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"Dark Age" Temple Found in Turkey

Mati Milstein
for National Geographic News
April 29, 2009
 
An ancient temple in Turkey has been found filled with broken metal, ivory carvings, and stone slabs engraved with a dead language.

The find is casting new light on the "dark age" that was thought to have engulfed the region from 1200 to 900 B.C.

Written sources from the era—including the Old Testament of the Bible, Greek Homeric epics, and texts from Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III—record the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age as a turbulent period of cultural collapse, famine, and violence.

But the newfound temple suggests that may not have been the case, say archaeologists from the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project, led by Timothy Harrison.

"We're beginning to find new archaeological evidence that there was a continuation of writing traditions, as well as cultural and political continuity from the Bronze Age into this Iron Age period," Harrison said.

"We are filling in a cultural and a political history of this era."

Extinct Language

Harrison and colleagues found the temple in 2008 at the Tell Ta'yinat site, an archaeological settlement on the Plain of Antioch in southeastern Turkey.

The site, near the present-day Syrian border, served as a major cultural crossroads for thousands of years.

The temple appears to have been built during the time of King Solomon, between the 10th and 9th centuries B.C. It was likely destroyed with the rest of Tell Ta'yinat during the 8th century B.C.

(Related: "King Solomon's Mines Rediscovered?")

Researchers initially examined the remains of the temple's southern entrance, which includes a stone-paved courtyard, a wide staircase, and a doorway once supported by an ornately carved column.

The team also found the smashed remains of massive stelae—commemorative stone slabs—carved with hieroglyphs in Luwian, an extinct language once spoken throughout what is now Turkey.

The temple's main room was long ago damaged by fire, but it was found littered with the remains of bronze and ivory wall or furniture fittings, along with gold and silver foil and the carved eye inlay from a human figurine.

Solid Evidence

Although excavations have yet to reach the earliest parts of the temple, researchers plan to continue digging this summer in the hopes of finding the temple's inner sanctuary.

Harrison believes the Tayinat temple might provide scholars with new evidence to help them understand similarly constructed temples from the same time period, as well as the temple rituals of the day.

"The textual record has very much informed our perception of the past," noted Gunnar Lehmann, an archaeologist with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, who was not involved in the find.

"But there is now increasing archaeological evidence for a complex scenario of considerable cultural and political continuation and innovations during this [dark age] period."
 

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