New evidence for international trade in Bronze Age central Anatolia: recently discovered bullae at Kültepe-Kanesh
The archaeological site of Kültepe—the location of the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Kanesh—is located near Kayseri, central Turkey. The large corpus of Old Assyrian cuneiform tablets (c. 23 000 in number) from this site has shed light not only on the history of Anatolia but also on the history of the entire ancient Near East. Previous research focused on the early Middle Bronze Age levels (early second millennium BC), which are also known as the ‘Assyrian Trading Colonies Period’, and it has produced particularly exciting results. The merchants from the city of Aššur in Iraq established strong ties between Anatolia and Mesopotamia, even founding commercial quarters at Kanesh and at a number of other Anatolian cities, at the beginning of the second millennium BC (Figure 1). These contacts, mainly based on the exchange of metals and textiles, created unusual wealth in central Anatolia. Monumental administrative and religious buildings were constructed in Mesopotamian styles, and new deities were adopted by the Anatolian people.
Starting in 2009, new research at Kültepe-Kanesh has demonstrated that this major centre was established much earlier in the third millennium BC, during the Early Bronze Age (EBA). Monumental public architecture with religious characteristics was unique in central Anatolia at this date, and it suggests that the site had been a prosperous regional centre well before the arrival of Assyrian merchants (Figure 2). In particular, a number of bullae (pieces of stamped clay used to seal packages) recovered during recent excavations formed part of the administrative apparatus dating to the formative period of the international trade network. This project hopes to define how these bullae, attached to the goods shipped from the lands south of Anatolia, functioned in the development of this sophisticated interregional exchange system.
Earlier excavations at Kültepe-Kanesh, under the direction of T. Özgüç, unearthed the last phases of the Early Bronze Age I (Özgüç 1999: 4). The earliest settlement on the mound discovered so far is Level 18, which dates to the last phase of the EBA I (Table 1). Two monumental structures, a building and a temple, were unearthed in Levels 12 and 11b of EBA III (c. 2400–2100 BC). The size of the Kültepe Level 12 temple, which is called a megaron with its rectangular plan and which contains a long hall and a porch in front, approaches that of the largest and best-known megaron of Troy II in western Anatolia (Özgüç 1963: 35). The so-called “building with pilasters” (Özgüç 1986: 34) is dated to Level 11b; although the plan is incomplete, it is obvious that this building differs from the modest architecture of contemporary central Anatolia, both in its dimensions and in the presence of half-pillars and benches.
The recent work at Kültepe-Kanesh has revealed another architectural complex that is the largest so far discovered in Anatolia (Kulakoğlu 2010: 41, fig. 2; Kulakoğlu et al. 2013: 46–49). This mudbrick complex was found at Level 13 and, at the time of writing, measures at least 70 × 55m (Figure 3). Taking into account the size of this complex, it cannot be interpreted as a domestic structure; instead, it must have been used for official or administrative purposes. Seals with northern Mesopotamian characteristics indicate that some of the rooms might have been used for storage, although they must have been emptied or plundered before the fire that ultimately destroyed them.
The objects discovered from the EBA III levels at Kültepe-Kanesh testify to its regional and international connections. The most important discovery of the recent excavations is, however, a collection of more than 1000 bullae from the EBA levels. In addition to the stamp-seal impressions, bullae with cylinder-seal impressions were also found during this late phase of the EBA (Figure 4). These bullae must have been tied to the parcels sent from northern Syria or Mesopotamia, and they provide clear evidence for economic links between these two regions. The close commercial ties with Mesopotamia and Syria, as early as the EBA, also reflect hints in the Akkadian šar tamhari, ‘The King of Battle’, epic about the significance of Kanesh as one of the powerful kingdoms of central Anatolia. ‘The King of Battle’ (i.e. Sargon of Akkad (2310–2273 BC)) made war on the city of Purušhattum (Acemhöyük in central Anatolia, 150 km west of Kültepe) because of the complaints of the merchants, and in later years Narām-Sīn (2246–2190 BC), grandson of Sargon, defeated a coalition of 17 kings, among them were Nur-Daggal of Purušhattum, Pampa the King of Hatti and Zippani the King of Kanesh (Özgüç 1986: 44–45; Westenholz 1997; Veenhof & Eidem 2008). The monumental compound of Level 13, discovered in recent years at Kültepe, is one of the architectural embodiments of an age where Anatolian kings challenged the imperial power of the Akkadian army.
Future excavations will focus on unearthing the remaining portions of the aforementioned monumental mudbrick complex. This structure, built in Mesopotamian or Syrian style, is unique within central Anatolia and attests to the existence of a powerful authority capable of erecting such an administrative edifice.
Recent excavations have revealed a unique collection of stamp- and cylinder-seal impressions. These discoveries provide the first clear evidence of tags attached to goods sent from northern Mesopotamia to Anatolia before the strong commercial links of the Assyrian trading network were established in the second millennium BC. As well as further excavation, the ongoing project will study the stylistic and iconographic characteristics of these seal impressions in order to identify their precise origin, function and date. The evidence from Kültepe-Kanesh throws new light on the date, scale and organisation of international trade across the Near East prior to the better-known ‘Assyrian Trading Colonies Period’ of the Middle Bronze Age.
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* Author for correspondence.
- Fikri Kulakoğlu *
Director of Kültepe-Kanesh Excavations, Ankara University, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology, Ankara, Turkey (Email: email@example.com)
- Güzel Öztürk
Ankara University, Department of Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology, Ankara, Turkey (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)