Archaeologists have dug up the remains of a grand statue at the ruins of an ancient citadel in Turkey. Although they aren’t sure of this mysterious woman’s identity, it’s challenging a lot of what we thought we knew about women in the ancient Near East.
The remains of the basalt statue are just 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) although the researchers have worked out that it probably once stood up to 5 meters (16.4 feet) tall. They recently unearthed the remains at the archaeological site of Tell Tayinat in modern-day southeast Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. This was once the site of Kunulua, the capital of the Iron Age Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina, until the Assyrian conquest of the site in 738 BCE.
“Her striking features include a ring of curls that protrude from beneath a shawl that covers her head, shoulders, and back,” Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.
“The statue was found face down in a thick bed of basalt stone chips that included shard-like fragments of her eyes, nose, and face, but also fragments of sculptures previously found elsewhere within the gate area,” says Harrison, ” including the head of the Neo-Hittite King Suppiluliuma that we discovered in 2012.”
“The recovery of these tiny fragments will make it possible to restore much if not all of the face and upper body of the original figure.”
Nearby inscribed monuments found around 50 years ago near Syria speak of a person named Kupapiyas, one of the only known named women from this region in the first millennium BCE. Little is known about her although she was undoubtedly of huge significance; perhaps someone important enough to have grand statues build for them.
“The discovery of this statue raises the possibility that women played a more prominent role in the political and religious lives of these early Iron Age communities than the existing historical record might suggest,” Harrison said.
“It is possible that she is a representation of Kubaba, divine mother of the gods of ancient Anatolia,” says Harrison. “However, there are stylistic and iconographic hints that the statue represents a human figure, possibly the wife of King Suppiluliuma, or even more intriguingly, a woman named Kupapiyas, who was the wife – or possibly mother – of Taita, the dynastic founder of ancient Tayinat.
The Tayinat Archaeological Project has been excavating the site since 1999 and since then archaeologists been blessed with a seemingly endless stream of incredible discoveries. Past work has revealed massive lion and sphinx sculptures also “guarding” the citadel gate complex, as well as a cache of inscribed tablets dating back to the Iron Age period between 1200 and 600 BCE.