This Ancient Underground City Was Big Enough to House 20,000 People
Chicago, like a lot of other modern cities, has a hidden secret: It’s home to miles of passageways deep underground that allow commuters to get from one place to another without risking nasty weather.
Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and Dallas all have their own networks of underground tunnels, as well. But there’s a place in Eastern Europe that puts those forgotten passages to shame. Welcome to Derinkuyu — the underground city.
A Subterranean Suburb
Picture this. It’s 1963, and you’re on a construction crew renovating a home. You bring your sledgehammer down on a soft stone wall, and it all crumbles away, revealing a large, snaking passageway so long that you can’t see where it ends.
This is the true story of how the undercity at Derinkuyu was (re-)discovered. While those workers knew they’d found something special, they couldn’t know just how massive their discovery had been.
Stretching 250 feet (76 meters) underground with at least 18 distinct levels, Derinkuyu was a truly massive place to live. Yes, live. There was room for 20,000 people to stay here, complete with all of the necessities (and a few luxuries) — freshwater, stables, places of worship, and even wineries and oil presses.
It isn’t the only underground city in the area known as Cappadocia, but it’s the deepest one we know of, and for many years, it was believed to be the largest as well. (Another recently discovered location may have been home to even more people.)
Derinkuyu and the other 40-ish underground cities nearby are made possible thanks to the prevalence of tuff in the area, a kind of volcanic rock that solidifies into something soft and crumbly. That makes it relatively easy to carve enormous subterranean passages — but why would you want to? The answer lies in the cities’ origins.
Defense Against the Sword Arts
Derinkuyu isn’t exactly inhospitable on the surface level (after all, that’s where the people who found it were living). So why did ancient people decide to build their living quarters below the surface? Because they weren’t hiding from the broiling sun or annual meteor showers.
They were clearly hiding from invading forces, with massive, rolling stone doors to block off each floor should any armies breach the fortress. But who were the people of the caves, and who were they defending themselves against? The answer to the second question depends on the answer to the first.
The earliest known people to live in the area were the Hittites, who ruled the Turkish Peninsula from about the 17th to 13th centuries B.C.E. — well over three millennia ago.
Some scholars point to artefacts with Hittite cultural elements, such as a small statue of a lion, found in the underground caves. That suggests these ancient people would have been taking refuge from invading Thracians.
If they were, it didn’t work forever: A tribe of Thracians, the Phrygians, conquered the area next. It’s possible that the Hittites never lived underground, however; an alternate theory says that it was the Phrygians, not the Hittites, who spawned the subterranean city.
Since the construction of many of the large underground complexes is dated to some time between the 10th and 7th centuries B.C.E., and the Phrygians lived there until the 6th century B.C.E., they’re generally regarded to have created the first caves. In that case, they may have been hiding from the Persian host under Cyrus the Great that eventually did take over the region.
Lost and Found
The Persians would have used those caves as well, as would all of the people to come after. Eventually, according to some sources, early Christians around the 2nd century C.E. took root in the caves as they fled Roman persecution.
This pattern continued throughout the centuries and millennia to come — in fact, Greek Christians were still using the caves as late as 1923. It’s pretty incredible, then, that the caves would have been forgotten in the 40-odd years between their last residents and their “re-discovery.”
It’s more likely, then, that it wasn’t the caves themselves, but the extent of the caves that were forgotten. While the holes burrowed into the area’s fairy chimneys would have been obvious even from a distance, it’s likely that the people living in more modern accommodations never realized that the caves in the wilderness outside of the urban area reached 18 stories down.
2,000-year-old Roman sewage system unearthed in southwestern Turkey
The Anadolu Agency reports that a Roman-era sewerage system was discovered in southwestern Turkey’s ancient city of Tripolis by a team of researchers led by Bahadir Duman of Pamukkale University.
The excavation uncovered a 2,000-year-old sewage system in southwestern Turkey.
The Roman-era sewage system, 160 centimetres (5.2 feet) in height and 70 centimetres (2.3 feet) wide were discovered in the ancient city of Tripolis in the Buldan district of the Denizli province, said Bahadir Duman, head of the excavation team and a lecturer at the Archeology Department of the Pamukkale University.
“The gigantic sewage system has dimensions that a person can easily enter and walk in,” said Duman.
Noting that the sewerage system reveals the Roman architecture and engineering, he said: “The difference between the system in Tripolis and the others is that the sewers have been preserved until today.
The main sewage system is one of the rare examples. Thus, it’s important.”
Turkey: Statue of Roman Emperor Hadrian found in southwestern Aydin province
The news was released today that an ancient statue of the famous Roman emperor Hadrian was found in the southwestern Aydin province of Turkey, where the ancient city Alabanda once stood. It has been dated to the 2nd century CE, some 1900 years ago.
This discovery is being placed among the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Turkey.
The statue is fragmented but the head has survived to our present-day and the original is believed to have been about 2.5 meters tall (8.2 feet).
“The statue, which we found in six pieces, will be one of the most important works in the museum. … For more detailed information about the statue, we are working to find inscriptions containing honorifics.” Ali Yalcin Tavukcu,
lecturer in the Department of Classical Archaeology at Ataturk University.
Hadrian is commonly believed to have ruled from 117 CE until his death in 138 CE.
Ali Yalcin Tavukcu reported that Hadrian visited the city in 120 CE and that this statue was likely created for the occasion.
The culture and tourism director for Aydin, Umut Tuncer, expressed his hope that this discovery will increase the amount of tourism in the area.
The Romans had taken control of the region around the turn of the first millennium CE and their successors maintained control until the Ottomans seized Constantinople in 1453.
Hadrian might be most popularly known today for the wall he is credited with building in Britain, known as Hadrian’s Wall. He built this as a divider and defence against the northerners that he saw as barbarians.
As of now, I have not seen any reports of forensic sciences being applied to the statue to confirm the 2nd century CE date.
Any mentions of dating methods, as well as why they think it’s Hadrian, has been absent from the reports I’ve seen.
More information is sure to be released about this discovery so stay tuned.
2,200 year-old mythological masks unearthed in Turkey’s Mugla
Archaeologists in southwestern Turkey’s Muğla have recently uncovered 10 rock carvings of mythological masks in the ancient city of Stratonikeia.
An excavation team, headed by professor Bilal Söğüt of Pamukkale University, continues year-round work at the ancient city, where artefacts from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Anatolian beyliks (principalities), Ottoman and Republican periods have been found.
The team had already cleaned and repaired 33 face carvings, unearthed them over the last two years, and prepared them for display. Their latest efforts uncovered 10 more masks at a 2,200-year-old ancient theatre, taking the total number of masks to 43.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Söğüt said the 3,000-year-old ancient city, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, bears traces from every period of history.
He added that they have been working on different structures, some dating back to antiquity, in the city.
“We have been working at the ancient theatre for two years. We found 33 face moulds during our excavations here.
Today, we unearthed 10 more. Hopefully, we will be able to find all the masks at the theatre in their own places and arrange them in their original order. That will be very pleasant for us,” he said.
Söğüt explained that the masks surround the stage of the ancient theatre.
“When people came here in ancient times, they were impressed by the splendour and magnificence of the theatre even before entering it. We have been slowly uncovering its richness and splendour.
This also the value ancient people gave to culture, art and architecture.”
He said besides the characters in the plays performed at the theatre, the masks depict ancient gods and goddesses, as well as animal figures.
“We have brought the blocks with face masks to the city’s ‘stone hospital’ for cleaning and conservation.” The newly discovered masks will also be put on display once the work is complete, said Söğüt.
Study Estimates Life Expectancy in Bronze Age Turkey is 35 to 40 Years
Analysis of the remains of more than 40 people suggests that 35 to 40 years of age was the average life span in central Anatolia some 5,000 years ago, according to a Hurriyet Daily News report.
Archaeological excavations at the Küllüoba Mound, which dates back to the first Bronze Age in the Seyitgazi district of the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir, have unearthed more than 40 burial sites, including women and children, and research has found that people lived there an average life of 40 years 5,000 years ago.
The mound is believed to be the first urbanization structure of 5,000 years ago in Anatolia.
Hacettepe University Anthropology Department lecturer Professor Yılmaz Selim Erdal said the examinations on the skeletons revealed that people lived to 40 years of age 5,000 years ago.
“The life expectancy of the Early Bronze Age and its contemporaries is around 35-40 years. Infant and child mortality is very high. The limited food sources and the infectious diseases were important factors,” he added.
Excavations in Küllüoba were initiated in 1996. In the past, objects revealing the cultural characteristics of the Early Bronze Age, as well as animal bones and settlements, were found in the excavation area. During the excavations, sarcophaguses and potteries dating back to 3,000 B.C. were found.
A team of 35 faculty members and students from Batman and Hacettepe universities, led by Bilecik Şeyh Edebali University, that have been carrying out works at the Küllüoba Mound have discovered a new cemetery area.
Believed to date back 5,000 years, some 40 tombs were unearthed in the area. Inside the tombs were the skeletons of children with their knees pulled to the abdomen, which is often referred to as the position in the mother’s womb. Seals, hair rings and jewelry, known as gifts to the dead, were also found in the tombs.
Erdal said that they saw the traces of the transition from the Late Chalcolithic to the Early Bronze Age in great detail during the excavations in Küllüoba, which means a historical transition.
Stating that different types of tombs were found in the mound, Erdal said, “The most important element we see here is an area where human communities from different regions coexist and there is a variety of burial traditions due to the coexistence of different cultures, perhaps different ethnic groups. We can say that it is the only settlement where different burials are seen all together.”
People died at 40
Stating that the skeletons provided important data on the historical transition, Erdal explained that the skeletons dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. showed that people lived only 40 years of age at that time, and then lost their lives.
Explaining that the significant part of the skeletons were children and women, Erdal said, “Most of the skeletons are of infants, children and young individuals. Of course, if we consider that the life expectancy of the people of this period was extremely limited, that is, they lived an average of 35-40 years, we can actually say how painful this transformation was. Wars and fights were also effective in this.
The life expectancy of the Early Bronze Age and its contemporaries is around 35-40 years. People died at a very young age. Infant and child mortality was very high. The limited food resources and infectious diseases were also factors, too.”
A Bilecik Şeyh Edebali University academic and the head of the excavations, Murat Türkteki said that during the Küllüoba excavations, the first urbanization structure in Anatolia 5,000 years ago was unearthed.
Stating that this year’s works, mostly structures and tombs dating back to 3,000 B.C. were unearthed, he said, “We work in two areas. There was an important breaking point in Anatolia 5,000 years ago, especially in terms of the beginning of urbanization. Küllüoba also gives us important information on this subject.
The excavations this year help us to understand the changes at this stage; we see that the boundaries are wider and larger. We started working in the cemetery area in previous years.
We reached more than 40 graves. Especially the fact that different types of tombs are seen together makes Küllüoba different and special in this sense.
The skeletons were sent to Hacettepe University Ancient DNA Laboratory for examination. It will provide data such as diseases, causes of death and living conditions. Ancient DNA studies will reveal kinship relationships more clearly.”
An ancient statue of the mythological goddess Hygieia – seen as the guardian or personification of health – has been discovered in an ancient city in western Turkey, according to a researcher.
“We unearthed a statue of Hygieia, known as the goddess of health and cleanliness, the daughter of Asclepius, the god of health in Greek and Roman mythology,” Gökhan Coşkun, who coordinates the dig in the ancient city of Aizanoi, told Anadolu Agency.
Noting that the marble statue’s head is missing – the fate of much ancient statuary – Coşkun, an archaeologist at Dumlupinar University in central Turkey, said: “Unfortunately, it hasn’t survived to the present day, but in its current form, we can see that this statue is about the size of a human.”
“During past digs in Aizanoi, finds related to Hygieia were also found,” he said. “This situation makes us think that there may have been some construction and buildings related to the health cult in Aizanoi during the Roman era.”
Seen as boasting a history rivaling Ephesus, another iconic ancient city in Turkey, Aizanoi was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2012, with excavation efforts ongoing now for almost a decade.
Coşkun said that around 100 workers and 25 technical personnel are working on digs at the nearly 5,000-year-old site.
“We’re trying to reveal the columned galleries on the west and south wings of the agora (bazaar) and the shops right behind them,” he added.
Coşkun added that the statue of Hygieia – related to the modern word “hygiene” – was unearthed inside the columned gallery on the south wing of the agora.
Located 57 kilometres (35 miles) from the Kütahya city centre, the ancient site saw its golden age in the second and third centuries AD and became “the centre of the episcopacy in the Byzantine era,” according to the website of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry.
Recent excavations around the Temple of Zeus indicate the existence of several levels of settlement in the city dating from as far back as 3000 BC. In 133 BC, it was captured by the Roman Empire.
In 1824, European travellers rediscovered the ancient site.
Between 1970 and 2011, the German Archeology Institute unearthed a theatre and a stadium, as well as two public baths, a gymnasium, five bridges, a trading building, necropolises and the sacred cave of Metre Steune – a cultist site thought to be used prior to the first century BC.
Since 2011, Turkish archaeologists have been carrying out the work at the ancient site. This year, the excavations were transferred to the Kutahya Museum Directorate.
When German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt first began excavating on a Turkish mountaintop 25 years ago, he has convinced the buildings he uncovered were unusual, even unique.
Atop a limestone plateau near Urfa called Gobekli Tepe, Turkish for “Belly Hill”, Schmidt discovered more than 20 circular stone enclosures. The largest was 20m across, a circle of stone with two elaborately carved pillars 5.5m tall at its centre. The carved stone pillars – eerie, stylised human figures with folded hands and fox-pelt belts – weighed up to 10 tons. Carving and erecting them must have been a tremendous technical challenge for people who hadn’t yet domesticated animals or invented pottery, let alone metal tools. The structures were 11,000 years old, or more, making them humanity’s oldest known monumental structures, built not for shelter but for some other purpose.
The structures were 11,000 years old, or more, making them humanity’s oldest known monumental structures
After a decade of work, Schmidt reached a remarkable conclusion. When I visited his dig house in Urfa’s old town in 2007, Schmidt – then working for the German Archaeological Institute – told me Gobekli Tepe could help rewrite the story of civilisation by explaining the reason humans started farming and began living in permanent settlements. The stone tools and other evidence Schmidt and his team found at the site showed that the circular enclosures had been built by hunter-gatherers, living off the land the way humans had since before the last Ice Age. Tens of thousands of animal bones that were uncovered were from wild species, and there was no evidence of domesticated grains or other plants.
Schmidt thought these hunter-gatherers had come together 11,500 years ago to carve Gobekli Tepe’s T-shaped pillars with stone tools, using the limestone bedrock of the hill beneath their feet as a quarry.
Carving and moving the pillars would have been a tremendous task, but perhaps not as difficult as it seems at first glance. The pillars are carved from the natural limestone layers of the hill’s bedrock. Limestone is soft enough to work with the flint or even wood tools available at the time, given practice and patience. And because the hill’s limestone formations were horizontal layers between 0.6m and 1.5m thick, archaeologists working at the site believe ancient builders just had to cut away the excess from the sides, rather than from underneath as well. Once a pillar was carved out, they then shifted it a few hundred metres across the hilltop, using rope, log beams and ample manpower.
Schmidt thought that small, nomadic bands from across the region were motivated by their beliefs to join forces on the hilltop for periodic building projects, hold great feasts and then scatter again. The site, Schmidt argued, was a ritual centre, perhaps some sort of burial or death cult complex, rather than a settlement.
That was a big claim. Archaeologists had long thought complex ritual and organised religion were luxuries that societies developed only once they began domesticating crops and animals, a transition known as the Neolithic. Once they had a food surplus, the thinking went, they could devote their extra resources to rituals and monuments.
Gobekli Tepe, Schmidt told me, turned that timeline upside down. The stone tools at the site, backed up by radiocarbon dates, placed it firmly in the pre-Neolithic era. More than 25 years after the first excavations there, there is still no evidence for domesticated plants or animals. And Schmidt didn’t think anyone lived at the site full-time. He called it a “cathedral on a hill”.
More than 25 years after the first excavations there, there is still no evidence for domesticated plants or animals.
If that was true, it showed that complex ritual and social organisation actually came before settlement and agriculture. Over the course of 1,000 years, the demands of gathering nomadic bands together in one place to carve and move huge T-pillars and build the circular enclosures prompted people to take the next step: to regularly host large gatherings, people needed to make food supplies more predictable and dependable by domesticating plants and animals. Rituals and religion, it seemed, launched the Neolithic Revolution.
The next day, I drove with Schmidt to the hilltop before dawn. I wondered, mystified and awestruck, among the pillars as Schmidt, his head wrapped in a white cloth to protect it from the blazing sun, oversaw a small team of German archaeologists and workers from the small village down the road.
Schmidt had just published his first reports on Gobekli Tepe the year before, setting the small world of Neolithic archaeology experts abuzz. But the site still had a sleepy, forgotten feel, with excavation areas covered by makeshift corrugated steel roofs and potholed dirt roads winding up to the mountaintop dig site from the valley below.
Schmidt’s take on the site’s striking T-pillars and large, round “special buildings” captivated colleagues and journalists when they were first published in the mid-2000s. Breathless media reports called the site the birthplace of religion; the German magazine Der Spiegel compared the fertile grasslands around the site to the Garden of Eden.
Soon, people from around the world were flocking to see Gobekli Tepe for themselves. Within a decade, the hilltop was totally transformed. Until the civil war in nearby Syria disrupted tourism in the region in 2012, work on the site often slowed to a crawl as busloads of curious tourists crowded around open excavation trenches to see what some were calling the world’s first temple and made it impossible to manoeuvre wheelbarrows on the narrow paths.
Over the past five years, the mountaintop on the outskirts of Urfa has been reshaped once again. Today, roads and car parks and a visitor’s centre can accommodate curious travellers from around the world. In 2017, corrugated steel sheds were replaced by a state-of-the-art, swooping fabric-and-steel shelter covering the central monumental buildings. swooping fabric-and-steel shelter covering the central monumental buildings. The Şanlıurfa Archaeology and Mosaic Museum, , built-in 2015 in central Urfa, is one of Turkey’s largest museums; it features a full-scale replica of the site’s largest enclosure and its imposing T-pillars, allowing visitors to get a feel for the monumental pillars and examine their carvings up close.
In 2018, Gobekli Tepe was added to the Unesco World Heritage register, and Turkish tourism officials declared 2019 the “Year of Gobekli Tepe”, making the ancient site the face of its global promotion campaign. “I still remember the site as a remote place on a mountaintop,” said Jens Notroff, a German Archaeological Institute archaeologist who began working at the site as a student in the mid-2000s. “It’s changed completely.”
Schmidt, who died in 2014, didn’t live to see the site’s transformation from dusty mountaintop dig to major tourist attraction. But his discoveries there spurred global interest in the Neolithic transition – and in the last few years, new discoveries at Gobekli Tepe and closer looks at the results of earlier excavations are upending Schmidt’s initial interpretations of the site itself.
Work on foundations needed to support the site’s swooping fabric canopy required archaeologists to dig deeper that Schmidt ever had. Under the direction of Schmidt’s successor, Lee Clare, a German Archaeological Institute team dug several “keyhole” trenches down to the site’s bedrock, several metres below the floors of the large buildings. “We had a unique chance,” Clare said, “to go look in the lowest layers and deposits of the site.”
New discoveries at Gobekli Tepe and closer looks at the results of earlier excavations are upending Schmidt’s initial interpretations of the site.
What Clare and his colleagues found may rewrite prehistory yet again. The digs revealed evidence of houses and year-round settlement, suggesting that Gobekli Tepe wasn’t an isolated temple visited on special occasions but a rather a thriving village with large special buildings at its centre.
The team also identified a large cistern and channels for collecting rainwater, key to supporting a settlement on the dry mountaintop, and thousands of grinding tools for processing grain for cooking porridge and brewing beer. “Gobekli Tepe is still a unique, special site, but the new insights fit better with what we know from other sites,” Clare said. “It was a fully-fledged settlement with permanent occupation. It’s changed our whole understanding of the site.”
Meanwhile, Turkish archaeologists working in the rugged countryside around Urfa have identified at least a dozen other hill-top sites with similar – if smaller – T-pillars, dating from around the same time period. “It’s not a unique temple,” said Austrian Archaeological Institute researcher Barbara Horejs, an expert on the Neolithic who was not part of the recent research efforts. “That makes the story much more interesting and exciting.” Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy went as far as saying that this area could be referred to as the “pyramids of south-east Turkey“.
Rather than a centuries-long building project inspiring the transition to farming, Clare and others now think Gobekli Tepe was an attempt by hunter-gatherers clinging to their vanishing lifestyle as the world changed around them. Evidence from the surrounding region shows people at other sites were experimenting with domesticated animals and plants – a trend the people of “Belly Hill” might have been resisting.
Clare argues the site’s stone carvings are an important clue. Elaborate carvings of foxes, leopards, serpents and vultures covering Gobekli Tepe’s pillars and walls “aren’t animals you see every day,” he said. “They’re more than just pictures, they’re narratives, which are very important in keeping groups together and creating a shared identity.”
When I first wandered across the site more than 15 years ago, I remember a feeling of great distance. Gobekli Tepe was built 6,000 years before Stonehenge, and the exact meaning of its carvings – like the world the people there once inhabited – is impossible to fathom.
That, of course, is part of the Gobekli Tepe’s tremendous magnetism. As thousands of visitors marvel at a place most people had never heard of a decade ago, researchers will continue trying to understand why it was built in the first place. And each new discovery promises to change what we now know about the site and the story of human civilisation.
“The new work isn’t destroying Klaus Schmidt’s thesis; it stands on his shoulders,” said Horejs. “There’s been a huge gain of knowledge, in my view. The interpretation is changing, but that’s what science is about.”
TURKEY: Discovery of Ancient Relief depicting Greco-Persian wars
Archaeologists in northwestern Turkey discovered a relief on Aug. 16 depicting a war between the Greeks and Persians in the fifth century B.C.
The figures on the relief show fighting Greek soldiers beneath the hoofs of Persian warhorses said archaeologist Kaan Iren, who leads the dig site of the ancient city of Dascylium found in the modern-day Bandırma district of Balıkesir province.
“Here is a scene of propaganda under the pretext of war. We can say these reliefs are a scene from the Persian-Greek wars,” İren told the state-run Anadolu Agency.
“We think these reliefs were probably made for propaganda purposes during the wars,” he added.
Iren, who has been working at the excavation site in Dascylium with a team of 30 people since June 22, said they had unearthed parts of a stone and mudbrick wall dating back to the eighth century B.C. this year.
“Of the eighth-century-B.C. wall left from the Phrygian age, this year we unearthed an area of 4 meters high and 40 meters long. We think that this wall had a height of 7 to 8 meters.
We prepared a protection roof project for this place. We will present it to the Balıkesir Cultural Heritage Preservation Regional Board. If approved, we will take this place until protection,” said Iren, who is also a faculty member of the Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University.
The 5-meter-wide wall is believed to have been built by the ancient Phrygian civilization to protect its territory, Iren said.
Stating that the first settlers of the ancient city were the Phrygians, İren mentioned that the last place where this civilization was seen in the north and west of Anatolia was Dascylium.
“The wall is a 5-meter-wide fortification wall that these people built to protect their own space. Our work continues here.
There is a tower just ahead. We will continue to work until this tower. If the sponsors continue in the coming seasons, we will open this area completely and bring it to tourism,” he said.
İren said that the discovery of reliefs during the wall excavation this year was a surprise. Stating that the reliefs carved into the stone were cleaned by the restorers in the excavation house, İren said: “The relief, dating from the Persian era in the fifth century B.C., depicts the war between the Persians and the Greeks.
This was one of the most important findings of the season for us. In the figures on it, there are Greek soldiers fighting and Persians on horseback fighting them. Greek soldiers are depicted under the hoofs of Persian horses.
There is a propaganda scene here under the pretext of war. We can say that these reliefs are a scene from the Persian-Greek wars. We think that these reliefs were probably made for propaganda purposes during the wars.”