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An Archaeology of Anatolian Rock Reliefs and Spring Monuments
Introduction: placing the world
In today’s world of globality, movement and migration, it is surprising to see that we are still attached to places. Almost with a biological urge, in cities or in the countryside, we visit and revisit places that make up our identities, take part in our stories, nurture and shape our bodies. A remote battlefield now peaceful with silent monuments, a spring amidst a heat-scorched landscape, a lonely cemetery on a highland pasture, a sacred tree frequented by local devotees, a dark cave where shepherds take refuge, or a ruin where revolutionary youth secretly meet — these are sites of memory, and of marginal human practice. Such places may often be remote from our everyday life, but poetic nonetheless and vibrantly present in the cultural imagination. This project aims to reach to the edges of our cultural environment, to places, made up of matter, meaning and memory.
The concept of place is increasingly coming to the foreground in the humanities, arts and social sciences as an important paradigm, theorized in strikingly parallel ways in philosophy (Casey 1997, 2001; Malpas 2006), geography (Massey 2005), anthropology (Appadurai 1996), archaeology (Forbes 2007; Bradley 2000), architectural history (Dovey 1999, Norberg-Schulz 2000), and contemporary art criticism (Lippard 1998, Kaye 2000). Place can be described as a materially non-ostentatious, fragile but culturally meaningful locality that is dependant upon everyday events and human activities. There has been a recognizable shift in the academic literature from the structural concept of space towards the more nebulous idea of place. As a post-Enlightenment abstraction of modernity, space is conceived to be objective, measurable, and quantifiable, whereas places are grounded in the human experience of the world, everyday practices and the perpetual making of the material world. These heterogeneous and unruly localities of gathering are brought to being by bodily practices of the everyday, and maintained by the cultural imaginations, collective memories and bodies of knowledge associated with them. While architectural space points exclusively to constructed environments and highlights the discursive moments of planning and design, places are much less tangible in their spatiality. They exist by virtue of their ambiguity in distinguishing what is “natural” and what is “cultural”; or what belongs distinctively to the past and what adheres to the present. Their materiality is a coming together of things, rocks, soils, plants, waters, animals, humans, artifacts and monuments of the past and the myriad of ways in which they interact.
Places are made meaningful as theaters of bodily practice and everyday performance. The practical and emotional attachment to places and the collectively shared stories that cling to their materiality make them alive and desired. Precisely for this reason, they often attract the attention of territorial states and colonial powers for appropriation and incorporation to networks of power. Writing the history of places therefore calls for an explicitly political history by its nature, as places are locations where official histories and collective memories collide. The examination of placemaking offers novel opportunities for understanding the frequent clashes between state spectacles and everyday practices, and for expounding politics of located identities and difference. Monumental performances of the state or colonial interventions may annihilate or silence certain cultural practices, social memories, or local voices. Incorporating such recent debates on place and placemaking, this project investigates ancient Anatolian rock reliefs and spring monuments as a paradigm for fleshing out an archaeology and archaeological ethnography of place.
The presence of the past: towards an archaeological ethnography of places
Despite such theorization of place in recent scholarship and the enthusiasm about its relevance in discourses of cultural identity, collective memory and where we 'place' ourselves within the globalizing world, little attempt has been made to understand places on the ground. Within the field of landscape archaeology, despite the wealth of extensive and intensive survey strategies and the close attention to diachronic change in the long-term uses of landscape (Cherry and Alcock 2004; Wilkinson 2003), little attention is paid to "places" both as artifacts of material practice and subjects of contemporary cultural imagination. The most apparent obstacle is the continued isolation of archaeological field projects from ethnographic ones, and the rarity of collaboration between archaeologists of ancient landscapes, geological scientists of environmental history, ethnographers of contemporary rural societies, and ethnohistorians of historical landscapes.
It is proposed here that as a discipline of memory and material culture, archaeology can offer a rigorous methodology and a critical framework for investigating the palimpsest quality of places (Olivier 2008). This is especially true when an archaeological approach incorporates ethnographic and ethno-historical methodologies to offer a long-term perspective on the cultural biography of places and the practices of placemaking. The newly emerging trans-disciplinary field of archaeological ethnography does precisely this: it marries archaeological agendas with the methodological concerns of cultural/social anthropology- and, in my opinion, is best suited to analyze places. Traditionally, anthropological research has prioritized the “ethnographic present” while archaeological research invented and isolated an “ancient past,” causing a rift between the two disciplines. Archaeological ethnography questions such absolute temporalities and the modernist setting apart of the “ancient” versus the “modern” while it insists that we rethink the past as a vital component of the present (Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos 2009). As alternative engagements with the material past, archaeological ethnographies pay close attention to places where direct encounters between durable residues of ancient/historical pasts and contemporary everyday life takes place. Offering a self-reflexive lens for the discipline, this is in many ways a radical rethinking of “the ontological and epistemological basis of archaeology” (Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos 2009: 65) at the time of the current “ethnographic turn” (Castañeda and Matthews 2008). Monumental ruins, abandoned landscapes, archaeological sites, shrines for holy men, pilgrimage destinations, heritage sites, spaces of spoliation, historically contested places and heterotopias of modernity offer especially inviting platforms for archaeological ethnographies.
Carved into the “living rock”: Anatolian rock reliefs and spring monuments
My own research in the ancient Near Eastern landscapes has lead me to investigate rock relief monuments and sacred pool complexes of the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages (roughly 1500-830 BC) as a paradigm for investigating the nature of durable places that have reached us from antiquity (Harmanşah 2005 and 2007). These monuments of the countryside are built at geologically distinct, evocative places such as springs, mouths of caves that are springs or sinkholes, river gorges, or mountain passes. They are commemorative monuments that take a variety of architectonic forms, incorporating rock-cut visual imagery and monumental inscriptions, and pool complexes with sculptural cult images. They have always been some of the most visible features of the ancient landscape, and for that reason they have drawn a significant amount of interest from the traveler-antiquarians of the 19th to 20th centuries. These are places where the imagination of the Western antiquarians met with the bedrock of Anatolian antiquity and the cultural imagination of the inhabitants of rural Anatolia associated with these ruins.
Figure 1. Yazılıkaya, Çorum Province, Turkey. Hittite rock-cut open air sanctuary
Figure 2. Eflatunpınar, Konya Province, Turkey. Hittite spring monument (13th c. BC). (by Maryan Sokolowski, from Perrot and Chipiez 1884).
The carvings at the impressive rock sanctuary of Yazılıkaya (Fig. 1) for instance, hidden in a rock outcrop outside the Hittite capital Hattuša, were documented pictorially as early as 1834 by Charles Texier, who visited the archaeological site at Boğazköy. During his ten day visit, the inhabitants of Boğazköy took Texier to the nearby site Yazılıkaya, "inscribed rock" - where Texier drafted the reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions carved on the rock. Presenting a rich account of Yazılıkaya in his publications, Texier reports that the villagers identified the rock reliefs as representations of "padişah" namely the Ottoman sultan (Texier 1862). Among the locals, the reliefs of Yazılıkaya were not considered relics of a remote and pagan past to be defaced or destroyed but were meaningfully linked to contemporaneous structures of state power. With his classical education and orientalist mindset, Texier imagined these rock carvings to represent a meeting of Amazons and Paphlagonians. It is now well established that the multi-chambered rock sanctuary was actually an abundant spring in antiquity, and the cult activity in it dates back to 3rd millennium BC (Bittel 1967). With the foundation of the Hittite ceremonial capital in its close vicinity, Yazılıkaya seems to have become one of the most important extra-mural, open-air rupestral cult places of Anatolian antiquity, and most probably associated with the so-called rock-hekur of Hittite ritual texts, the locus of funerary ceremonies for the Hittite royal family.
Sparked by the long term scholarly interest in reconstructing Hittite and post-Hittite geography in Anatolia, the reading of monumental inscriptions and the iconographic analysis of the rock reliefs have become normative field practices since the 19th century, and consequently epigraphic and art-historical readings of the rock reliefs have been predominant in the scholarship. The meaning and function of these rock monuments that emerge from these readings appear to be "religious representations of political power," that is, monumentalized landscape features as interventions of the political elite in a program of constructing or configuring imperial landscapes, marking its frontiers, controlling mountain passes, and punctuating royal roads. They are often seen as oppressive vehicles of militaristic surveillance in the imperial geographies. Recent publications on Hittite rock reliefs are good examples of such readings of rock reliefs that solely focus on them as pictorial representations and monumental statements of the imperial elite (e.g. Bonatz 2007; Glatz 2009). The prioritization of imperial manipulation of spaces in contemporary scholarship appears as a continuation of the orientalist colonialisms of early European modernity and has to be scrutinized carefully. By way of a postcolonial re-orientation, an archaeological ethnography of a site like Yazılıkaya would scrutinize all aspects of such a place and the long-term practices of placemaking from its geological history to the carving of its reliefs and the residues of associated ritual activity, and from the classicist readings of its iconography by European travelers to the contemporary interactions of local inhabitants with the ruin. This will be possible by engaging with the cultural biography and genealogy of the place without prioritizing any specific episode in its making.
In this project, I move explicitly away from macro-scale perspectives of archaeological landscapes and the iconographic reading of rock reliefs. In contrast, I investigate rock reliefs and spring monuments as evocative places with a meaningful coming together of geological formations, human actors and historical events. Based on several seasons of my reconnaissance work on Anatolian rock relief and spring monuments, I argue that careful archaeological study of such sites, as places, in their micro-regional context presents evidence largely in contradiction to earlier assumptions on many grounds and urges us to understand these sites as complex places of long-term human interactions and repositories of material practices rather than seeing them as sites of colonization by imperial powers on virgin soil.
It is my hypothesis that the monumental inscription of landscapes are only late appropriations by the imperial elite of specific places of social practice that are always already rich in their cultural significations and associations, as part of a lived place-world. The making of rock reliefs themselves and the production of their monumental inscriptions, as placemaking events, both derive from and displace such located practices, through the state-sponsored colonization of places in a program of creating subjects of the state. In a recent conversation, my colleague Nick Shepherd memorably described this process as colonial practice "eating up" the local practices: it both destroys the situated practices but also nurtured by them. The carving of rock reliefs and the raising of landscape monuments at geologically “eventful” places such as springs and sinkholes already testify to the long-term human engagement with these sites, but this hypothesis has to be tested by careful archaeological work at such sites.
The rock reliefs or spring sanctuaries of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Anatolia offer an excellent paradigm for investigating the concept of "place" through fieldwork. Their durable inscribed character on living rock, make their presence persistent in the landscape at geologically wondrous locations such as major rock outcrops, springs, sinkholes, the dark mouth of caves, dramatic mountain passes, and river gorges. In Hittite Anatolia, such places were considered as sites of access to the underworld, the world of ancestors, and as sites of funerary rituals, they offered in the very presence of the divine "streams" of communication with the dead. I am specifically referring to the Hittite/Luwian concept of DINGIR. KAŠKAL.KUR –— "Divine Road of the Earth" –— symbolically charged liminal places of chthonic ritual practice, often listed as divine witnesses to interpolity treaties along with a multiplicity of Hittite divinities, mountains, and rivers. Furthermore as ruins, they constitute nodes of deep temporality in the landscape, link human time with geological time and provoke historical imagination, as it was the case for Yazılıkaya. The curious term DINGIR.KASKAL.KUR of the monumental Luwian inscriptions can now be associated with Hittite monuments that are built at such geologically spectacular sites, thanks to the recently excavated chamber of the Südburg Sacred Pool Complex at Hattusha, whose monumental inscription provided the missing link (Hawkins 1995). For the first time, a “DINGIR.KASKAL.KUR” was associated with a specific monument, strongly suggesting that Hittites often transformed karstic springs, caves, river tunnels and sinkholes into cult places taking the form of sacred pools and dams, usually accompanied by rock reliefs and royal inscriptions.
An archaeological field project that addresses this historical problem, the cultural significance of springs, sinkholes and caves and their place in the context of settlement in antiquity, has been planned. Thanks to the official permit granted b the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, a 5-year intensive archaeological survey in the subprovince of Ilgin started in summer 2010, in the vicinity of the Hittite sacred pool complex of Yalburt Yaylasi. The Hittite sacred pool complex and the Hellenistic mound settlement immediately above it were excavated by Raci Temizer from Ankara Anatolian Civilization Museum in the early 1970s (Temizer 1984, 1988). The area was previously surveyed by Prof Hasan Bahar of Selcuk University (Bahar 1996).
The goal of the project is to understand the role of Yalburt Monument in the regional landscape through archaeological, geomorphological, and ethnographic fieldwork. Fieldwork activities of this project include geological and geomorphological research aimed to understand the evolving land resource base available from antiquity to modernity while exploring springs and caves in the region. Intensive archaeological survey will document settlements, sites and other archaeological features through fieldwalking, topographic survey, remote sensing, and GIS. Thirdly, ethnographic work will address the use and perception of anthropogenic landscapes among the historical and contemporary settlers. In this multi-disciplinary project, I am collaborating with geologists and anthropologists from Ankara, Hacettepe and Bucknell Universities.