Basalt Connections at Zincirli Hoyuk

Posted in: Archaeology, ASOR, Excavations, Iron Age
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Basalt lion from the castle gate at Zincirli Hoyuk, in the Pergamon Museum

By: Leann Pace and Eudora Struble

When Eudora and I began graduate school together at the University of Chicago, I don’t believe either of us was planning to work on a long-term archaeological project in Turkey. Eudora was very involved with archaeology in Jordan and my limited experience led me to believe that I wanted to work on excavations in Israel. However, we were given the opportunity to join what would become the Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli. This journey began in 2006 and we are eagerly anticipating another great season in the summer of 2013. Obviously we are hooked on working at the site and on being part of the larger research community working in Turkey.

Some of you could make a pretty compelling argument that Eudora and I are interlopers for writing about Zincirli Hoyuk (ancient Sam’al) during the Archaeology of Anatolia month on the ASOR blog. While the site lies squarely within the bounds of modern Turkey, it has as much in common in many periods with the Levant to the south as it does with the cultures to the north in the heart of Anatolia.  Yet, it is precisely its position in a transitional zone that makes it such a fascinating site to study. As readers familiar with the site will already know, the cultural milieu of ancient Sam’al during the Iron Age reflects Neo-Hittite, Aramaean, and Neo-Assyrian influences. References to and reinterpretations of well-known cultural styles and themes are nowhere more pronounced than in the monumental stone carvings belonging to the Iron Age.

Related to the production of stone objects, Zincirli has also proven to be a productive and exciting testing ground for theories regarding the stone procurement strategies and production sequences for both monumental and utilitarian stone objects, specifically those utilizing the region’s abundant basalt resources. Basalt was readily available via woolsacks in the fields around Zincirli and high quality basalt could be quarried from nearby Yesemek. To be more specific about the predominance of basalt in the artifactual repertoire, the site has yet to yield a monumental piece of stone work made of anything other than basalt. The dedication to this resource is only further reinforced when one notes that most small stone objects (save seals and jewelry) are also made of basalt. Basalt was the resource of choice for monumental building and art projects as well as fine-ware bowls and grinding stones.

While this near-exclusive use of one type of stone resource is noteworthy, plausible explanations for this phenomenon are not hard to come by. The simplest is this: basalt represented the low-hanging fruit. Why focus on granite or any other stone that would have required greater investment of wealth and labor when a usable resource, already established in the area as acceptable for stone crafts, was so readily available? This intense focus appears to have led to an interesting phenomenon, an overlap in resources and crafting skills with regards to the production of monumental objects, smaller stone objects, and utilitarian objects. This discernible sharing of resources and labor on the production of objects that we modern archaeologists think of as existing in different artifact categories makes it an exemplary site to use as a foundation for rethinking, discerning and modeling resource disbursement and use. We anticipate that other Syro-Hittite sites located in equally basalt-rich areas might show similar enmeshment of stone resources and skills, but in this nascent stage of our research we have encountered difficulty finding other sites within scholarly literature that closely mirror Zincirli in this regard.

As we stated in our presentation at the Annual Meeting in Chicago in November, it has been in recent seasons that we have begun to notice similarities in production techniques between objects as diverse as mortuary stelae, bowls, and netherstones and become curious about the possible relationships between the various spheres of production for these types of objects. The size of the city of Sam’al and the near singular use of one type of stone resource make many existing models that favor higher degrees of specialization (e.g. evidence for extreme craft specialization in ancient Egypt) seem not the best fit for the material we have from Zincirli. Instead, the evidence is beginning to reveal that cooperation, not specialization, may be the key to understanding stone-related industries, whether in a home or workshop. This summer, we are hoping to undertake a more systematic testing of some of our theories and look forward to sharing future results with the ASOR community.


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