Kültepe Excavations Reveal Remains Predating Karum Kanesh

Archaeology News

The 2013 excavations at Kültepe, a central Turkish mound adjacent to the colony at Karum Kanesh.

Turkish archaeologist Fikri Kulakoğlu recently reported the discovery of a massive 4,500-year-old building complex at Kültepe in central Turkey. Located in the district of Kayseri, Kültepe is the source of a large trove of Old Assyrian tablets dating to the early second millennium B.C.E. The so-called Cappadocian tablets, which constitute the earliest historical archive uncovered in Anatolia, have brought archaeological attention to the site since the 19th century, and excavations were conducted at Kültepe through much of the 20th century. The current project is entering its 66th year; Kulakoğlu once commented that the 5,000-year-old site may take 5,000 years to excavate.

The tablets uncovered at Kültepe describe the presence of an Old Assyrian trade colony known as Karum Kanesh adjacent to the site. In the 20th and 19th centuries B.C.E. Assur, the capital of the Old Assyrian Kingdom, established the largest trade network the world had ever seen. Donkeys transported tin from Iran, textiles from Babylonia and silver and gold from Karum Kanesh in Anatolia, which was located some 600 miles from Assur. Independent Assyrian merchant families would travel to Kültepe, where the Assyrian population at Karum Kanesh would collect goods to be distributed within Anatolia. Because the voyage was so long and the connections between Assur and Karum Kanesh were so strong, the trade network is remarkably well documented in highly personal letters describing the quality of trade goods, family relations, prices, foodstuffs, marriage proposals and other daily affairs.

This cuneiform letter, copied on two pieces of clay, and its envelope are from Kültepe. They record a complaint between two brothers about the family’s lack of food or clothes in Assur while the other brother was trading textiles and tin for silver and gold at Karum Kanesh. Photo: British Museum.

The recent excavations have uncovered material remains from the tell that predate the Assyrian trade colony at Karum Kanesh. While the exact nature of the structure is unclear, Kulakoğlu suggested that this is an administrative or palatial structure from which the site could be governed. Kültepe is best known for hosting the adjacent colony at Karum Kanesh, but the tell was occupied long before and after the Assyrian trade colony; even during the time when the colony was operational, the city on the tell exhibited predominantly Anatolian characteristics. After the Assyrian occupation, Hittites controlled Kültepe. However, the early history of the site is not well established; the newly uncovered building complex is sure to shed light on the early history of Kültepe.

Learn more about early Anatolia and Assyria in Bible History Daily

The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion

Çatalhöyük Mural: The Earliest Representation of a Volcanic Eruption?

The Last Days of Hattusa

Mesopotamian “Receipts” Illuminated by 3D Technology

Israelite Chariots in the Assyrian Period

Related Content in the BAS Library

Bleibtreu, Erika. “Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 1991.

Larsen, Mogens Trolle. “Europe Confronts Assyrian Art.” Archaeology Odyssey, Jan/Feb 2001.

Shanks, Hershel. “Destruction of Judean Fortress Portrayed in Dramatic Eighth-Century B.C. Pictures.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 1984.

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