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Some Comments on a Few Intriguing Seals Found in the EBA Settlements at Hacılar Büyük Höyük and a Seal from Burdur Museum
Gülsün Umurtak
The Hacılar settlement was discovered in 1956 by James Mellaart, who was investigating a group of painted pottery that had been found at Burdur, and he began excavations here the following year. The Hacılar excavations, which continued for four years, brought to light impressive and authentic finds that revealed the existence of a culture previously unknown on the Anatolian Plateau and also introduced concepts such as the Neolithic and Chalcolithic to the world of scientific research. The fact that the excavations site where significant and impressive finds had been uncovered was left without the work being completed led to unfortunate consequences in the following years, such as illegal digs and damage to the settlement. As a result of the research project that was started in 1976 in the same region by Refik Duru long after the end of the Hacılar Excavations, all the stages of which the writer of this article was involved in, Burdur and its surrounding area has become one of the best known regions for the prehistoric periods of Anatolia.

The höyük, an oval shaped settlement approximately 280x240 m in dimension, is located around 400 m north of the mound previously excavated at Hacılar (Fig. 2). The excavations that began under my direction in 2011 represent the latest stage in this long term project. During the first excavations season work was carried out in Sondages A, B and C at the highest point on the northern side of the mound, with the aim of finding out about the cultural sequence of the höyük. In the 2012 season Sondages A and B were combined and the excavations area was extended. Three separate building levels were identified in each of these three trenches. On the basis of the finds uncovered that were already known from the Burdur Region, especially the pottery, these levels are thought to date to the middle of the Early Bronze Age (EBA).

This sounding was initially opened up in the first year on the western slope of the höyük as a Trial Sondage (DA2) 5 m in diameter, and was then extended in every direction in 2012 until it reached 130 x 15 m in dimension. In the Western Slope Sondage a multi-roomed defence system, dating to the Early Bronze Age I, with carefully planned large “saw edge” bends on a north-south axis was uncovered. So far 14 small rooms / sections have been excavated and among these an entrance gate into the city / Western Gate (Batı Kapısı-BK) that was obviously used over a long period as it had been restored and added to several times (Propilon). The outer walls made of medium sized stones that formed the western boundary at this point were 1.50-1.60 m in thickness and reached a height of 2 m in places. The upper sections of the defence system walls were constructed of mud bricks (kerpiç). The small rooms (casemates) adjacent to the defence wall had average dimensions of 3.85 x 6.10, 4.5 x 5.5, 3.60 x 5.00 m and the thickness of the inner walls was 1.10 m, 1.30 m and 1.45 m; the doors opened up to an area on the eastern side (Figs. 3-4). Although we know nothing about the character or details of this settlement, it is clear from the EBA I buildings such as the houses, the residence / palace of the ruling class and the temple that the settlement was rich enough to need to be protected by such an extraordinarily strong defence system as the one described above. The 14C readings carried out on the burnt grain particles found at this settlement in 2011 gave dates of 3010-2980 BC.

A rich pottery repertoire, a number of clay and stone idols, metal pins and stamp seals made of clay and stone were uncovered in the EBA I and EBA II settlements at Hacılar Büyük Höyük. Three seals found in the first two seasons of excavations and one seal kept in the Burdur Museum will be evaluated below. The first of the two seals (Fig. 5) that belong to EBA I settlement was found among the pieces of a broken jar on a raised work surface made of kerpiç in front of the gate of Building G1 that forms the outer circle of the defence system. The seal was probably originally kept inside the earthenware jar. The other small seal was found inside Building G4 (Fig. 6).

Some of the stamp seals described here (Fig. 5, 7-8) are different in size from the seal types and dimensions usually associated with the Early Bronze Age. It is likely that the function and use of these larger carefully made seals are different from those of the other type of seals. It is apparent that in this period stamp seals were not really made according to individual preferences but, especially the seals with symbols and signs on them, were made with the permission of a central authority. The fact that one of the seals from Hacılar Büyük Höyük (Fig. 5) was found among the pieces of a broken jar and scattered grain kernels on a work surface is mentioned above. There are very interesting examples of valuable items kept in grain storage areas from the Early Neolithic Period onwards. The defence system that surrounded the Hacılar Büyük Höyük EBA I settlement was undoubtedly built to be extremely strong in order to protect a large, distinguished city and its significant wealth. A similar situation can be seen in the Bademağacı EBA II settlement. A bulla with a stamp impression on it found in one of the storage buildings in this settlement and numerical tablets and unusual seals, metal objects found in the same building group give some insight into the central authority mentioned above and the use and functions of these seals. In this context, as discussed above, it can be assumed that the small size ordinary seals with plain designs on the stamp surfaces were used in various tasks of everyday life, usually to express ownership (as is generally accepted), for example in the closing of containers and securing of boxes and the sealing of the doors of storage rooms. The larger size seals from Hacılar Büyük Höyük described here with symbols on the stamp surfaces and the small number of examples with compositions that could be considered unique were probably only produced to be used at settlements for the official tasks of a central authority.

Is it possible to say that the designs on the stamp surfaces of the unusual seals from Hacılar Büyük Höyük are only emblems, graphic symbols or decorative motifs? It can be seen that the compositions on these seals are deliberate applications and that these “symbols” can be repeated on the same seal or another one (Fig. 5-6, 9; 7, 10). The stages that societies go through before the knowledge and use of writing are not yet adequately attested to or understood. Some of the incised symbols found at Tordos, a Vinča settlement in Romania, appear on pottery; the symbols on baked clay tablets found at Tartaria and the Gradeshnitsa plaque and the Karanovo seal dated to 1000 years earlier than the Hacılar Büyük Höyük EBA I settlement are extremely interesting but are not usually accepted as being logographs or phonographs. I do not want to make suggestions that cannot be proved concerning the meanings of the symbols on the seals being studied (Table) and am aware that if one of these signs (or some of them) also represents a word, it should also have a phonetic equivalent. The view put forward by H. Th. Bossert that “there can be no cultures that have owners of seals but are without a knowledge of writing” has lost its effect in the approximately half a century that has passed since it was put forward due to new concrete archaeological finds that prove otherwise. However, I believe that the subject of whether unusual seals containing symbols/signs that belong to pre-writing periods played any prior (forerunner) role in the development of future writing systems needs to be discussed.

Could the appearance of architectural preferences not previously seen in Anatolia, the pottery groups different to earlier ones and the unusual seals seen at the Hacılar Büyük Höyük EBA I settlement be explained by the arrival of a new ethnic group into the region or, to use a more specific expression, by the Luwian factor?

Prof. Dr. Gülsün Umurtak,
İstanbul Üniversitesi, Edebiyat Fakültesi,
Protohistorya ve Önasya Arkeolojisi Anabilim Dalı,
Ordu Cad. 196, 34134 Laleli - İstanbul
E-mail: gulsunumurtak@gmail.com

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