Iron Age rock art has been found under the Turkish house

Assyrian rock fresco with motifs found in Basbuk in southeastern Turkey (all images provided by antiquity publications)

Usually the most interesting thing one would find in a basement would be canned goods that are past their expiration date, or a certainly haunted doll, but a strange discovery in the Turkish village of Basbuk revealed an underground room with much more historical relics. An impressive Iron Age rock art painting was found during a 2017 criminal investigation that led to a two-story house on the ground floor being torn down by thieves.

During the 2018 excavation, researchers moved from the opening to an antechamber carved into the rock, which in turn is connected by a long staircase obscured by centuries of accumulated sediment. Eventually, the team was able to get to the upper and lower chambers, the deepest measurable point being 103 feet underground. In the upper room, sediment removal revealed a painting depicting eight members of the Aramean deities in procession.

2018 vertical floor plan of the Basb̧ük Aquifer Complex (planned by Cevher Mimarlık, based on laser scanning; photo A by C. Uludag; BC photographs by M. Önal)

The startling find is “the first known example of Neo-Assyrian rock carving with Aramaic inscriptions, featuring unique iconographic variations and Aramaic religious themes.” This is according to a research paper published in the journal Antiquity By the research team that worked in 2018 to reach the site before efforts were halted due to the instability of the space.

The newspaper says that the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the early 1st millennium BC ruled the ancient Near East, divided into states – vassal cities and regional structures run by local rulers and elites who “expressed their power through elements of the Assyrian court style”. The Arameans lived in the area for centuries before the Assyrian conquest of Aram in the 9th century BC.

Now under the legal protection of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, excavations are set to resume after the site is safe, but the wall plaque and its surroundings have already provided researchers with a wealth of cultural insights and investigative evidence to follow.

Basb̧ük Divine Procession Panel with Overlayed Interpretive Graphics (Image by M. Önal; Interpretive graphics by M. Önal, based on laser scans by Cevher Mimarlık)

The procession scene shows a retinue of deities, beginning with Adad (or blacksmith) depicted in the ‘storm god’ tradition in the icons of northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia’, evident from the triple fork lightning and the circled star. The importance of Adad in the pantheon is indicated by the fact that it is presented On a larger scale than the others, the Storm God is accompanied by a consort of the goddess Ishtar who wears two cylindrical horns columns (Crown) decorated with a star. The pair is followed by six more numbers. Researchers have completed a detailed analysis of the numbers to assess their relationship to the regional and historical development of patterns over the hundreds of years of the Assyrian Empire.

Interpretive drawings of the divine procession scene in Basb̧ük (above) and portraits (below) (photos by Y. Koyuncu and M. Önal; interpretive drawings by M. Önal, based on laser scans by Cevher Mimarlık)

The authors of the paper wrote: “Comparison with Iron Age reliefs in the region indicates that the goddess Basbuk and its symbols were borrowed from the Neo-Assyrian style in a local Syrian-Anatolian tradition.” “It is this Syrian Aramaic environment—also confirmed by Aramaic inscriptions referring to the leading Aramaic deities—that seems likely the most likely context for the subterranean rock wall painting at Basbok depicting a divine procession led by the Aramaic god Haddad and his wife Atara Sin of Harran.”

The discovery of this procession of the gods is a celebration worthy of a show in itself, but it may prove to be just the beginning of historical discoveries to be revealed once installation efforts are complete and more research can be done in the underground galleries.

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