Evidence of a previously unknown ancient civilisation that existed for around 800 years has been found in Southern Turkey.
Researchers from University of Chicago were working on a site in southern Turkey called Türkmen-Karahöyük last year when a local farmer mentioned the stone.
“My colleague Michele Massa and I rushed straight there, and we could see it still sticking out of the water, so we jumped right down into the canal – up to our waists wading around,” said Assistant Professor of Anatolian Archaeology James Osborne of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
“Right away it was clear it was ancient, and we recognised the script it was written in: Luwian, the language used in the Bronze and Iron ages in the area.”
Luwian is one of the oldest branches of the Indo-European languages and was written in hieroglyphic signs native to the Turkish area which are read alternating between right to left and left to right.
The farmer then helped pull the “massively heavy stone” out of the irrigation ditch with a tractor.
It was then sent to a local Turkish museum where it was cleaned, photographed and readied for translation.
With the aid of translators, the researchers found that the hieroglyphs on this ancient stone block – called a stele – boasted of a military victory. And not just any military victory, but the defeat of Phrygia, a kingdom of Anatolia that existed roughly 3,000 years ago.
The royal house of Phrygia was ruled by a few different men, but dating of the stele, based on linguistic analysis, suggests the block’s hieroglyphics could be referring to the King Midas.
Midas is popularly remembered in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold.
The stone markings also contained a special hieroglyphic symbolising that the victory message came from another king, a man called Hartapu. The hieroglyphs suggest Midas was captured by Hartapu’s forces.
“The storm gods delivered the [opposing] kings to his majesty,” the stone reads.
What’s significant about this is that almost nothing is known about King Hartapu, nor about the kingdom he ruled. Nonetheless, the stele suggests the giant mound of Türkmen-Karahöyük may have been Hartapu’s capital city, which is believed to have spanned more than 300 acres at its height.
Archeologists believe the empire may have existed from between 1400 BC to around 600 BC.
“We had no idea about this kingdom,” Osborne says. “In a flash, we had profound new information on the Iron Age Middle East.”
There’s a lot more digging to be done in this ongoing archaeological project, and the findings so far should be considered preliminary for now. The international team is eager to revisit the site this year, to find out whatever more we can about this kingdom seemingly lost in history.
“Inside this mound are going to be palaces, monuments, houses,” Osborne says. “This stele was a marvellous, incredibly lucky find – but it’s just the beginning.”