Lonely Planet Writer

Archaeologists unearth remains of a mysterious 3000-year-old female statue in Turkey

The remains of a 3000-year-old female statue found in southeast Turkey may shed important light on the role of women in ancient times.

Discovered head of ancient 3000 year old statue of a woman.
The excellently preserved head and torso of a female figure. Image by: Tayinat Archaeological Project

Archaeologists from the University of Toronto discovered the excellently preserved head and torso of a female figure at the site of Tayinat, though it had been deliberately defaced in antiquity. The lower body has not been found but it is thought the full statue might have been as tall as five metres.

“The discovery of this statue raises the possibility that women played a more prominent role in the political and religious lives of these early Iron Age communities than the existing historical record might suggest,” said Timothy Harrison, a University of Toronto professor and director of the Tayinat Archaeological Project.

The sculpture was found within a citadel gate complex, near the site where the head of a statue of Neo-Hittite King Suppiluliuma was discovered in 2012. “That parts of these monumental sculptures have been found deposited together, suggests there may have been an elaborate process of interment or decommissioning as part of their destruction,” said Harrison.

Archaeologists cannot be sure about the identity of the female figure, but they have a few hypotheses. One is that she represents Kubaba, divine mother of the ancient Anatolian gods. Otherwise, she could be a human figure, such as King Suppiluliuma’s wife, or Kupapiyas, who was the wife or mother of Taita, who founded Tayinat.

The discovery of lions, sphinxes and huge statues within these gate complexes is a sign of an ancient tradition that saw these spaces used as a symbol of the boundaries between ruling elites and their subjects.

The Tayinat gate complex seems to have been destroyed after Assyrians conquered the site in 738 BC. The gateway was converted into the central courtyard of a sacred area, with Tayinat becoming an Assyrian provincial capital.