The Wrath of the Hittites

Digs & Discoveries November/December 2019

(Lucas Stephens)

A thriving Bronze Age settlement at the site of Zincirli in southeastern Turkey was suddenly and catastrophically destroyed more than 3,500 years ago, archaeologists have discovered. A joint team from the Universities of Chicago and Tubingen uncovered two buildings that burned down, forcing their inhabitants to flee and leave behind their personal belongings. However, the layer of charred debris that covered the site preserved the buildings’ contents, including an array of bowls, drinking cups, cooking pots, storage jars, and other domestic objects. “It’s not that unusual for ancient settlements to have been burned and abandoned,” says project codirector Virginia Herrmann of the University of Tubingen, “but we were definitely surprised to find such good preservation.”

The project leaders believe that they know who was responsible for the swath of destruction: Hattusili I (r. ca. 1650–1620 B.C.), one of the first kings of the Hittite Empire, which was expanding its territory from central Anatolia during the second millennium B.C. and likely sacked the city. Says Herrmann, “The ability to connect this destruction to a known king provides a more precise historical context for our archaeological evidence.”

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