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The Iron Age Clay Figurines from Karkemish and the Syro-Anatolian Region

Barbara Bolognani

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iron age, clay figurine
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  • 1 Hogarth 1914; Woolley, Barnett 1952; Marchetti et al. 2012; Marchetti 2012.

1The main focus of my PhD research project is the study of clay figurines coming from the Neo-Hittite city of Karkemish, excavated by the British Museum between 1911 and 1920 and, more recently, by the Joint Turco-Italian Archaeological Expedition of the universities of Bologna, Istanbul, and Gaziantep since 2011.1 Their study will be framed within Iron Age coroplastic art from the Syro-Anatolian region, with special reference to the typological, iconographic, and above all chronological developments of this class.

2Some clay figurines recovered by the first British exploration at Karkemish were published in the excavation reports of that site.They were generally dated not earlier than the 12th century B.C. and, because of their large presence in surface layers, they were usually called “Late Hittite.” “ Snow man” was the name given to the technique of these figurines by the excavators because they were handmodeled using simple, rounded forms ; no molded specimens were found. At that time there was no attempt to classify this material, except to highlight the strong preponderance of animal figurines (horses, also with riders), above all in the Lower Town. For this reason the excavators rejected the idea that these figurines could be used for religious purposes, stressing their use as toys instead.

Clay figurines found at Karkemish during the British Museum excavations

Clay figurines found at Karkemish during the British Museum excavations

(Woolley-Barnett 1952, pl. 70)

  • 2 Woolley 1939.

3Other figurines were found during the Yunus excavations,2 the most important necropolis of the Iron Age belonging to Karkemish and located less than 1 km north-west of the city. These figurines were found in tombs dated variously between the 12th and the 7th centuries B. C. Methodological limitations lead to an incorrect interpretation of the grave goods, as the archaeologists thought, in fact, that they were able to attribute the sex and the age of the deceased on the basis of the iconography of the figurines found in the burial.

4The most recent Turco-Italian archaeological campaigns of 2011 to 2013 have already yielded more than 450 clay figurines that were recovered from various contexts at both Karkemish and Yunus. One of the most promising research avenues of my project is the stratigraphic analysis of Iron Age clay figurines that will enable a precise definition of their chronological and typological development. This kind of production, despite being widely attested, has not yet benefited of an extensive and in-depth study.

  • 3 Marchetti 2001.
  • 4 Matthiae 1997; Pruß 2010.

5A superficial analysis of the corpus reveals that two groups can be distinguished on the basis of manufacturing technique. The larger of the two groups is characterized by the continuation of the hand-modeled technique that dates back to the Middle Bronze Age.3 Karkemish, and in general the Middle Euphrates, would seem to be the major areas in which this tradition continued, as well as western Syria4. Current opinion maintains that in this group there was a proliferation of types compared to the reference models and that this production had no connections to the religious sphere. From a purely technological point of view, the main iconographic subjects reproduced are both human figures, male and female, and animal ones, domestic and wild, which, unlike those of the Middle Bronze Age, abound in applied ornamental bands and medallions that represent jewelry, hairstyles, and harness.

6The smaller of the two groups contains new iconographic types that begin to appear in Iron Age II and that spread to Syria, Palestine, and Cilicia. These are mold-made in a low to medium relief and almost always depict frontal, nude females with both arms either held at the sides or raised to the chest with both hands supporting the breasts. The origins of this last type were found in the Old Babylonian coroplastic production and later in the Levantine Late Bronze Age, with its use seemingly related to the sphere of domestic cult.

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D. G. Hogarth, Carchemish, Introductory, Part I : Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on Behalf of the British Museum, London 1914.

N. Marchetti, La coroplastica eblaita e siriana nel Bronzo Medio. Campagne 1964-1980 (Materiali e Studi Archeologici di Ebla V), Roma, 2001.

N. Marchetti et al., “Karkemish on the Euphrates : Excavating a City’s History,” NEA 75/3 (2012), pp. 132-147.

N. Marchetti, “The 2011 Joint Turco-Italian Excavations at Karkemish,” in 34. Kazı Sonuçları Toplantısı,1.Cilt, 28 Mayis - 1 Haziran 2012, Çorum, Ankara, 2013, pp. 349-364.

P. Matthiae, La storia dell’arte dell’Oriente Antico. I primi imperi e i principati del Ferro 1600-700 a.C., Milano 1997.

A. Pruß, Die Amuq-Terrakotten. Untersuchungen zu den Terrakotta-Figuren des 2. und 1. Jahrtausends v.Chr. aus dem Grabungen des Oriental Institute Chicago in der Amuq-Ebene (Subartu 26), Turnhout 2010.

C. L. Woolley, Carchemish. Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on behalf of the British Museum. Part II : The Town Defences, London 1921.

C. L. Woolley, “The Iron Age Graves of Carchemish,” Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Antropology 26, (1939), pp. 11-37.

C. L. Woolley, R. Barnett, Carchemish. Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on behalf of the British Museum. Part III : The Excavations in the Inner Town and the Hittite Inscriptions, London 1952.

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1 Hogarth 1914; Woolley, Barnett 1952; Marchetti et al. 2012; Marchetti 2012.

2 Woolley 1939.

3 Marchetti 2001.

4 Matthiae 1997; Pruß 2010.

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List of illustrations

Title Clay figurines found at Karkemish during the British Museum excavations
Credits (Woolley-Barnett 1952, pl. 70)
File image/jpeg, 819k
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Electronic reference

Barbara Bolognani, « The Iron Age Clay Figurines from Karkemish and the Syro-Anatolian Region », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [Online], 11 | 2014, Online since 13 July 2015, connection on 07 December 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Barbara Bolognani

Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna

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Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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