Media Releases

Archaeologists uncover 3,000-year-old lion adorning citadel gate complex in Turkey

August 9, 2011

TORONTO, ON – Archae­ol­o­gists lead­ing the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Tay­i­nat Archae­o­log­i­cal Project in south­east­ern Turkey have unearthed the remains of a mon­u­men­tal gate com­plex adorned with stone sculp­tures, includ­ing a mag­nif­i­cent­ly carved lion. The gate com­plex pro­vid­ed access to the citadel of Kunulua, cap­i­tal of the Neo-Hit­tite King­dom of Pati­na (ca. 950–725 BCE), and is rem­i­nis­cent of the citadel gate exca­vat­ed by British archae­ol­o­gist Sir Leonard Wool­ley in 1911 at the roy­al Hit­tite city of Car­chem­ish.

The Tay­i­nat find pro­vides valu­able new insight into the inno­v­a­tive char­ac­ter and cul­tur­al sophis­ti­ca­tion of the diminu­tive Iron Age states that emerged in the east­ern Mediter­ranean fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the great civ­i­lized pow­ers of the Bronze Age at the end of sec­ond mil­len­ni­um BCE.

“The lion is ful­ly intact, approx­i­mate­ly 1.3 metres in height and 1.6 metres in length. It is poised in a seat­ed posi­tion, with ears back, claws extend­ed and roar­ing,” says Tim­o­thy Har­ri­son, pro­fes­sor of near east­ern archae­ol­o­gy in the Depart­ment of Near and Mid­dle East­ern Civ­i­liza­tions and direc­tor of U of T’s Tay­i­nat Archae­o­log­i­cal Project (TAP). “A sec­ond piece found near­by depicts a human fig­ure flanked by lions, which is an icon­ic Near East­ern cul­tur­al motif known as the Mas­ter and Ani­mals. It sym­bol­izes the impo­si­tion of civ­i­lized order over the chaot­ic forces of the nat­ur­al world.”

“The pres­ence of lions, or sphin­x­es, and colos­sal stat­ues astride the Mas­ter and Ani­mals motif in the citadel gate­ways of the Neo-Hit­tite roy­al cities of Iron Age Syro-Ana­to­lia con­tin­ued a Bronze Age Hit­tite tra­di­tion that accen­tu­at­ed their sym­bol­ic role as bound­ary zones, and the role of the king as the divine­ly appoint­ed guardian, or gate­keep­er, of the com­mu­ni­ty,” says Har­ri­son. The elab­o­rate­ly dec­o­rat­ed gate­ways served as dynas­tic parades, legit­imiz­ing the pow­er of the rul­ing elite.

The gate com­plex appears to have been destroyed fol­low­ing the Assyr­i­an con­quest of the site in 738 BCE, when the area was paved over and con­vert­ed into the cen­tral court­yard of an Assyr­i­an sacred precinct.

“The styl­is­tic fea­tures of the lion close­ly resem­ble those of a dou­ble-lion col­umn base found in the 1930s in the entrance to one of the tem­ples that formed the Assyr­i­an sacred precinct,” says Har­ri­son. “Whether reused or carved dur­ing the Assyr­i­an occu­pa­tion of the site, these lat­er lion fig­ures clear­ly belonged to a local Neo-Hit­tite sculp­tur­al tra­di­tion that pre­dat­ed the arrival of the Assyr­i­ans, and were not the prod­uct of Assyr­i­an cul­tur­al influ­ence as schol­ars have long assumed.”

TAP is an inter­na­tion­al project, involv­ing researchers from a dozen coun­tries, and more than 20 uni­ver­si­ties and research insti­tutes. It oper­ates in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Min­istry of Cul­ture of Turkey, and pro­vides research oppor­tu­ni­ties and train­ing for both grad­u­ate and under­grad­u­ate stu­dents. The project is fund­ed by the Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil of Cana­da and the Insti­tute for Aegean Pre­his­to­ry (INSTAP), and receives sup­port from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Tim­o­thy P. Har­ri­son
Depart­ment of Near and Mid­dle Civ­i­liza­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Sean Bet­tam
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Jes­si­ca Lewis
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to