Archaeological Site of Arslantepe

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Province of Malatya, Village of Orduzu
Coordinates: N38 22 55.41 E38 21 40.8
Ref.: 5908
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The Archaeological Site of Arslantepe is located in the Malatya plain, 5 km away from the city centre and 15 km away from the Euphrates right bank. It is a 4 hectares and 30 m. high archaeological mound dominating the plain and formed by the superimposition of settlements for millennia, from at least the 6th millennium BCE to the late Roman period. The mound is surrounded by the Orduzu village.

The long history of the site, located at the crossroads of the main civilizations of the Near East, reveals crucial events and processes of change in connection with the contemporary developments in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the South Caucasus. The extensive excavations carried out for more than 50 years by the Italian Archaeological Expedition of the Sapienza University of Rome have brought to light rich material remains of the many civilizations superimposed in the site, from their formation to their collapse. This research has enlightened the millenarian history of the Upper Euphrates region and makes Arslantepe an exceptional testimony to crucial stages in the human history: the birth of hierarchical societies, that of the first centralized political and economic systems, the origin of bureaucracy and its first working system, the rise of a systematic control on human labour, in other words, the origin of power and the State. The site also testifies to the fact that these crucial changes in human history took place for the first time over a large area including, besides Mesopotamia, the Euphrates region in Eastern Anatolia.

In particular, the excavations have brought to light a large and monumental mud-brick architectural complex of public buildings interconnected each other over about 2000 square meters, in an exceptional state of preservation, which constitute the first example of a public “palace”, dated to the second half of the 4th millennium BCE. The palace, composed by two temples, a storeroom complex, administrative areas with thousands of clay-ceilings bearing the impressions of more than 220 beautiful seals, entertainment halls, a monumental gate, corridors and courtyards, has mud-brick walls still standing for more than 2-2,50 metres, still covered with original white plaster. In three areas there are beautiful wall paintings in red and black with figurative motifs in an original style without comparisons in other places. These paintings have been cleared and protected by professional restorers, maintaining them in situ.

A large number of materials found in situ on the floors of the palace rooms and thoroughly analysed are testimony to the process of State formation in this area. More than 4000 archaeological objects have been restored and many of them are exhibited in the nearby Malatya Museum.

The palace area has recently become an Open Air Museum, where visitors can see a unique architectural mud-brick complex of the 4th millennium BCE, still standing and well preserved, testimony to the history of the beginning of complex hierarchical societies and the origin of the State. The visit route is accompanied by communication panels and also continues on the top of the mound showing the public the dynamic of social and political changes occurred in the course of the following millennia till the Hittite era, when Arslantepe became again a regional capital.

The beautiful landscape of the plain surrounded by mountains and opening towards the Euphrates valley is also visible from this route.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The archaeological site of Arslantepe and its 4th millennium Palace in particular are a unique visible testimony to the crucial process of State formation and the transformation of society from egalitarian to hierarchical and politically centralized. Moreover, the palace is the first example in the world of this type of architectural and functional organization of power, which antedates of five-six centuries the well-known 3rd millennium palaces of the Near East. It shows that in this region of Eastern Anatolia a new type of secular power started to develop very early, not being mainly based any more on a religious/ceremonial consensus, but already founding its strength on the exploitation of resources and human labour and being exercised through the employment of a sophisticated administrative system and the starting use of force, as a group of metal weapons found in one of the representation halls in the palace testify. Among these, nine swords attest the use of this weapon for the first time in the world – at least a millennium before the already known examples. All these processes and events took place in a group of connected buildings constituting an exceptional homogeneous architectural complex, which is of an Outstanding Universal Value for its extraordinary historical significance (the first example of a “palace” system), its anthropological value as a tangible document of a crucial process of social change, its exceptional state of preservation, and its architectural and artistic value. It certainly transcends the local importance, being the expression of historical processes of common value for the entire international community. Its permanent protection is therefore of the highest importance for the preservation of a unique monument and document of a crucial stage in the history of humankind.

Criterion (ii): The Arslantepe 4th millennium levels show fundamental changes in human relations in the period of State formation, which involved Eastern Anatolian and Mesopotamian societies in the course of the entire 4th millennium BCE. This interchange of cultural traditions and social values resulted in the emergence of new social and political systems based on hierarchies and social differences, economic privileges and new power relations which led to new developments in monumental architecture, administrative technology and iconography of power in artistic representation. Arslantepe exhibit the most largely excavated public complex of this period and the best preserved example of such a development in the entire Upper Mesopotamia and its northern “periphery”.

Criterion (iii): Arslantepe is an exceptional testimony to the first emergence of State society in the Near East, original though related with the great 4th millennium Uruk civilization. The extensive excavations of the palace complex, full of material in situ, has allowed to reconstruct the characteristics of this civilization, the life of these first elites and their activities with incomparable details, enlightening the emergence of a centralized government controlling the economy of the population. All these anthropological and historical achievements, which are explained to the public in the Arslantepe Open Air Museum, write a new page in the history of the Near Eastern proto-state civilizations and the early developments in human society.

Criterion (iv): The Arslantepe 4th millennium “palace” complex is an outstanding example of a new type of monumental public architecture for two main reasons: 1) it is the earliest example of a public palace, substantially antedating the well-known 3rd millennium examples of the Syro-Mesopotamian areas and revealing a precocious development of new forms of secular power based on economic and administrative control; 2) This architectural complex of buildings, excavated over about 2000 square metres, is very large and in an extraordinary state of preservation, with walls more than 2-2,50 metres high, original white plasters and wall paintings, unique in their subject and style. This conditions make the Arslantepe 4th millennium palace the only place in the world where the public can still enter such a kind of monument and learn in situ the history of one of the basic stages in human developments.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Statement of Authenticity:

Arslantepe’s excavations have been conducted since 1961 on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Italian Archaeological Expedition of the Sapienza University of Rome, currently under the directorship of Prof. Dr. Marcella Frangipane who has recently been elected as a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, thanks to the scientific discoveries at Arslantepe and the related studies and publications.

Arslantepe, registered as the 1st Degree Archaeological Site, is under protection by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863.

All te monuments exhibited in the Open Air Museum of Arslantepe are totally original and no reconstruction has been made.

Statement of Integrity:

Original monuments, wall paintings, stone reliefs and archaeological materials of ancient population daily life have been brought to light in the course of many years. They have been regularly protected and conserved and they are still visible at the site and the nearby Museum of Malatya.

The site and the monumental palatial complex of the 4th millennium BCE, thanks to a long and careful excavation activity on large surfaces and across many levels representing millennia of ancient history, can ensure the complete representation of the crucial processes of the birth of State and hierarchical society, which can be learned by moving through the original places where they have occurred, due to the exceptional state of preservation of the Arslantepe 4th millennium architecture.

The team of the Şapienza University of Rome carries out yearly monitoring processes for the conservation of the mud-brick architecture and wall paintings and collaborates with the local authorities of the Malatya Province and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey for the protection of the site as the excavations go on.

The palace complex on the whole has been carefully conserved by specialized restorers and is constantly monitored year by year; it has recently been protected by solid roofing, which has been accurately planned and tested for years through the yearly monitoring of the state of preservation of the mud-brick walls and plasters in different climatic conditions. These experiments have brought to the construction of an innovative covering of the archaeological area, which 1) has not made any hole or damage in the underlying archaeological levels, 2) it creates a stable climatic condition inside the palace by using a multilayer covering panels, 3) has a low impact on the surrounding environment, 4) follows the architectural layouts of the ancient buildings, and 5) re-creates the original atmosphere of the palace interior by panelling with wood the internal roof and letting the light enter the palace through the same sources as in the past. The yearly monitoring of the monument conditions has shown the effectiveness of this covering system, together with small strategic conservation interventions.

The mound is surrounded by the Orduzu village, made of dispersed houses among gardens. Some of the houses along the street bringing to the site are still mud-brick buildings and have been recently restored by the Malatya Governor, thus preserving some of the few still maintained examples of this important traditional architecture. This operation is the sign of a newly acquired sensibility by the local authorities and local people to the value of both their archaeological site and their habitat and architectural traditions. Many other mud-brick houses in the area, as well as the beautiful landscape surrounding the site, are however in danger of being destroyed.

Comparison with other similar properties

Arslantepe is presently the unique site to represent the history of the earliest formation of centralized societies and the origin of bureaucracy and the State by showing a very well preserved 4th millennium BCE complex of public and monumental mud-brick buildings which constitute the first example of a public palace. This very vast monumental complex has no comparison, both for its features and state of preservation, and has recently been protected and exhibited to the public.

There are other 4th millennium sites in Mesopotamia with monumental public architecture of the same period and representing similar processes – such as the well-known Uruk-Warka in Iraq –, which however show a different non-palatial architecture and most of them are moreover badly destroyed or deteriorated. Arslantepe is the only site capable to show to the public the origin of a palatial organization allowing people actually enter the buildings and enjoy the reconstruction of a primary historical process at the foundation of modern societies by presenting a rigorous analysis of the archaeological data and abundant materials found in situ. These materials are visible in the nearby Malatya Museum.