According to Japanese archaeologists, an ancient clay tablet discovered at the Büklükale ruins in central Turkey suggests that a little-known rival ethnic group was closely involved in the establishment of the Hittite Empire more than 3,000 years ago.
Büklükale has located about 100 km from Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, where the route from Ankara to Kaman crosses the Kızılırmak, the longest river in Turkey. This location has been a key transportation crossroads since ancient times, and Büklükale has controlled it.
The text engraved on the tablet found in Büklükale was in the language of the Hurrians, who are believed to have been once powerful enough to vie for hegemony in the ancient Orient with the Hittites and the Egyptians.
After reaching its peak under King Hammurabi, Babylonia, a kingdom in Mesopotamia to the southeast of Anatolia, began to show signs of decline around the time the Hittite Empire was established. To the south, the kingdom of Egypt was also politically unstable, owing in part to invasions by other ethnic groups.
Archaeologists hope to learn how Anatolia, the Hittite’s central base, was influenced by surrounding areas, as well as how different ethnic groups and cultures rose and fell in the ancient Orient.
The clay tablet, measuring about 3 centimeters, was unearthed in June near palace remains in Buklukale, the ruins of a Hittite urban settlement that expedition members believe had ties with the royal family.
Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology (JIAA) officials said: An adobe building more than 50 meters long, presumably a palace, likely stood on the hilltop in its central part during the Hittite Empire, which flourished roughly from 1,700 B.C. to 1,200 B.C.
“The clay tablet has major implications for the ties between the Hittite royal family and the Hurrians,” said associate professor Kimiyoshi Matsumura, a researcher who heads an expedition of the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology (JIAA).
“We hope to shed light on details of the role that the Hurrians, who must have been a nemesis for the Hittites, played in the formation process of the Hittite Empire, which went on to prosper with its ironmaking technologies, the foundation of our contemporary society.”
The text engraved on the tablet pertained to a Hurrian religious ritual called purification. According to officials, the tablet’s calligraphic style indicates that it was created during the cradle years of the Hittite Empire.
The Mitanni Kingdom was created by the Hurrians, who were people who lived about 1,000 kilometers to the southeast and in a region that stretched from modern-day Syria to northern Mesopotamia. The kingdom, which flourished roughly between 1,500 and 1,300 B.C., has remained a mystery. Even its capital, known only by the name of Wassukkani, has yet to be located.
Mark Weeden, an associate professor of ancient Middle Eastern languages with University College London, told the Asahi Shimbun that the latest find is a “key discovery” that shows Buklukale, an important site for the Hittite royal family since the early days of the Hittite Empire, had close ties with the Hurrian population.
“There are only three other places in Hittite territory where Hurrian clay tablets have been unearthed, all of which are known to have been closely associated with the Hittite royal family,” said Weeden, who worked with the JIAA expedition as a decipherer of Hurrian texts on clay tablets.
“In addition to evidence for large-scale rituals, clay tablets related to religious rituals written in ancient Hurrian were unearthed at the Buklukale ruins, suggesting that rituals in the Hurrian language were probably performed there by the Hittite royal family.”
Since 1986, the JIAA, which is affiliated with the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan, has been excavating in Anatolia. The institute is currently conducting research at three sites, one of which is Buklukale, where excavations began in 2009.