Archaeologists have discovered rare rock art in an Iron Age underground complex, located under a house in Basbuk, Turkey. The result, reported Wednesday in the magazine Antiquitydepicts a divine procession with eight deities across a 13-foot-high rock fresco using a mixture of cultural influences from the vast Assyrian Empire and the local deities of Syria and Anatolia.
This find is the first known example of a Neo-Assyrian rock inscription with Aramaic inscriptions and contains the oldest known regional attestation of Atargatis, the chief goddess of Syria.
The site has undergone salvage excavations by archaeologists who have dated rock art to the heyday of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the first millennium BC, originating in Mesopotamia, and the empire expanding into Anatolia between 900 and 600 BC.
The entrance room, carved into the limestone bedrock below the ground floor of the house, leads to the upper portico via a long, sloping staircase. After the sediment was removed, a wall painting showing the monumental art became visible.
According to scholars Jalal Uludag, Yusuf Koyuncu, Mehmet Unal and Selim Feroh Adali, the Assyrian art style became popular with the expansion of the empire.
“When the Assyrian Empire exercised political power in southeastern Anatolia, the Assyrian rulers expressed their power through art in the style of the Assyrian court,” Adali said in a statement.
Despite being in the Assyrian style, the inscriptions clearly identify the characters as local deities. This appears to indicate a period of integration rather than conquest, with accompanying inscriptions written in the local Aramaic language and artwork displaying religious themes from both Anatolia and Syria.
The rock painting depicts members of the Aramaean deities, with their lines engraved and painted black. All figures are shown in right-hand profile and are about two feet high, except for the deity leading the procession—the storm god Haddad—whose head is more than three and a half feet high.
The researchers were able to identify the inclusion of four local deities: Haddad, the first regional depiction of Atargatis, the moon god Sin, and the sun god Shamash.
Here, Haddad is shown with his string star and circular lightning. He is paired with the goddess Atargatis, who wears a double-horned cylindrical crown with a pointed star. Son is crowned with a crescent and a full moon, and Samash follows him with his winged crown with a solar disk.
Adali explained that “the inclusion of Syriac-Anatolian religious themes demonstrates the adaptation of Neo-Assyrian elements in ways one would not have expected from earlier discoveries.” “It reflects an early stage of the Assyrian presence in the region when more emphasis was placed on local elements.”
The consolidation effort may not be entirely successful, as the artwork and the underground complex remained incomplete. Researchers have discovered an inscription that could refer to Muken Apua, a neo-Assyrian official during the reign of Adad-Nirari III (811-783 BC), who may have been granted control of the region. It is believed that the Aboa component could have used the complex to integrate with – and try to win over – the local population.
The fact that the site was abandoned before it was completed seems to indicate that something affected the activities of the builders, such as rebellion, regional unrest, transfer of power, or simply a disrupted work schedule. Since there was room left to complete the figures’ bodies, researchers believe that these reliefs may have been outlines that would have been fully carved at a later time and relief panels.
By displaying images of the dominant ear of corn in the landscape, there is an emphasis on growth and fertility that the team believes is linked to an enduring tradition of farming on the local lands around Bashbok.
“Because this was a salvage excavation, we were not able to fully study the site,” Adali said. Future excavations of the lower galleries may reveal more about the underground complex, which totals about 100 feet. While authorities work to stabilize the tunnels, archaeological efforts are currently on hold.
The team wrote: “The painting of the procession, which was to receive visitors in the upper gallery, has not yet revealed all its secrets.”