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Ancient statue with a tale to tell

From “Archeologists Unearth Extraordinary Human Sculpture in Turkey” (ScienceDaily, July 30, 2012), we learn

A beautiful and colossal human sculpture is one of the latest cultural treasures unearthed by an international team at the Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) excavation site in southeastern Turkey. A large semi-circular column base, ornately decorated on one side, was also discovered. Both pieces are from a monumental gate complex that provided access to the upper citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 1000-738 BC).

The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist, stands approximately 1.5 metres in height, suggesting a total body length of 3.5 to four metres. The figure’s face is bearded, with beautifully preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and its hair has been coiffed in an elaborate series of curls aligned in linear rows. Both arms are extended forward from the elbow, each with two arm bracelets decorated with lion heads. The figure’s right hand holds a spear, and in its left is a shaft of wheat. A crescent-shaped pectoral adorns its chest. A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in 858 BC.

But people in what is now Turkey were doing this sort of thing 10,000 years earlier as well. In other news, chimpanzees were – and still are – screeching in the trees.

But, according to some sources, we are supposed to learn major psychological and cultural facts from them, not from this.

The sculpture, photo courtesy Jennifer Jackson, is curious because it does not seem to convey any sense of a warrior king, at least to a modern observer. That could signal artistic incompetence, but we need to be cautious:  Sometimes, artists were working within cultural restrictions. They could do more but sensed they had better not. The guy comes off as a lovable nerd; and maybe that’s what they intended. Not that it was likely true or could have been.

Cultures can be opaque to each other because we see what we are permitted to see but don’t “see” the underlying constraints. The things no one would tell you or would need to, if you lived there.

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3 Responses to Ancient statue with a tale to tell

  1. I always wonder about people who reject the obvious and open meaning of a thing, like a statue, and insist by some personal whim that something else must be intended.

    The obvious parallel to this defender of his people against the Hittites is the Roman folk hero Cincinatus, who literally left his plow in his field to accept the temporary dictatorship (i.e., one who issues orders) of Rome. And after he had saved his people, he went back to his farm.

    And is not a figure with a spear in 1 hand and a sheaf of wheat in the other virtually the same as a clutch of arrows and an olive branch: I can give you war or peace? You seem to demand a king who offers only war.

    There are many such heroes in history. Alexander Nevsky springs to mind. It’s the way people WANT their leaders to act: saving the nation in a defensive war and then reverting to a common citizen.

  2. It’s the facial expression that feels odd – almost as though he is not intended to be a real person but an idea. But in the ancient world, people often did see rulers that way.

  3. mahuna: “I always wonder about people who reject the obvious and open meaning of a thing, like a statue, and insist by some personal whim that something else must be intended.”

    Historiography is not about dry facts but interesting narratives.

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