University of Toronto archaeologists have uncovered a 3,000-year-old female statue in southeast Turkey near the Syrian border, with experts saying that the finding could change our understanding of the role of women in the ancient Iron Age civilizations —as well as potentially confirm an historical event alluded to in the Old Testament.
Researchers working with the U of T’s Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) report excavating the “beautifully carved head and upper torso” of a female figure in a bed of basalt stone chips, which also included stone fragments of the statue’s eyes, nose and face. Together, the figure is thought to have stood between four and five metres tall and is thought to have adorned the gateway to the ancient city of Kunulua, the capital of the Iron Age Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina, which reigned between 1000 and 738 BCE.
“Her striking features include a ring of curls that protrude from beneath a shawl that covers her head, shoulders and back,” says Timothy Harrison, professor in the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at U of T and director of TAP, in a press release. “The recovery of these tiny fragments will make it possible to restore much if not all of the face and upper body of the original figure.”
Harrison says that who the figure was meant to represent is still unclear, but it’s possibly in the form of Kubaba, the “divine mother of the gods of ancient Anatolia,” says Harrison, or even the wife of King Suppiluliuma or the wife or mother of Taita, the “dynastic founder of ancient Tayinat,” said to have been a major city during both the Early Bronze and Early Iron Ages.
Archaeologists speculate that the Tayinat gateway was likely destroyed as a result of the Assyrian conquest in 738 BCE, with the stone figures intentionally taken down and disfigured in the process.
The fact that the figure is that of a women may alter our historical understanding of the public status of women during the early Iron Age, says Harrison, who adds that the findings from the TAP project could also add empirical evidence supporting an event alluded to in the Hebrew and Old Testament text of Isaiah. “The destruction of the Luwian monuments and conversion of the area into an Assyrian religious complex may represent the physical manifestation of this historic event, subsequently memorialized in Isaiah’s oracle,” says Harrison.
Launched in 1999, the TAP expedition has so far excavated almost 3,000 square metres at the Tell Tayinat site, which has seen many civilizations occupying the land over the years. Along with structures from the early Bronze Age, the expedition has uncovered an Iron Age temple, a collection of cuneiform tablets and, in 2012, the head and torso of another figure, that one of similar size to the female form just unearthed yet bearded and carrying a spear in one hand, a shaft of wheat in the other. The statue also features a Hieroglyphic inscription on its back recording the accomplishments of King Suppiluliuma.