemetery at Ur? The Oriental Institute recently displayed some of the finds of this momentous dig that uncovered over 1,800 intact burials with great masterpieces of elegant, sophisticated jewelry, riveting grave goods, and remarkable tomb architecture. The wonders unearthed at Ur captured the attention of the world; after the dig was completed in 1935 Woolley was given a knighthood. The trustees of the British Museum then asked him to search for a new site to excavate. This was a golden opportunity for Woolley. An area of enduring interest to him even prior to World War I was the eastern Mediterranean (fig. 1), especially Iskenderun (Alexandretta) and its hinterland near Antakya, the plain of Antioch (the Amuq Valley today). Driven by his desire to understand the development of Minoan culture on Crete and its links to the "great civilizations of history," he sought to find the connections between the Aegean, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia.

Woolley initially approached the problem by tackling the port site of al-Mina and a Late Bronze Age mound called Sabouniye, located in the delta of the Orontes River, near present-day Samandag. But, disappointed that al-Mina yielded primarily classical and Iron Age levels, he moved his operations upriver to the inland Amuq Valley (fig. 2) and chose to excavate Tell Atchana (ancient Alalakh), one of the 178 sites surveyed by Robert Braidwood and his teammates from the Oriental Institute (site AS [Amuq Survey] 136). In his subsequent publications, Woolley articulated with typical narrative flair the importance of Alalakh as gleaned from the cuneiform tablets he found there:

It involves continual reference to the great empires of ancient Sumer, of Babylon, and of Egypt, to the Hittite empire centered on Bogazköy in Anatolia and to the less- known powers of Hurri and Mitanni; it bears on the development of that Cretan art which astonishes us in the palace of Minos at Knossos, it is associated with the Bronze Age culture of Cyprus, bears witness to the eastward expansion of the trade of the Greek islands in the proto-historic age, throws an entirely new light on the economic aspects of the Athenian empire and even, at the last, suggests a Syrian contribution to the Italian Renaissance. This is the outcome of seven seasons of excavation. (A Forgotten Kingdom [Penguin Books, 1953], p. 15)

While Woolley's prose may seem a bit flamboyant today, his infectious enthusiasm nevertheless galvanized public attention to a truly important area, the Amuq Valley and its Late Bronze Age capital, Alalakh. The mound of Atchana (fig. 2) is located at the southern end of the valley close to the bend of the Orontes (Asi) River and now measures 750 x 325 x 9 m (22 hectares). Excavated from 1937 to 1939 and from 1946 to 1949, the sequence of palaces, temples, private houses, and fortification walls with impressive gate structures defines the architectural legacy of Alalakh. Earlier Middle Bronze Age levels, unfortunately lacking archives, were exposed by Woolley in a deep sounding, below palace level VII, which went down to the water table and produced levels to XVI; a second sounding in the temple precinct reached virgin soil below level XVII, under the water table. In all, Woolley's excavations achieved exposures of seventeen architectural phases, dating from the beginning of the second millennium BC to the end of the Late Bronze Age, ca. 1200 BC.

Historically, the city of Alalakh was the capital of the Mukish kingdom, a vassal to the kingdoms of Yamhad (today Aleppo) during the eighteenth through sixteenth centuries BC, and to Mitanni during the fifteenth through fourteenth centuries BC; it was later incorporated into the Hittite empire (Anatolia). The rise of large territorial states in the Late Bronze Age marks an important transformation in the Near East. In Anatolia, Egypt, and Syro-Mesopotamia, these regional states rose up to incorporate smaller and pre-existing polities, diverse environmental zones, and various routes of communication. Ultimately, empires emerged as large geographical groupings, several of which engulfed the Amuq Valley in historically documented episodes. Indeed, Alalakh level VII was destroyed by the Hittite king Hattuåili I during his second Syrian campaign and the city eventually emerged as part of the Hittite Empire with the burning of Level IV attributed to Åuppiluliuma I.

Comparable information in the Amuq Valley within the territorial state of Mukish (later Unqi) was excavated by the Oriental Institute's Syro-Hittite Expedition from 1932 and 1938 at the mounds of Judaidah, Chatal Höyük, and Ta'yinat. Part of the collections (fig. 3) from these Oriental Institute excavations are now in the process of being prepared for the upcoming reinstallation of the Syro-Anatolian Gallery in the Oriental Institute. These important finds bring to light the wider network of relationships, not only between these sites and Alalakh, but also internationally.

Amuq Valley Regional Survey

In summer 2000, after spending five seasons surveying the over 300 sites in the Amuq Valley and Orontes Delta and initiating excavations at the Chalcolithic site of Tell Kurdu, my team and I refocused attention. We decided to examine Tell Atchana/Alalakh, the final remaining previously excavated site. Activities of the Amuq Valley Regional Project (AVRP) between 1995 and 2000 included a salvage operation at Tell al-Judaidah, pollen cores of the lakes Antioch and Gölba®1, the recording of profiles of damaged third-millennium BC sites, and the ongoing excavations at fifth millennium BC Tell Kurdu. The Amanus Mountain mining regions were briefly explored in 1998 and 1999. Collaborating with Hatice Pamir of the Mustafa Kemal University in Antakya, a reconnaissance of the Orontes Delta yielded previously undiscovered sites along the Mediterranean coast and Orontes River that link it to the overall regional investigations of the AVRP (web:

From many perspectives this is the right time to re-examine the relationships between the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean region of Anatolia, especially in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. Woolley was certainly correct in his observations stressing the shared stylistic traditions of Alalakh with the Aegean, especially in view of the recently restored Minoan-style frescoes on the walls of the palaces. Even in 1947, Helene Kantor of the Oriental Institute had documented these prevailing patterns of iconographic similarities between the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. Taking advantage of new technologies available to us, we now aim to amplify and elucidate the vehicle of transmission behind these stylistic expressions.

For scholars investigating traders, metallurgists, and craft specialists, the site of Atchana is a bonanza. The sumptuous palatial luxury finds (fig. 4) and the deposits of raw materials such as ivory, metal, and obsidian stored in several rooms of the palace and temple structures underscore the importance of public sector craft workshops and the production of artifacts of power and prestige (fig. 5). Glimpses can be caught of wider networks of interaction throughout the Amuq Valley as well. The potentially contemporary extraction of copper, gold, and other minerals in the nearby Amanus Mountains and the sophisticated sculpture, seals, and abundant metal artifacts excavated at neighboring Ta'yinat, Judaidah, and Chatal Höyük are some of the singular reflections of a successful valley-wide economic system based on wealth, finance, and trade. Clearly, the combined products of these urban workshops present an opportunity to investigate the ways a craft industry of this quality was organized, and the extent to which it was administered centrally through the capital, Alalakh. Another bonus of research into large territorial structures in the Amuq are the Late Bronze Age archives at Alalakh. These epigraphic documents provide real insight into exchange within the evolving Near Eastern imperial state systems.

Intensive surface survey at Atchana/Alalakh

As we worked to contextualize the significance of Alalakh within the broader Amuq Valley, a number of tasks were successfully accomplished during the 2000 season at Tell Atchana:
  • All of Woolley's trenches and spill heaps were located and mapped
  • The state of the architecture and the status of the site after fifty years of abandonment was documented with copious photographs
  • An intensive surface survey of the crop fields was conducted surrounding the site itself, as well as the southern mound unexcavated by Woolley.

Because any future investigation at Alalakh would involve a substantial conservation effort, a photographic record of the current state of the standing monuments was completed. Effort was made to illustrate the previously excavated rooms from the same directions as published photographs in the original reports (fig. 6). This operation was ably accomplished by Heather Snow and Steve Batiuk, graduate students at the University of Toronto. The grand public buildings (the so-called Yarimlim and Niqmepa palaces and temples) that housed the central administration and religious core of this kingdom are now in a dangerous state of collapse, and any further research on this mound would need to involve site preservation and careful mapping of the structures. The area's high rainfall has promoted the outgrowth of lush vegetation, undermining the buildings.

With the leadership of co-directors Jesse Casana and Simrit Dhesi, systematic counts of sherd scatters in fields surrounding the mound and intensive collections both on and off the site revealed considerably denser concentrations of sherds on the north and northeast sides of the mound, in an area approximately 100 m out from the site (fig. 7). This finding coincides with Woolley's observation that there may be an outer town wall on that side of the mound. In an evocative footnote in his final publication about Alalakh, Woolley says:

Occasionally, in certain climatic conditions, I fancied that I could see differences of colour in soil and crops which seemed to show the line of a rampart running more or less parallel to the NE. slope of the mound and at a distance of about 300.00 m. from it; here there was a certain amount of pottery on the surface and peasants reported that they had found building remains. In other directions nothing of the sort could be distinguished and the only surface find recorded, a small tablet, could easily have come from the mound. (Alalakh: An Account of the Excavations at Tell Atchana in Hatay, 1937-1949 [Oxford University Press, 1955], p. 132)

While it is true that erosion off the mound can produce such a field scatter, the evidence gathered by the Oriental Institute survey is suggestive of the presence of a "lower town" in the fields below the mound now hidden by alluvial accumulation. Examination of Corona satellite imagery from the early 1970s reveals the dense sherd scatter as a dark feature northeast of the mound itself (figure 7, appear as dark landscape feature to northeast of the site. Oriental Institute excavation trenches from 1930s are clearly visible on Tell Ta'yinat, as is Woolley's main excavation area on northern end of Atchana">fig. 8). A preliminary examination of the sherds collected in this area revealed that they were primarily Middle and Late Bronze Age, with a few Roman pieces. If indeed there is a lower town, then the site is potentially several times larger than was previously thought. A more complete examination of the sherds, including those collected from the crop fields on the surface of the mound, will provide a better understanding of the chronology of the site. Additionally, a fine-grained section cleaning of Woolley's deep sounding, which is planned in 2001, will provide the opportunity to secure charcoal for radiocarbon and dendrochronological dating.

Future Directions in the Amuq

The summer 2001 season will provide many opportunities to further research in the Amuq Valley. A major conservation effort is being organized at Atchana in collaboration with the Antakya Museum in July 2001. The plan is to initiate an urgently needed program of architectural preservation and site conservation in areas that Woolley excavated, namely Palaces IV and VII, which are in a badly degraded state (fig. 6). With the exception of the vitrified walls of level VII palace, many of the mudbrick walls have slumped considerably and are rapidly crumbling. Both of the basalt columns at the Bit Hilani Palace IV entrance are cracked, perhaps as a result of heat.

The 2001 season will enable a site conservator to review and identify short- and long-term conservation treatments and put into motion emergency damage control. The conservator would develop long-term strategies for management and maintenance of the site following cleanup work. A meeting calling for an agenda for future investigations is planned. A broadly based group is expected, including participation by members of the local museum and cultural center at Antakya, the Regional Heritage Society, the Hatay Governor's office, the Mustafa Kemal University, the Oriental Institute team, and conservators from the United States and United Kingdom.

In 2001, the excavations at Tell Kurdu will have new field directors: Fokke Gerritsen (former University of Chicago student) and Rana Özbal (Northwestern University) will take the lead at this important Ubaid period Chalcolithic site (ca. 5000 BC). Several new trenches are planned, especially of the Halaf period in the northern sector of the mound which yielded several exciting large-scale buildings in the 1999 season.

In other branches of the AVRP, Timothy Harrison (Ph.D. '95) from the University of Toronto and his team of students have targeted ongoing investigations at Tell Ta'yinat. Foremost on his list of objectives is a detailed topographical map of this important Early Bronze and Iron Age site previously excavated by the Oriental Institute in the 1930s. Supervised by Tony Wilkinson, the Amuq survey in 2001 will include a reconnaissance across the foothills of the Amanus Mountains. Jesse Casana is spearheading a special Oriental Institute project of spatial analyses that employs Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to analyze settlement patterns and their interactions with the local environment; this is especially relevant for the contextual assessment of Alalakh. The Orontes Delta sites will be mapped with a Total Station, focusing on Seleucia Pieria, al-Mina, and Sabouniye. Remote sensing teams from Dokuz Eylül University will continue their work in determining the changes in the Mediterranean shoreline and Orontes River estuaries.

The last and final scheduled activity for the Amuq next season is the establishment of a dig-house, laboratory facilities, and a depot, which are scheduled for construction during summer 2001. With the generous help of the Oriental Institute and private donors, the Amuq headquarters will house the multi-scaled tiers of the Amuq projects for years to come.


The 2000 staff included the following people: Aslihan Yener, Jesse Casana, Simrit Dhesi, Tony Wilkinson, Lisa Ann Miller (University of Chicago), Rana Özbal (Northwestern University); Hatice Pamir, Özlem Dogan, Dilem Karaköse (Mustafa Kemal University); Tim Harrison, Steven Batiuk, Heather Snow (University of Toronto); Benjamin Diebold (Yale University); Ghinghi Trentin (Rome); Shin'Ichi Nishiyama (Institute of Archaeology, UK); Celia Berghoffen (New York); Fokke Gerritsen (Amsterdam Free University); Robert Koehl (Hunter College); Cemil Gürbüz (Bogaziçi University, Istanbul); Ilhan Kayan, Ertug Öner, Levent Uncu (Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir). The research was supported by grants from the Institute of Aegean Prehistory, The Libertyville Sunrise Rotary Charitable Foundation, members of the Oriental Institute, and numerous private donors. Heartfelt thanks go to the two "friends of the Amuq" committees, one based in Chicago (Sel Yackley, Ayhan Lash, Emel Singer, Ercan Alp, Muammer Akgün, Mat Argon, Jim Stoynoff, Yüksel Selçukoglu, Katie Miller, Fatos Aktas); the other, in Antakya (Oman Çinçinoglu, Berna Alpagut, Kenan Yurttagül, Josef Nasih, Resit Kuseyrioglu) for their untiring efforts. The research was conducted under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Directorate General of Monuments and Museums. In Ankara we have been greatly assisted by Kenan Yurttagül in the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums. Special acknowledgment and thanks go to the Mustafa Kemal University and its Rector Haluk Ipek, Provost Miktat Doganlar, and Dean Berna Alpagut for their continued help and guidance.

K. Aslihan Yener is Associate Professor in the Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Before coming to Chicago she worked at the Smithsonian Institution. Her work is featured in publications including the journal Science and the Chicago Tribune.

Revised: April 28, 2011

Home > Research > Publications > News & Notes