Professor David Schloen discusses a dig in southeastern Turkey with unexpected and exciting results.
In the lower city area of the Zincirli archeological site In southeastern Turkey, away from the bigger digs that unearthed palatial ruins, Professor David Schloen and his team tried to understand how ordinary people lived in the Iron Age city of Sam’al. In 2008 they discovered a stela, a large slab of stone with commemorative inscriptions, that shed light on the original purpose of the settlement—a gated community for the elites of the small kingdom. The large stela, of which a replica can be seen at the Oriental Institute, provided details on how the elite of the kingdom lived, especially on their dietary practices, which is the focus of the exhibit at the OI. At a gallery talk on December 4, Schloen recounted the circumstances around the monumental find, named one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in 2008 by the Archaeology. The stela, found only a few centimeters below the “modern-day surface,” bore inscriptions in Aramaic. Fortunately for the team, three of the PhD candidates on the site had taken a seminar on Aramaic the previous spring and were able to identify the significance of the object. A discovery of such salient importance to understanding the lives of the ancient inhabitants is itself a cause for celebration, but to have found the stela so early in the dig made it all the more important. The governor of the province was alerted to the discovery and visited the site “with a full security detail and a limousine … and a camera crew.” The discovery made the national news that night and seemed to be an indication of good relations with the Americans (though Schloen points out that most of his team were not American). Schloen also told the story of how he and his wife were prepared to guard the stela all night; his plans to keep watch were interrupted by the Turkish army emerging out of the desert to keep him company. “The governor was really excited,” Shloen chuckled. With his team of graduate students and colleagues, Professor Schloen wanted to learn about the lives of those who kept the small kingdom in Sam’al running, but instead, he found a society built for the upper class. The search for how the ordinary man lived in Zincirli continues this year, as Schloen gears up for another dig this summer.
Watch a student’s aerial footage from a UChicago expedition to Zincarli.