Turkey’s Arslantepe Mound added to UNESCO World Heritage List

Arslantepe, an archaeological site in Malatya, Turkey dating back to 6th millennium BCE, boasts an adobe palace and the earliest swords in the world.

An archaeological mound in southeastern Turkey was chosen for UNESCO’s World Heritage List on July 26, 2021. All in all, there were a total of seven sites added to the World Heritage List this year.

According to UNESCO, four of the sites were added for their natural attributes: Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island (Japan), Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats (Republic of Korea), Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (Thailand) and Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands (Georgia). And three inscribed for their cultural properties: Arslantepe Mound (Turkey), Extension of Defence Lines of Amsterdam, henceforth to be known as Dutch Water Defence Lines (Netherlands) and the transnational site of Colonies of Benevolence (Belgium and Netherlands).

Sculptures depicting a man and two lions at Arslantepe Mound (meaning “Lion Hill” in Turkish).
Sculptures depicting a man and two lions at Arslantepe Mound (meaning “Lion Hill” in Turkish). (Courtesy of Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of Culture and Tourism / AA)

The UNESCO website describes Arslantepe Mound as “a 30-metre-tall archaeological tell [an artificial mound formed by the accumulated remains of ancient settlements] located in the Malatya plain, 12 km south-west of the Euphrates River.”

According to a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on July 26, 2021, Arslantepe Mound had been on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List since 2014, and it is one of Turkey’s “earliest religious and civil sites.” The mound is thought to date back 8,000 years. UNESCO notes “Archaeological evidence from the site testifies to its occupation from at least the 6th millennium BCE up until the late Roman period.”

Authorities say the addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List means Arslantepe will become more of a tourist attraction.
Authorities say the addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List means Arslantepe will become more of a tourist attraction. (Courtesy of Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of Culture and Tourism / AA)

With the addition of Arslantepe Mound (meaning “Lion Hill” in Turkish), there are now 19 Turkish sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The mound has been home to many civilisations over centuries. UNESCO details them as “The earliest layers of the Early Uruk period are characterized by adobe houses from the first half of the 4th millennium BCE. The most prominent and flourishing period of the site was in the Late Chalcolithic period, during which the so-called palace complex was constructed. 

Considerable evidence also testifies to the Early Bronze Age period, most prominently identified by the Royal Tomb complex. The archaeological stratigraphy then extends to the Paleo-Assyrian and Hittite periods, including Neo-Hittite levels.”

Drawings on stones at Arslantepe, in Malatya, southwestern Turkey.
Drawings on stones at Arslantepe, in Malatya, southwestern Turkey. (Courtesy of Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of Culture and Tourism / AA)

The first archaeological digs at the site were carried out by a French team led by Louis Delaporte in 1931. Since 1961, excavations have been carried out by a team from Roma La Sapienza University. The excavations revealed a palace made of adobe bricks and fitted with rain drainage infrastructure, as well as more than 2,000 seals, and pottery that is similar to those found in Mesopotamia.

According to UNESCO, “the site illustrates the processes which led to the emergence of a State society in the Near East and a sophisticated bureaucratic system that predates writing.” 

UNESCO also points out that “exceptional metal objects and weapons have been excavated at the site, among them the earliest swords so far known in the world, which suggests the beginning of forms of organized combat as the prerogative of an elite, who exhibited them as instruments of their new political power.”

Malatya’s governor Aydin Barus said the city was thrilled about the addition of Arslantepe Mound to the UNESCO World Heritage List, and that ongoing excavations could possibly show a history going even further back. Barus added that the excavations that began in the 1930s have continued to this day, and that “the findings that have been brought to daylight until 1961 can be seen at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations [in Ankara].” Barus also added that the listing will positively affect Malatya’s tourism.

The entrance to Arslantepe Mound and Arslantepe Open Air Museum.
The entrance to Arslantepe Mound and Arslantepe Open Air Museum. (Volkan Kasik / AA)

Courtesy: TRTWorld and agencies

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