Salvaging ancient treasures from the Euphrates
Jesusalem — Racing against time, archaeologists hope to unearth a rich lore of historical data from the Euphrates River basin of southeastern Turkey. But the problem is to do it before the area is flooded by four dams under construction there.
Reporting this to an archaeological conference here, Jak Yakar, head of the Archaeological Institute Anatolian Department of Tel Aviv University, said excavations under way in Turkey's Urfa district were expected to yield "significant and unprecedented results."
He added that they would shed light on the little-known Mittani civilization that flourished during the 15th to 13th centuries BC.
This would include information about the upper Euphrates city of Harran, famed in the Bible's book of Genesis as a way station along the route taken by Abraham, the first Hebrew, from Ur of the Chaldees (in modern-day Iraq) to the land of Canaan (contemporary Israel).
"Our hope is to find large archives like those already found, in excavations since 1906, in central Turkey and northern Syria," Mr. Yakar explained. "These archives may include names of kings, of dynasties, or correspondence between kingdoms. This allows us to reconstruct the history of the region."
Mr. Yakar told the conclave, sponsored by the Israel Exploration Society and the government Antiquities Department, that Harran was located in a once-fertile flood plain, and that it was the site of a temple dedicated to Sin, the moon god.
Harran was the point from which the caravan route from Mesopotamia (Iraq) branched off to Cappadocia, to northwestern Syria and to Palestine, Mr. Yakar said.
"We expect to see some results, some real discoveries, within a very short time, hopefully by October ," he asserted.
The area is to be submerged upon completion of four dams being built by Turkey between Malatya and Carchemish (also mentioned in the Bible). The dams will cover nearly 2 million acres, inundating an estimated 200 ancient monuments and settlements.
"Salvage excavations" are under way at 12 mounds assigned by the Turkish authorities to several foreign, as well as local, archaeological expeditions. Mr. Yakar last dug in the area in 1976, but will be working there this summer for the crucial phase before the priceless sites are covered over forever.
This work is expected to shed light on the Euphrates basin's early history and to complement the picture sketched as a result of the Keban Dam project in eastern Turkey and the Tabqa Dam project in Syria, Mr. Yakar said.
An interesting aspect of Harran's cultural status is that it remained "largely Amorite" during the influx of the mysterious Hurrians from the upper Tigris region.
But who were the Amorites?
This question was taken up by Zecharia Mayani, a senior Israeli archaeological and author. He proposed a new answer based on a study of remnants of the Amorite language that have survived in the Bible and in Akkadian sources.
"We are guided by some clear rules of the Amorite phonetics," he said. The Amorite tongue beglongs indeed to a broad circle of ancient languages coming from the remote west.
Although many archaeologists have classified the Amorites as Semites originating in the Syrian desert, Mr. Mayani pointed out that they were known as horse breeders, an occupation in which the ancient Semites di not engage.
"Besides," he went on, "an Egyptian document [a basrelief] and the Bible depict the Amorites as a race of tall people having blue eyes." In the books of Exodus, Joshua, Ezekiel, and Psalms, the Amorites are cited side by side with the Hittites (also generally regarded as a non-semitic people that lived in Anatolia -- Asiactic Turkey).
One of the most fascinating threads that were woven into the archaeological dialogue conducted a Hebrew University's picturesque Mount Scopus campus was the contact between Palestine and Cyprus that existed during Biblical and pre-Biblical times.
One proof of this contact found nearly unbroken at Tel Abu Zureliq in Israel is a female figurine of the "bird-headed" type that was common in Cyprus in the late Bronze Age.
"In Cyprus, these figurines were found mainly in tombs, and were probably used as mother goddess idols. Their presence in Israel shows that relations with Cyprus were more complex than simple commerce," archaeologist Paula Mehler explained to the assembly.
She further described the figurine as having a big nose (broken), stuck button eyes, and large ears where clay rings were hung.The clay was shaved while leather-hard, and the style and technique of the figurine testify to its Cypriot origin.
Miss Mehler said that Cypriot pottery is found abundantly in many sites on the east coast of the Mediterranean. Although Tel Abu Zureliq, where the figurine was found, is not situated on the coast, it is joined to the sea by the natural route of the Jezreel Valley.
"Large quantities of Cypriot pottery, including pilgrims' flasks, jugs, and milk bowls, were found along the route, indicating a flourishing trade between Cyprus and the Jezreel Valley," Miss Mehler concluded.
The Jezreel is not the only valley in modern-day Israel rich in ancient lore, Husband-and-wife archaeologist team Haya and Jacob Kaplan stressed to the congress the importance of the Yarkon Valley, which formed part of the famous Via Maris, connecting Egypt with Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor.
Today, the valley of the Yarkon is heavily populated with Arab villages as well as the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv, Petah Tikvah, and the Sde-Dov airfield.
"The fertile alluvial soil of the Yarkon Valley contains buried within it the remains of many cultures whose beginnings were in the Neolithic period," Jacob Kaplan explained.
In the valley have been found fortified settlements, burial places, and three fortified cities -- Tel Afek, Tel Grisa, and Tel el-Mukhmar. "At certain times of the year of the Yarkon River was fordable near Tel el-Mukmar," Mr. Kaplan said, "thus providing travelers with a shortcut which saved them taking the loop around the springs of Afek."
In 1969, the Kaplans conducted excavations near Sde-Dov airfield, where bulldozing operations had uncovered a dark strata of earth containing pottery.
"It is worth noting," said Haya Kaplan, "that many tombs of the middle Bronze Age, which were not connected with any settlement, were discovered along the Yarkon Valley."
Large quantities of bones of animals, such as goats, sheep, turtles, and donkeys, were also found, all leading to the conclusion that the settlement was a nomadic one.
"The hollow had probably been roofed with a goat's hair tent," Mr. Kaplan said, portraying a picture not unlike the life style of the region's modern-day Bedouin.
One of the most intriguing mysteries of the late Bronze Age concerns the pirate "sea peoples" and their capital, Ugariti.
Archaeologist Shelley Wachsmann described the tactics of these sea-going people based on the Ugaritic "kiln texts" dated to the very last days of the city.
"These texts indicate that the sea peoples, organized in small flotillas, attacked seaside settlements in hit-and-run commando raids, destroying and looting, and then disappearing before the local military could engage them in combat," Miss Wachsmann explained.
The most detailed representation of the sea peoples' ships can be found on the monumental relief of the water battle between them and the Egyptian forces under Ramses III at Medinet Habu.
"The invading ships, although represented without oars, may be shown to be oared galleys ideally suited for the piratical raids described in the contemporary texts.
"Such tactics would be inconceivable in ships dependent solely on the vagaries of the wind for locomotion," Dr. Wachsmann went on. "Therefore, these ships must have been able to move under their own propulsion."