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Everyday life (and death) at Assyrian Tushhan.

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It was certainly a busy week for us and there is plenty to report from the field. The end of Ramadan in Turkey is marked by a long bayram holiday that just started, so after a shortened working day yesterday, our local workers, government representative, and house staff left for their homes and families to celebrate. We will be working at the dighouse during the holiday which ends on Saturday. This is a perfect time to catch up on my blog entries and tell you about some of the interesting finds we’ve made.

One of our most important goals for this season is the excavation of Assyrian private houses in the lower town. Archaeologists are just as interested in the lives of everyday people as we are about the “great events” of history, palaces and kings and this season we are reopening excavations in Operation K, an area we first excavated nearly a decade ago, where Kemalettin found the remains of a modest house built adjacent to the interior of the southern city wall. One focus of this new study is an intensive study of the ancient plant and animal remains preserved within the┬áhouse which tell us about the diet, economy, and environment in which the Assyrians lived.

Kemalettin started work in a 5m by 10m area (roughly 15 feet by 30 feet), in a trench immediately adjacent to the original Operation K excavations. His trench is located in a field that was recently plowed, so the top 25 or 30cm (10-12 inches) of the soil were completely jumbled up and our workers quickly removed this layer. Immediately below, Kemalettin and his team found an area of paved cobbles with part of a ceramic drain in the northern part of the trench. The whole area was badly disturbed by modern plowing, so it is difficult to say much about this pavement other than it was perhaps a courtyard or a street and, given what we have learned elsewhere on the site, may be of Late Roman date. We found part of a Roman period roof tile, but very little in the way of clearly Roman period materials.

Kemalettin (standing, left) explaining the day's work to his team.
Kemalettin (standing, left) explaining the day’s work to his team.

More importantly, Kemalettin was also able to find the tops of the mudbrick walls that form the extension of the plan of the Assyrian house we excavated earlier. This is very exciting since it means that we will have plenty of time to explore the house even with a shortened digging season.

Grave found in Operation K. Bulent Genc, a doctoral student from Marmara University is drawing the grave before we remove the bones for study. Bulent is new to the team this year. He is a student of Kemalettin's and is writing his dissertation on the complex relationship between the Assyrians and another powerful state, Urartu, located in eastern Turkey near Lake Van.
Grave found in Operation K. Bulent Genc, a doctoral student from Marmara University is drawing the grave before we remove the bones for study. Bulent is new to the team this year. He is a student of Kemalettin’s and is writing his dissertation on the complex relationship between the Assyrians and another powerful state, Urartu, located in eastern Turkey near Lake Van.

We found a grave to the south of the OpK house, outside of the house itself but adjacent to the wall, which appears to be Assyrian in date. One of the questions that we hope to answer this year is where the non-elite Assyrians at Tushhan buried their dead. There is no external graveyard for the site (although some of you will remember Operation S where we explored an area south of Ziyaret Tepe where local farmers said they found a possible burial site or graveyard, but where we were unable to locate any cultural remains). At the end of this week, Kemalletin found two additional burials, both inside of the house and immediately below the floor so we now know that at least some of the dead at ancient Tushhan were buried inside their houses. I’ll share some details in later blog post.

By matney

Dr. Matney is Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology and Classical Studies at the University of Akron. He is the Director of the Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Expedition.

5 replies on “Everyday life (and death) at Assyrian Tushhan.”

Dr. Matney and everyone else involved in this amazing project: as an Assyrian, I would like to thank you for your effort to dig these historical Assyrian sites and give us a wealth of information on how our ancient Assyrians lived, led, followed, fought, governed etc. Given the state of the region and the instability, I believe only a fraction of Assyria’s treasures and knowledge has been uncovered so far. For an empire that dominated for well over half a millennium, you bet there is more to be discovered.

This sounds so interesting. I wish I were there. How far below the surface of the house floor would these people be buried? I am now wondering about how the people living in the house would have thought about the graves in the house. Did they hope that the spirits of the dead might confer some protection on the current inhabitants? Prevent the dead from haunting the living? Make it easier for the dead to send information (omens, etc.) to the living? Is there anything in Mesopotamian or Assyrian mythology that applies here?

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