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The site of Kültepe, which was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Kanesh and centre of a complex network of Assyrian trade colonies in the 2nd millennium B.C., is located 20 km to the northeast of the modern city of Kayseri. Situated just at the foot of Mount Erciyes (ancient Argeus) and on a fertile plain, Kültepe occupies a position at which historic and natural routes, leading from Sivas in the northeast and Malatya in the southeast, converge. This naturally advantageous position allowed Kültepe to emerge as a centre of importance in the world of ancient politics and trade. Kültepe thus became a key centre of culture and commerce between Anatolia, Syria, and Mesopotamia by the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. and especially during the first quarter of the 2nd millennium B.C. The site is composed of two parts, an upper mound and a lower town:
1. Upper Mound-Kanesh
Rising 21 m above the surrounding plain, the Kanesh mound measures approximately 550 x 500 m in diameter. It is nearly circular in appearance and is one of the largest among central Anatolian ancient mounds. Excavations revealed that the Upper Mound was inhabited from the earliest phase of the Early Bronze Age, to the end of the Roman Period.
2. Lower Town-Karum
The Lower Town, which the Assyrians called the Karum (literally, “quay”), surrounds the Mound. In certain parts, the occupation layers of the Karum rise up to 2 m above the surrounding plain. The diameter of the entire settlement including both the Mound and the Karum is at least 2.5 km. The Karum is the part of the site where foreign and native traders lived and conducted business. It was inhabited for approximately 300 years.
Assyrian Trading Colonies Period
Soon after the north Mesopotamian city of Ashur established itself as an independent state at the end of the 3rd millennium B.C., King Erishum I launched a series of trade reforms in order to secure the future of his kingdom. He lifted the state monopoly on trade, thereby allowing long-distance commerce to be carried out by private individuals operating within ‘family firms.’ This in turn led to the creation of a highly complex and wide-reaching trade network between north Mesopotamia and Anatolia during the first quarter of the 2nd millennium B.C. The centre of this network was the ancient city of Kanesh, from which incoming Assyrian goods were redistributed further into Anatolia. Archaeological excavations at the site have uncovered a series of highly important monumental administrative structures as well as residential neighbourhoods.
The cities of the Old Assyrian Trading colony Period comprised stone-paved streets (with subterranean drainage channels) and open spaces separating individual neighbourhoods. Houses with mud-brick walls rising on stone foundations and supported by timber beams ranged from small, two-roomed structures to larger complexes of six or more rooms; most houses had two storeys. Constructed in local Anatolian manner, the houses were closely built.
Archives of Kültepe-Kanesh
With a vast repertoire of tens of thousands of archaeological and textual finds unearthed in ongoing excavations since 1948, Kültepe is not only a site of utmost importance for Anatolian archaeology, but also for world archaeology. The private archives of the Karum residents have yielded 23,500 clay tablets and envelopes to date. These are the earliest written documents which illustrated the ancient Anatolian history. Life, society and economy at this site, even the family affairs and personal relationships of its inhabitants, were recorded on clay tablets in the Old Assyrian dialect of the Akkadian language using the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) script, the knowledge of which came into Anatolia with Assyrian merchants.
Unlike royal or temple archives discovered in other ancient centres, the cuneiform archives of Kültepe-Kanesh represent the single largest body of private texts in the ancient Near East. They were kept in archive rooms, neatly arranged inside clay vessels, wooden chests, wicker baskets or sacks. The fire which eventually destroyed the city must have started suddenly; as the excavations revealed many documents were still in their envelopes, before the merchants could dispatch their recently written letters or open those newly received.
Palaces at Kültepe-Kanesh
To date, five building levels (6-10) have been identified on the Upper Mound, which correspond to Levels I-IV in the Karum Lower Town, covering the period of international exchange centring on this site. Five kings whose names are known have reigned from the so-called Warshama Palace, which was constructed in Level 7. Eventually destroyed in an intense conflagration, the palace took its name from King Warshama of Kanesh, son of Inar. The palace later became the seat of the Kussaran kings Pithana and his son Anitta, who conquered Kanesh. Consisting of a large central stone-paved courtyard surrounded by multiple rooms on all sides, the palace resembles contemporary Old Babylonian architecture of Mesopotamia.
The large Warshama Palace was preceded by the earlier Old Palace of Level 8 and the South Terrace Palace, a well-equipped structure boasting long corridors and an open courtyard. Both of these earlier palaces played significant roles in the network of international trade; besides being used as royal residences, they also served as storage facilities for incoming trade goods until the payment of customs fees were completed. This additional function influenced their architectural plans.
Scientific archaeological excavations at the site have uncovered a series of highly important monumental administrative structures as well as private dwellings. 23,500 tablets, which have been kept in such houses, were the first written documents of Anatolia, marking the beginning of Anatolian history. Unlike royal or temple archives discovered in other ancient centres, the cuneiform archives of Kültepe-Kanesh represent the single largest body of private texts in the ancient Near East.
To date, five building levels (6-10) have been identified on the Upper Mound, which correspond to Levels I-IV in the Karum Lower Town, covering the period of international exchange centring on this site. Five kings of known names have reigned from the so-called Warshama Palace, which was constructed at Level 7. The large Warshama Palace was preceded by the earlier Old Palace of Level 8 and the South Terrace Palace, a well-equipped structure boasting long corridors and an open courtyard. The significant role of these palaces in the network of international trade influenced their plans and created a distinctive architectural design.
Criterion (ii): Kültepe-Kanesh was the administrative centre of the complex trade network established between the north Mesopotamian city of Ashur and Anatolia during the first quarter of the second millennium B.C. As such, Kültepe-Kanesh became the core settlement for Assyrian merchants in Anatolia. In keeping with the high intensity of Assyrian presence, the site possesses the largest collection of cuneiform texts comprising the private archives of its Assyrian residents, as well as those of a small number of Anatolians who also adopted the Mesopotamian system of writing and kept archives in the style of their Assyrian colleagues.
Maintained in the homes of private individuals, these archives were recovered from the Lower City, namely the area of the Karum where foreign merchants settled. The initial phase of settlement (Level II) came to an end in a severe fire around the year 1835 B.C. (corresponding to the reign of King Naram-Sin in Ashur). Settlement resumed shortly afterwards in what is designated as Level Ib).
The Lower Town notably boasted stone-paved streets which would have easily allowed cart traffic. The border stones lining the streets were intended for pedestrians, as well as providing a protective measure for the house facades.
Incoming Assyrian merchants lived in houses which they either bought or had specially constructed upon arrival. In terms of construction technique and architectural layout, the houses of Kültepe-Kanesh are of local Anatolian style, characterized by mud-brick walls on stone foundations, often with timber support beams. The majority of the houses have two major areas, namely a family/living-room and storage spaces, used as larders and/or archive rooms. Due to the excellent degree of preservation at the site, locked archive rooms, storage spaces packed with pre-sale merchandise and household items have been recovered intact.
As for the monumental palaces on the Upper Mound, these were multifunctional structures serving commercial, administrative and storage functions as well as being royal residences. Royal reception rooms and residential quarters would have been on upper storeys, with the ground level being reserved for administrative and other activities. Each of the three palaces recovered on the mound has distinct plans of its own.
Criterion (iii): Kültepe-Kanesh is the longest -and the most intensely- excavated site belonging to the period of Assyrian colonies. Archaeological excavations at the site have uncovered a series of highly important monumental administrative structures as well as residential neighbourhoods. Kept in such houses, the private archives of the Karum residents have yielded 23,500 clay tablets and envelopes to date. These are the first written documents that started the textual history of Anatolia.
The particular settlement model of mixed cohabitation of local Anatolian and foreign Mesopotamian and Syrian merchants is not seen at any other ancient Near Eastern settlement. Thanks to the detailed architectural plans of a large number of houses (approximately 100 in number) and considerable portions of neighbourhoods, the settlement patterns at the site can be studied in depth. The private archives kept in these houses make up the first private libraries of political, commercial and legal documents of ancient Anatolia, affording a uniquely rich source of information for ancient Near Eastern scholarship as a whole.
Kültepe-Kanesh has been recognized since 1871 when the “Cappadocian tablets” were first revealed in world museums and in illegal markets. Regrettably, sporadic uncontrolled excavations from 1893 until 1925 have caused a great deal of damage to the site, as has the local habit of obtaining earth from the mound to use as fertiliser for agricultural fields.
Since 1948, scientific excavations have been conducted by Prof. Dr. Tahsin Özgüç and (following his death in 2005) Prof. Dr. Fikri Kulakoğlu on behalf of Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Ankara University. A great deal of work towards the protection and restoration of exposed remains have taken place at the site. As an archaeological site today, Kültepe retains its surrounding natural habitat which is no doubt similar to its ancient environment four thousand years ago.
Kültepe-Kanesh Archaeological Site is under protection by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863. It was registered as cultural property to be preserved with the decision of Superior Council of Immovable Antiquities and Monuments dated 08/04/1977, numbered A-423. By the decision of the related Conservation Council dated 06/11/1993, 1621 s1989 numbered 488, the borders of the 1st degree archaeological site were determined. In 2001, borders of the protected site were expanded according to the outcomes of the excavations.
Being located 20 km to the northeast of the centre of Kayseri, the archaeological site of Kültepe can be reached easily from the city. As Kayseri expands eastward, the distance between the city and the site has diminished, making Kültepe even more accessible. However, this also poses a threat for Kültepe, which is a registered 1st degree archaeological site within which no construction is permitted. Having come into existence at a time prior to Kültepe’s protected status, the modern village of Karahöyük does remain but due to the construction ban the village population has dwindled down to five resident families today.
Kültepe-Kanesh is by far the richest and most significant source of information for the period of Assyrian trade colonies. Both the archaeological material and textual documentation obtained from the site far surpasses the information offered by contemporary colony period sites such as Boğazköy, Alişar, Acemhöyük, and Konya- Karahöyük.
In terms of the high level of archaeological preservation, the extent of exposure achieved by continuous excavations since 1948, the extremely rich and varied repertoire of artefacts, certainly the unique body of textual documents recovered and the settlement model of mixed cohabitation of local Anatolian and foreign Mesopotamian and Syrian merchants, Kültepe-Kanesh is unmatched by any of its contemporaries.
Unlike royal or temple archives discovered in other ancient centres, the cuneiform archives of Kültepe-Kanesh represent the single largest body of private texts in the ancient Near East. Moreover, given the extremely scanty nature of the information available on the contemporary levels of the north Mesopotamian city of Ashur, from which the incoming merchants originated, Kültepe-Kanesh remains the principle source on the Assyrian Kingdom at this time.