2015 Campaign at Kınık Höyük

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By: Lorenzo D’Alfonso, Harris Grant Recipient

The 2015 campaign at Kınık Höyük (southern Cappadocia, Turkey), covering the two months of June and July, capped off the first 5 year cycle of archaeological investigations at the site (2011-2015). This is significant benchmark for any venture, and is especially so for the project that I direct. For the first month, in June, it rained almost every evening, and this is not ideal for excavations. A positive sign, however, came from nature. Kınık is home for a number of wild animals, and if the company of snakes and scorpions may be sometimes unpleasant, foxes, marmots, mice and a variety of colored birds is amazing. This year we had on the site two families of owls, one having a nest close to operation B, where I worked. Owls were a good sign for the ancient people of the Mediterranean: a good omen for the campaign, indeed!


This past season was the right time to start thinking about the publication of the first volume of the final report of the site, and therefore a group of scholars participated in the excavation to plan this volume and start analyzing the relevant materials. I decided that our first volume will investigate the Hellenistic occupation on the site and we consequently had experts for that period contribute to the campaign. Maria Elena Gorrini (Ass. Prof. of Classical Archaeology, Pavia University) worked in our new storehouse on the collection of terracotta figurines, finding exciting new evidence that some of them were imported from Tarsus, in Cilicia. Together with Maria Elena, it was great to have ISAW student Irene Soto starting to build the ceramic typology of the Hellenistic period: this is an important step, since it will be the first such work for the entire Hellenistic kingdom of Cappadocia. Kathryn Morgan (UPenn PhD student) joined the mission for a week to study the rich collection of textile production tools from the citadel and the lower town of Kınık. Through the work of these three persons and the contributions of the trench supervisors, the soul of the Hellenistic town hidden beneath the surface of Kınık Höyük became every day more and more tangible.

The emphasis on the Hellenistic period occupation also dictated the strategy for the excavations in Operation B, located on the summit of the mound. This year, inside of a wall niche in one of the excavated mud-brick buildings, we found a large vessel likely connected with wine drinking in ritual context. Given the rarity of such a vessel, this discovery became front-page news for the website of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism for almost three weeks in the summer. Just as excitingly, at the end of the campaign we were finally able to grasp a new, and quite unusual form of spatial organization within the citadel during the 3rd-early 1st c. BCE. We now know that the top of the mound was likely encircled by a 1m thick defensive wall, and that houses and other buildings developed along the inner face of the wall.

Beneath the buildings, the center of the Hellenistic period mound experienced little building activity and was eventually used as a huge dump area. After the initial frustration of not finding structures in the area, the rich collection of bones and ceramics that slowly emerged day by day became the focus of our work and proved to be a privileged key to accessing daily life in the settlement. Since so little is known about the plans of the small Hellenistic centers in inner Anatolia, and classical authors claimed that even most of those with a large number of inhabitants could not be named a polis, this discovery provide us with the first glimpses about how those Anatolian Hellenistic towns were structured.

In the north-western portion of the summit of the mound Andrea Trameri (ISAW-NYU) and his team continued to work on the sacred area of the citadel. Beyond the Hellenistic level, they discovered an earlier level, likely dating to the Achaemenid period, which likely shares the same function of the later levels. Amazing finds came to light from the area, including a fragmentary zoomorphic rhyton of the Achaemenid tradition.

Investigation of the pre-classical occupation also continued on the citadel walls and in the lower town. While Nancy Highcock and Erkan Akbulut (ANEES-NYU) carried out our investigation of the diachronic occupation of the lower town, and reached the levels dating to the 7th-6th century BCE (KH-Period IV), Anna Lanaro and Lorenzo Castellano (ISAW-NYU), Marco De Pietri (Pavia University), and Phillip Stroshal (ANEES-NYU) reopened operation C, investigating the citadel walls on the south-western slope of the mound. Lorenzo excavated a narrow sounding trench inside the walls, whose goal was to reach and explore the Bronze Age occupation in the citadel. 14C analyses are ongoing and they will tell us whether his 5m deep trench accomplished this objective. Certainly, the structure he found, comprising the western wall of a huge pit coated with vegetal, possibly straw remains, came as a surprise, and I immediately reminded of the huge underground siloi of the Hittite sites, such as those uncovered at Sarissa Kuşaklı.

The result of the joint work of the team led by Anna and the two aforementioned MA students created the biggest visual impact at Kınık. They were able to expose some 40m of the perfectly preserved stone socle of the citadel fortification, as well as an imposing 6 x 6 meter tower protruding from the walls. A sounding into the walls’ masonry taught us the lesson that a huge fortification such as that of Kınık is not constructed using the same tried and tested technique, but that ad-hoc repairs and adjustments are numerous and diverse in method and material , both on its inner and the outer faces. One of these phases provided a post quem dating through the find of beautiful examples of Alışar IV ceramic fragments complete with the typical deer represented in a silhouette style. The presence of this excellent production is one more clue indicating the importance of the site in the early first millennium BCE. As usual, the good results of one campaign instill in the archaeologist the desire to dig more and more!

The 2015 campaign was intense due to both the exciting work and influx of researchers; we were able to finally open an addition to our dig-house in order to host 6 more people. For the majority of the season, we totaled 24 participants, which necessitated the buying of new furniture and supplies to fit the entire team (somewhat comfortably) in dining room! The highlight of the campaign was the 4th of July barbecue prepared by Phil and Nancy. From sunset through the night we were all able to enjoy good food, chat, and listen to music from the terrace outside the excavation house; the atmosphere heightened by our view over the old village of Keşlik on the slopes of the Melendiz volcanoes, the expansive plain to the south, and the majestic Taurus on the horizon.

Lorenzo d’Alfonso is Associate Professor of Ancient Western Asian Archaeology and History at ISAW, New York University. He obtained his PhD at the University of Florence in Aegean and Anatolian Antiquities, spent several years in Germany at the Universities of Mainz and Konstanz, and in Italy, at the university of Pavia. His research focuses on Anatolia and Syria between the LBA and the IA. He excavated in several sites in Italy, Syria and Turkey. Since 2011 he is the director of the excavations at Kinik Hoyuk, Nigde (TR).


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