April 15, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 14

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    [yener] by bruce powell
    Aslihan Yener, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute, has returned to Turkey's Amuq Valley to continue digging at the archaeological site that was excavated in the 1930s by Robert Braidwood, Professor Emeritus at the Oriental Institute.

    O.I. archaeologist continues to dig at Turkish site rich in antiquity in Amuq Valley

    By William Harms
    News Office

    After a 60-year absence, researchers from the Oriental Institute will return to explore an area in south central Turkey that is one of the most intriguing archeological venues in the Middle East––the Amuq Valley, the crossroads of most of the region’s major ancient civilizations.

    A research team lead by Aslihan Yener, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute, has begun a long-range project in the region near ancient Antioch, which was excavated during the 1930s by Robert Braidwood, Professor Emeritus at the Oriental Institute.

    Although only 20 miles long and 20 miles wide, the Amuq Valley has 237 archaeological sites and will provide material for researchers for years to come. It has been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years and has sites that provide evidence of how people lived back to the early Stone Age.

    The valley was particularly blessed in antiquity. It receives sufficient rainfall to support farming and also is bordered by mountains that have copper and gold ore deposits. As a result, the sites in the area contain an extensive record of how local people lived and also how they interacted with the civilizations nearby.

    “In the Amuq, we will be bringing in interdisciplinary teams from institutions both in the U.S. and Turkey to investigate a number of issues the Amuq is uniquely positioned to answer,” Yener said. “For example, we will look at the rise of complex metal industries and how this region, called the kingdom of Mukish in the Late Bronze Age, was integrated into the Hittite empire.”

    Other than a few permits made available for salvage operations in areas flooded during dam construction, the permit Yener received to do the work in the Amuq is the first the Turkish government has recently granted for a large-scale, regional project.

    The Amuq Valley, which is also known as the plain of Antioch, includes four cultural zones––Anatolian (Hittite and Hurrian), eastern Mediterranean (Aegean and Cypriot), Levant and Palestine (Egyptian and Canaanite), and northern Syro-Mesopotamia (Hurrian/Mittani and Assyrian/Babylonian), Yener said.

    The variety of artifacts in the area led Braidwood and his team to work there from 1932 to 1938. Based on his work at the sites, he was able to establish a chronology for the development of cultures in Anatolia and the Syro-Palestine area that is still in use today.

    Yener has returned to the Chalcolithic Period (c. 4800 B.C.) site, Tell Kurdu, which was originally dug by Braidwood. Because a nearby lake was drained to expand agriculture, Yener found she is able to dig below the levels reached by the Braidwood team.

    The Tell Kurdu site has materials beginning with prehistoric phases going back to the sixth millennium B.C. and concluding around 3500 B.C.

    Yener’s team has uncovered the foundations of buildings as well as metal materials in various stages of production that will provide important information about the growth of technology and trade.

    The researchers have also found evidence of the animals that lived in the region in ancient times––bones from a baby elephant, for instance, and the bones of a catfish as large as a tabletop.

    In addition to bringing a multidisciplinary approach to her work, Yener explores ancient cultures by taking advantage of new technological tools used in the physical sciences.

    She has used the high-energy, X-ray beam of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to test metal artifacts previously found in the Amuq and now in the Oriental Institute’s collections. The oldest bronzes ever found in the Near East, objects from about 3,000 B.C., were discovered by Braidwood in the Amuq. By identifying lead isotopes in the objects––work that was done at the Smithsonian Institution and now continues with the University’s Geophysical Sciences Department and Munir Humayun, Professor in Geophysical Sciences––Yener has been able to suggest where the ore from which the bronzes were constructed came.

    Using the Advanced Photon Source, she also has discovered ancient repairs made to the metal artifacts. The technology permits scientists to study the artifacts in a nondestructive manner.

    Yener intends to employ other experimental techniques with the Advanced Photon Source on Amuq metal artifacts, such as a CAT scan-like method to reveal the microstructure of the metal in order to learn more about methods of manufacturing the objects and the technological styles of their production.