Iron Age rock art of ancient gods discovered under Turkish house

An ancient art dating back to the Iron Age has been discovered by looters under a house in Turkey. The art, which is carved out of rock, was found in an underground complex hidden under a domestic house in the remote village of Başbük in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border.

Although the art was first discovered by looters, the myriad tunnels have now been investigated by archaeologists after a rescue mission. They dated it to the first millennium BC, probably between 900 and 600 BC, when the region and much of the Near East was controlled by the Neo-Assyrians.

The work is incised on a 3.96 m long rock wall panel, with the outlines painted black. It shows a procession of eight Syro-Anatolian deities. They include the storm god Hadad, the main goddess of Syria, Atargatis, the moon god Sîn and the sun god Šamaš, followed by others more difficult to identify. An Aramaic inscription may bear the name of a known Neo-Assyrian official, Mukīn-abūa, who may have controlled the region.

“[This rock wall panel] is the earliest known example of a Neo-Assyrian period rock relief with Aramaic inscriptions, featuring unique regional iconographic variations and Aramaic religious themes,” the team wrote in the research paper, published in the review antiquity.

Because ancient artists only finished the upper bodies or heads of figures and left the space below untouched, it seems that the ancient work was never finished. This could be due to “regional unrest, a transition in power, or another reason affecting the work schedule,” the team writes.

Further research is needed to learn more about the complex, which is over 30m long and descends underground along rock-cut steps to a lower gallery, where further finds can await. Work is currently suspended while authorities secure the unstable tunnels.

“The processional panel, which would have welcomed visitors to the upper gallery, has not yet given up all of its secrets,” the team writes. “The Başbük rock wall panel is among the few such reliefs found since the mid-19th century and future excavations may uncover more.”

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