An Assyrianised rock wall panel with figures found in Basb̧ük in southeastern Turkey (all images courtesy Antiquity Publications)

Usually the most interesting thing one might find in their basement is canned goods way past their expiration date, or a definitely haunted doll, but a peculiar discovery in the Turkish village of Başbük uncovered a subterranean chamber with far more historic implications. An incredible rock-incised art panel dating back to the Iron Age was found during a 2017 criminal investigation that led through a two-story house to an opening cut into the ground floor by looters.

During a 2018 rescue excavation, researchers moved through the opening and into an antechamber carved into the bedrock, which in turn connected to a long staircase obscured by centuries of accumulated sediment. Eventually, the team was able to access an upper and lower chamber, the deepest measurable point of which was 103 feet below ground. In the upper chamber, sediment removal revealed a panel depicting eight members of the Aramean pantheon in procession.

The 2018 vertical ground plan of the subterranean Basb̧ük complex (plan by Cevher Mimarlık, based on laser scanning; photograph A by C. Uludag; photographs B–C by M. Önal)

The stunning find is “the first known example of a Neo-Assyrian-period rock relief with Aramaic inscriptions, featuring unique, regional iconographic variations and Aramean religious themes.” That’s according to a paper published in the journal Antiquity by the research team who worked in 2018 to access the site before efforts were halted due to the instability of the space.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire of the early first millennium BCE ruled over the ancient Near East, divided into vassal city-states and provincial structures managed by governors and local elites who “expressed their power through elements of Assyrian courtly style,” the paper says. The Aramean people had lived in the region for centuries before the Assyrian conquest of Aram in the ninth century BCE.

Now under the legal protection of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, excavations are intended to resume after the site is made safe, but the wall panel and its surroundings have already offered researchers a wealth of cultural insights and investigatory leads to pursue.

The Basb̧ük divine procession panel with superimposed interpretative figure drawings (photograph by M. Önal; interpretative drawings by M. Önal, based on laser scans by Cevher Mimarlık)

The procession scene features an entourage of gods, beginning with Adad (or Hadad) depicted in “the ‘storm-god’ tradition of northern Syrian and south-eastern Anatolian iconography,” evident from his triple lightning fork and circled star. Adad’s importance in the pantheon is denoted by the fact that he is rendered at a larger scale than the others. The storm god is accompanied by an Ištar-type goddess consort wearing a double-horned, cylindrical polos (crown) embellished with a star. The pair is followed by another six figures. The researchers completed a detailed analysis of the figures to assess their relationship to the regional and historic evolution of styles throughout hundreds of years of the Assyrian Empire.

Interpretative drawings of the divine procession scene at Basb̧ük (above) and photographs of the figures (below) (photographs by Y. Koyuncu and M. Önal; interpretative drawings by M. Önal, based on laser scans by Cevher Mimarlık)

“Comparison with Middle Iron Age reliefs within the region indicate that the Başbük deities and symbols are adapted from the Neo-Assyrian style in a local Syro-Anatolian tradition,” the paper’s authors write. “It is this Syrian Aramean milieu — also confirmed by Aramaic inscriptions naming leading Aramean deities — that seems the most likely context for the subterranean rock wall panel at Başbük depicting a divine procession led by the Aramean god Hadad, his consort ’Attar‘ata and Sîn of Harran.”

The discovery of this procession of the gods is a parade-worthy celebration on its own, but may prove to be only the start of historic revelations to be uncovered once stabilization efforts are complete and more research can be done in the subterranean galleries.

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...

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