End of Empire, part 2: Digging for Glory

Everyday life on the edge of the Assyrian Empire

From the heady heyday of the vast Assyrian Empire to the dramatic last days of its downfall, a unique archaeological excavation in southeastern Turkey reveals the story of everyday life in a small, bustling city on the upper Tigris. Hilary Stafford-Clark picks the highlights of the team’s graphic account

Hidden beneath the massive mound of Ziyaret Tepe, in the fertile plains of the upper Tigris in southeastern Turkey, lie buried the remains of the ancient fortified city of Tušhan, a provincial capital on the northern edge of the great Assyrian Empire, some 400 kilometres upstream from Nineveh. Excavations began here in 2000, meticulous fieldwork that would uncover a wealth of exceptional finds – from the palace of the governor, dubbed the “Bronze Palace”, and the mansions of the elite to the humbler barracks of rank-and-file soldiers – charting as they did so the entire history of the Empire, from its expansion in the early 9th century BC through to its eventual downfall in 612 BC.

A wealth of astonishing artefacts discovered includes elaborate wall paintings, a clay tablet inscribed in cuneiform script that hints at the existence of a previously unknown language, and a hoard of luxury items from a cremation ritual performed 2,800 years ago…

A book of revelations

The work at Ziyaret Tepe has been astonishingly successful in giving us an insight into the life and times of a small, bustling city which stood all those centuries ago as a bulwark guarding the northern limits of the Assyrian Empire. There is more to be done, but the results gained are impressive and the team is to be congratulated. Thanks are due to the Tekfen Foundation, whose generous support was essential.

The story of the project is detailed in a new book, published by Cornucopia. Accessibly written by the experts who dedicated so much of their lives to it, and copiously illustrated, Ziyaret Tepe: Exploring the Anatolian Frontier of the Assyrian Empire is a compelling account of the collaboration, science, commitment and imagination that go to make modern archaeology so absorbing (cornucopia.net, £16.95).

For more information about the discoveries at Ziyaret Tepe, www3.uakron.edu/ziyaret

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 58
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