Bringing daily life of the distant past closer

With its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the region of modern-day Turkey has witnessed the rise and fall of great civilizations and empires. Rich in stone, timber, and metals, this diverse landscape was home to cultures that developed extensive trading networks in antiquity. Locally sourced obsidian, prized for making sharp cutting tools, provided early farming villages with a valued trade commodity. Later, crafts people extended trade contacts to Assyria in the east and Troy in the west.  In the second millennium BC, the Hittites of central Turkey grew into a major power in the ancient Middle East. Following the fall of the Hittite New Kingdom around 1180 BC, many small city-states arose in Turkey and Syria, including one centered at Tell Tayinat and another at Zincirli Höyük, both of which became their own kingdoms.

The Oriental Institute’s expeditions to sites across this diverse landscape have helped reveal long sequences of occupation across the region, beginning with the rise of early farming villages to the growth of vast imperial powers. Ongoing OI projects are not only expanding our knowledge of the ruling powers and life of the elite, but also of the greater social and economic organization of cities.

Documenting a stone column base at the site of Tell Tayinat

Plan of an Iron Age palace showing the location of the column base (After Stephen Batiuk)

Tell Tayinat: A meeting point of cultures

36.1451º N, 36.2235º E

Located in Turkey, where the border with Syria meets the Mediterranean Sea, the fertile Amuq Valley—the classical “plain of Antioch”—was inhabited from the Neolithic period onward. Its location at the nexus of various trade routes invited contacts with the Mediterranean, eastern Turkey, northern Syria, and Iraq. The OI’s Syrian-Hittite Expedition conducted excavations in the Amuq Valley—where more than four hundred archaeological sites have been found—revealing the cultural diversity and long sequence of occupation in the region. Collectively, this history is known in archaeology as the Amuq sequence.

As part of this expedition, OI archaeologists excavated the remains of the Neo-Hittite city of Tell Tayinat (“mound of Tayinat”), the capital of a kingdom first called Palistin or Walistin and later known as Patina. The remains of its buildings and monuments—including great palaces with columned porticoes, temples, and gateways—attest to the city’s wealth and influence as a regional power, until it was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 738 BC.


On top of the mound, turned up by clandestine digging, there was a column base like some of those found in Senjirli years ago. Further basalt column bases in the village confirmed our impression that the mound gave promise of important 'late Hittite' evidence.

Draft of an article on the Tayinat expedition, written by OI archaeologists for the Illustrated London News, 1935

Excavating a Middle Bronze Age monumental building at the site of Zincirli (Photo Lucas Stephens)

Excavations at Zincirli, 2015 (Video Lucas Stephens)

Zincirli Höyük: Urban dynamics in an Iron Age stronghold

37.1039º N, 36.6764º E

The site of Zincirli Höyük contains the ruins of the ancient walled city of Sam’al, which was nestled in a fertile valley surrounded by heavily forested mountains. Three thousand years ago, at the time of the biblical kings of Israel, this forty-hectare (one hundred-acre) settlement was the capital of a small but powerful kingdom. Early excavations by German archaeologists discovered inscriptions detailing the city’s history and rulers, identifying it as the capital of an Iron Age Aramaean kingdom. The city had monumental palaces, massive outer walls, and ornate gates adorned with sculpted stone reliefs.

Since 2006, archaeologists from the OI and the University of Tübingen, Germany, have expanded excavations to new parts of the ancient city, including the lower town, in order to gain new insights into cultural diversity, economic strategies, and social organization in the kingdom of Sam’al, and, by extension, other Iron Age kingdoms of the ancient Middle East.

The Lion Gate at the ancient HIttite capital Hattusa

Fragment of a Hittite clay tablet

The Chicago Hittite Dictionary: A compendium of Hittite life and culture

The Hittite language, recorded in cuneiform writing on clay tablets for some five hundred years (circa 1650–1180 BC), is the oldest known member of the Indo-European family of languages. More than 30,000 Hittite texts survive—many of them fragmentary—and record laws, letters, annals, hymns and prayers, oracles and omens, dreams, myths, regulations for religious and ritual practice, and even ancient dictionaries. The majority of Hittite tablets were excavated from the ruins of the ancient Hittite capital Hattusa.

The OI started the Chicago Hittite Dictionary Project in 1975 with an aim to provide a complete dictionary of the Hittite language. From “head” to “toe” and from “life” to “death”—and everything in between—the dictionary serves as a compendium of Hittite life and culture. As shown in the table to the right, English, also an Indo-European language, and Hittite share some grammar and words.

OI Museum Artifacts