A mysterious civilisation that was lost to history has been rediscovered in southern Turkey.
A large stone covered in inscriptions written in the ancient Luwian script was found in an irrigation canal by a farmer. That encouraged historians to explore the region more thoroughly – leading to the discovery of a buried 300-acre city.
Researchers from University of Chicago had been working on a nearby archaeological dig in a region called Türkmen-Karahöyük when the local farmer mentioned the stone to them.
“We rushed straight there, and we could see it still sticking out of the water, so we jumped right down into the canal – up to our waists wading around,” says assistant professor James Osborne of the university's Oriental Institute.
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Professor Osborne specialises in the prehistory of Anatolia, a region that is today part of Turkey, during the late second and early first millennium BCE.
He says he knew immediately that the stone was of ancient origin: “Right away it was clear it was ancient, and we recognised the script it was written in: Luwian, the language used in the Bronze and Iron Ages in the area.”
The Luwian people are thought be archaeologists to be the piratical Sea Peoples who swept through the region in about 1,200BC causing massive disruption known as the Late Bronze Age Collapse.
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The carved inscription mentioned a king named Hartapu, and a city, possibly his capital, called Türkmen-Karahöyük.
“We had no idea about this kingdom. In a flash, we had profound new information on the Bronze Age Middle East,” said Osborne.
Digging in the area revealed the outlines of a city buried inside a hill: “Inside this mound are going to be palaces, monuments, houses,” said Osborne. “This [stone] was a marvellous, incredibly lucky find—but it’s just the beginning.”
The carvings commemorated Hartapu’s victory over King Midas – ruler of the kingdom of Phrygia which was sited elsewhere in the region.
There were three kings of Phrygia named Midas but the most famous is the subject of a Greek myth about a king who wished for a golden touch, and came to regret it.
The Phrygians were also present – on the losing side – at the legendary siege of Troy.
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