Turkey is a land which has been home to many civilizations, and even in its remotest mountains and valleys are found traces of a past going back thousands of years. Some of the civilizations are well known, but others still guard their secrets. Hundreds of archaeologists labor ceaselessly to discover them. With picks, spades, and hoes, they search for remains to solve the puzzle of the past, and each find contributes a new piece of knowledge, gradually bringing the picture into focus.
Discovering a previously unknown civilization is one of the most exciting parts of this process. In July 1998 some standing stones were discovered by coincidence on the northern slopes below the castle in Hakkari, a city in southeast Turkey at the foot of Mount Sumbul. Archaeologists quickly arrived on the scene to see the thirteen stones, which were still in the same position as they had been when they were first erected. They were arrayed in rows facing away from the cliffs behind them. The citizens of Hakkari rushed to see these astonishing monuments built thousands of years ago.
The stones had been cut from the hard rock of the area and carved by local craftsmen. They vary from 70 centimeters to 3.1 meters in height. Only their front faces are smoothly hewn and each is decorated with the upper part of a human figure. Eleven of the figures belong to men. They are depicted full-face and naked. Most have plump faces and a few long narrow faces. On their heads, they wear various caps, and around their waists are broad belts from which daggers hang. The male genitals are represented by a blunt protuberance and protected by a kind of jockey strap.
As well as these main figures, the surface of the stone is neatly carved with motifs of different sizes representing weapons, human figures, leopards, deer, snakes and other wild animals, and tents. The tents with their dome-like roofs are reminiscent of the ‘yurt’ tents of the Central Asian steppes, so archaeologists have concluded that the warriors depicted must have been nomads.
The most striking characteristic of the male figures is the skins grasped tightly in both hands. These seem to be of major symbolic significance since the skins are a more prominent feature than the warriors’ weapons and ornamentation.
The earliest examples of warrior figures similar to these are those on 7th century BC Scythian stelae found on the steppes north of the Black Sea. Other similar stone monuments dating from later periods are common on the steppes of Central Asia, particularly in the Altai region. Known as balbal or baba, these stelae continued to be used until the 11th or 12th centuries over a wide area stretching from central Kazakhstan to Mongolia.
The two figures presumed to be women on the Hakkari stones differ from the others in holding nothing in their hands and having no weapons.
From the surrounding motifs and the composition of the figures themselves, they all seem to represent young and powerful individuals who lived in tents and enjoyed hunting. There is no indication that they might be gods and goddesses but instead, are thought to be kings or tribal chieftains and powerful women.
Standing stones of this type are rare in the Near East, although hundreds have been encountered on the steppes of Eurasia from Spain to Mongolia. It is not easy to determine their exact date since they bear no inscriptions. The most important clues in this respect are the daggers, axes and other weapons. Weapons of the type depicted were used in the Near East between 1500 and 1000 BC, so archaeologists have for the moment dated them to this period. The next question is the purpose for which the stones were erected. Were they tombstones like so many of the others in Eurasia? This question cannot yet be answered with certainty.
It is hoped that further evidence will be uncovered in the excavations being carried out on the site by a joint team of archaeologists from Onsekiz Mart University in Canakkale, Yuzuncu Yil University in Van and Van Museum. But whatever the function of the Hakkari stelae, they prove that nomads from the steppes of Eurasia first arrived in this mountainous corner of Turkey around 3000 years ago, and pastured their flocks here. This is the first evidence that the steppe culture of Eurasia came to southeast Anatolia at such an early date. These carved stones make yet another addition to the seemingly inexhaustible mosaic of Anatolian Civilisations. It is planned to exhibit the stones in Meydan Medrese, an Ottoman building in Hakkari.