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Antiquity Vol 80 No 310 December 2006

Bronze and Iron-working in early Iron Age Anatolia: observations at Büyükardıç

S. Yücel Şenyurt

Büyükardıç, a steep hill rising to an altitude of 2050 m above sea level to the south of the Kılıçkaya Mountain range, is located just to the south of Gökdere in Erzincan Province (Figure 1, 2).

Salvage excavations carried out on the eastern slope of the hill in 2003 by the Research Centre for Archaeology (GÜ-ARÇED), Gazi University within the scope of the 'Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Crude Oil Pipeline Archaeological Salvage Excavations Project' (Şenyurt in press), here turned up evidence for bronze and iron working around 900 BC.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Location of Büyükardıç. Click to enlarge.
Figure 2

Figure 2. A view of Büyükardıç from the east. Click to enlarge.

Excavated structures, belonging to a single phase on the eastern terrace had been subjected to extensive erosion over the ages. A circular building, a rectangular building, and an open air hearth (workshop) were unearthed in the limited excavation area (Figure 3). The foundation walls, made of rough stones, reflect a quite irregular and simple construction technique. Since there are no mud-brick remains on these flimsy stone foundations, it could be assumed that the superstructures of the buildings were probably constructed with wood and reed. These jerry-built houses on the steep, sloping terrace probably belonged to a temporary or seasonal settlement.

Few artefacts were found in these buildings, but a considerable amount of animal bones was recovered (Açıkkol & Yılmaz in press). The faunal assemblage is dominated by caprids (sheep and goats) and hunted animals. An open-air hearth, which is surrounded by a flimsy stone wall, was revealed approximately 12 m to the southeast of the rectangular building. This isolated hearth could be interpreted as a part of a workshop in the light of the evidence relating to metallurgical activities around it.

Following the collapse of the centralised and well-planned Late Bronze Age settlements, small villages (Bartl 1994: 516) and isolated farmsteads (Müller 2005: 108) emerged in Anatolia. These villages consist mostly of small wooden and reed structures, such as Sos Höyük (Sagona 1999: 157), Norşuntepe (Bartl 1994: 476 ff; Müller 2005: 108) and Korucutepe (van Loon 1973: 372 ff) in Eastern Anatolia, Boğazköy (Seeher 1998: 71 ff; 2000: 19 ff; Genz 2000: 40) and Gordion (Voigt & Henrickson 2000: 42-43).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Plan of architectural remains (The hearth is shown in red). Click to enlarge.

Hand-made pottery dominates the assemblage; there are also significant numbers of vessels formed on a slow wheel. The fabrics, forms and decorative characteristics of the pottery resemble the Early Iron Age traditions of Eastern Anatolia. The limited repertoire of forms consists of simple bowls, jars and cooking pots with simple rims. These simple forms dominating the assemblage together with the absence of large pithoi, justify the site as a temporary rather than a permanent settlement. Grooves around rims, impressed decorations, notched decorations, incisions, reliefs and knobs are the main types of decorative elements (Figure 4, left). Infrared Stimulated Luminescence (IRSL) analysis of one sherd provided a date c. 900210 BC (Tanır et al in press), which coincides with Early Iron Age dates from Eastern Anatolia.

Although the architectural features seem to indicate typical domestic architecture of the Early Iron Age, there are also some clear evidences implying possibility of a metalworking center at Büyükardıç. Owing to its isolated location, the rectangular planned open air hearth (Figure 5) could have been used for metallurgical activities. The floor of the hearth consisted only of baked clay. It is known that there are fire places connected with metallurgy in Early Iron Age layers at Boğazköy (Seeher 2000: 20). Open air hearths with a square form are frequently seen in Early Iron Age structures at Norşuntepe (Bartl 1994: 476).

Figure 4

Figure 4. Early Iron Age pot sherd with various types of decorations and arrowheads. Click to enlarge.
Figure 5

Figure 5. Open air hearth. Click to enlarge.
Figure 6

Figure 6. Vessels used in metalworking. Click to enlarge.

A well-fired bottle with two symmetrical pouring holes on the shoulder (Figure 6, left) was found near to this hearth. Green and red metal corrosions are visible around the holes and at the base of the vessel. The flow pattern of these corrosions suggest some kind of melted mineral. X-ray fluorescence analysis of these mineral residues (Arıkan et al in press) indicated that the major elements present were Copper (Cu) and Iron (Fe). Apart from this bottle, a significant amount of slag comprising iron (Fe) as the major element (Arıkan et al in press) was found around the hearth. A bronze arrowhead, an iron arrowhead (Figure 4, right), and an iron chisel were exposed to the west of the hearth. Some well-fired pot sherds merged with slag and grinding stones were found around the buildings, which were possibly used for ore enrichment. These pot sherds could have been used as containers for slags or a heating device for raw materials. One of them, which was found in the circular building has a thick layer of slag embodying iron (Fe) as major element (Figure 6, right).

Figure 7

Figure 7. Eocene lignite formations in Trench A3.

The results of the x-ray fluorescence analysis of the sample indicate that the industry is focused mainly on processing iron and copper. However, as per the available data, it was not possible to determine whether smelting was performed at Büyükardıç. Iron is the major element in the slags as well as in the metal waste of the pot sherds. Thus, iron could be considered as waste left by copper-smelting activities (McConchie 2004: 42). It is known that bronze production can feature copper-lead, copper-zinc, copper-tin and copper-arsenic compounds. Copper, lead and zinc sources located 10 km to the north-east of Büyükardıç could have been used for extracting ore. Despite the fact that the iron industry had become widespread by the end of the Early Iron Age, we can only postulate the existence of a small-scale industry in Büyükardıç, which seems to have mostly based on bronze tool production. There are continuous strong winds at the site and a coal formation in the natural terrace (Figure 7). These features are advantages for metalworking; the coal formation was possibly used in ore enrichment and as a fuel source.

The pottery assemblage and structural remains associate Büyükardıç with these types of settlement: small, pastoral, but, as we see here manufacturing objects of bronze and, probably, iron. Büyükardıç, being one of the few sites yielded clues for the metal industry before the Urartian state, has a broader significance for the archaeology of the Eastern Anatolia. Its metal finds suggest that bronze and iron industries were probably practised together by the small pastoralist tribes of Eastern Anatolia during the Early Iron Age.


S. Yücel Şenyurt Gazi University, Faculty of Arts and Science, Department of Archaeology, Beşevler 06500 Ankara, Turkey (Email:

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