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On the Origin of Küçükçekmece Iron Figurines1

Vladimir Shelestin
p. 51-55

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This investigation has been supported by the Presidential grant for young scholars МК-6693.2018.6.


  • 1 ) This investigation has been supported by the Presidential grant for young scholars МК-6693.2018.6
  • 2 E.g. “Hititler İstanbul’da”, Sabah, 30.10.2013 (URL: (...)

1The 2013 excavations in the Küçükçekmece Lake Basin (in the European part of Istanbul) unearthed two iron figurines (Fig. 1) that have been identified as votive statuettes of Early Hittite-Hurrian type dating to the second quarter of 2nd millennium BC (Aydıngün 2013). During the next seasons, archaeologists found fragments of Hittite and Cypriote White Slip wares and a tin figurine nearby, which they interpreted as the traces of the Old Hittite presence in Thrace (Aydıngün 2017b: 378-379, 381). The excavation team considers the nature of this presence as direct contact or trade (Aydıngün 2015: 31), but does not explain its details, sharing this assumption as a fact with the popular press2. Meanwhile, the assumed Old Hittite contacts with Europe would drastically change our picture of this period in Hittite history, and this paper would reevaluate the possibility of such contact.

Fig.1 Küçükçekmece iron figurines

Fig.1 Küçükçekmece iron figurines

Aydıngün 2017b: 386, res. 7

  • 3 Cf. Jean 2001; Muhly et al. 1985; Yalçın 1999.

2The figurines in question are made from rather pure iron. The XRF analysis has shown that the female figurine consists of 99.58% iron, while the male figurine contains 68.85% iron, 30.96% tin, 1.05% manganese and 0.17% zirconium (Aydıngün 2013: 3, 6). Such a structure indicates that these figurines could have been manufactured in a developed metallurgical complex, where the composites of iron with tin were produced as byproducts of bronze melting activity. However, the presence of additives in the female figurine is essentially lower than the known iron examples from Kaman-Kalehöyük (Akanuma 2006), Boğazköy (Lehner 2015) and other sites of this epoch3. It makes these figurines unique from the point of their chemical structure that complicates associating them with a certain place of origin.

1. The Western Limit of the Old Hittite Culture Expansion

  • 4 For the summary of discussion, see Gander 2017: 260; Gilan 2017: 31-32.

3If we would speak of the Hittite ‘traces’ in Thrace, we need to explain how the Hittites reached the region from their core territory in the Old Hittite period. There is a still popular assumption that the Old Hittite king Labarna (Labarna I or Labarna II–Hattušili I) subjugated the land of Wiluša in the region of Troad in northwestern Anatolia, as the treaty between Muwatalli II and Alakšandu of Wiluša mentions this episode (Beckman 1996: 82; Singer 2013: 751-753). Archaeologists speaking of the Hittite ‘traces’ in Europe use this assumption to bridge the Hittite coreland with the shores of the Sea of Marmara (Aydıngün 2017a: 19). But many scholars argue against this interpretation, considering the words of this treaty “my forefather … La[barna] subjugated … all countries of Arzawa and Wiluša” (KUB 21.2 obv. I 3-5 with dupl. KUB 21.5 obv. I 2-3) as a manipulation or misunderstanding of the historical facts that took place during the moment of composing this treaty4. It does not seem that the author of the treaty tried to create a picture of the Hittite-Wiluša relations contradictive to his historical reality, but the Hittite royal title labarna could be written in the New Hittite period with the personal determinative even not being the personal name (Soysal 2005: 191). From this point of view, supported by the declaration of the author of this treaty that he does not know which of Hittite kings lost Wiluša (KUB 21.2 + KUB 48.95 obv. I 6-9 with dupl. KUB 21.5 obv. I 5-6), this text could point out any Old or New Hittite king, but cannot serve as an independent source for estimating the limits of the Old Hittite expansion to the West.

4We know better from the Old Hittite sources that the Hittites established their control over at least a part of Arzawa, while the stability of this control is also a matter of discussion (Heinhold-Krahmer 1977: 12-14; Yakubovich 2010: 79-80). But these texts do not mention whether the Hittite political expansion to Arzawa was accompanied with the transfer of elements of the Hittite (material) culture into this region. This task requires the acquisition of archaeological data.

  • 5 For the recent surveys, see Efe, Perello 2016.
  • 6 Cf. Sarı 2013: 310-312.

5One of the biggest sites of the western Anatolian region in the late MBA, Kaymakçı shows the continuity of the local tradition in the MBA and LBA, whereas the sufficient Hittite imports are absent (Roosevelt, Luke 2017). Troy VI also does not say anything about the Old Hittite migration or invasion (Pavúk 2014: 392-395). The so-called ‘Hittite Ware’ is typical for northwestern Anatolia in the MBA5, but its association with the Hittite culture looks tentative, and the Luwians could be a better candidate for being its bearers (Yakubovich 2013: 115)6. In contrast to the Old Hittite settlements in the Upper Euphrates region, where both archaeological and narrative sources clearly testify the appearance of the Hittite culture (Konyar 2006), we do not have similar evidence in northwestern Anatolia for the same period.

2. Hittite, Syrian or Cilician origin?

6Another problem with the assumption of Hittite origin for these figurines (Fig. 2) rise from the question, whether such figurines really belong to the Old Hittite culture. In contrast to the previous periods in the history of Anatolian art, the Old Hittite epoch was the period of decline of the three-fold anthropomorphic images, while the two-fold anthropomorphic images became numerous at the same moment (Bilgi 2012: 289-408). This degradation of the Anatolian tradition of anthropomorphic figurines allows assuming that they did not belong to the immanent elements of the Old Hittite culture.

Fig. 2 Statues in the Old Hittite texts

Fig. 2 Statues in the Old Hittite texts
  • 7 Despite Güterbock, Hoffner, van den Hout 2013: 373 reject the association between ALAM and šina-, t (...)

7Probably, the Hittites considered such tradition as alien when they encountered it in the Hurrian regions of Syria in the course of the military campaigns of Hattušili I and Muršili I (Collins 2005: 40). Even the earlier indication of Anitta on the transfer of the cult of Šiušummi from Neša to Zalpa by Uhna hardly testifies to the existence of the anthropomorphic statue of Šiušummi and not of another object associated with the cult of this deity (Ivanov 2007: 50, n. 57). On the other hand, while the godnapping by Hattušili I from both Anatolian and Syrian cultic centers is a common feature of his military campaigns (Singer 1994: 85-86), all attestations of the word ALAM ‘statue’ in the Annals of Hattušili I refer only to the conquered cities outside of Anatolia: Haššuwa (KBo 10.1 obv. 39 with dupl. KBo 10.2 obv. II 28 and VBoT 13 obv. 6; KBo 10.1 obv. 44 with dupl. KBo 10.2 obv. II 38-39 and VBoT 13 obv. 14-15), Hahha (KBo 10.1 rev. 14 with dupl. KBo 10.2 rev. III 21) and Tikunani (KBo 10.1 rev. 17 with dupl. KBo 10.2 rev. III 27 and KUB 23.20 obv. 9). The Sumerogram ALAM corresponds to two Hittite terms for statues or figurines, ešri- and šina- (Collins 2005: 20)7, but we observe in the Old Hittite texts mostly one of them, šina- that presumably comes from the Hurrian language (Tischler 2006: 1045). If so, the concept of anthropomorphic divine figurines should belong rather to the Hurrian culture than to the Hittite one in the period discussed here.

8As the style of the figurines has been described as Hittite-Hurrian, and as the Hittites met with this tradition for the first time in the Hurrian-inhabited regions, we should search for its roots there, primarily in Syria. The tradition of manufacturing anthropomorphic figurines from metals developed in the Syro-Palestinian region starting from the late EBA, and the type of anthropomorphic figurines featured by the hat, as seen in the partly preserved male figurine from Küçükçekmece, takes it roots in this region. This type of anthropomorphic figurines will later be called in the literature as the “Syro-Hittite type” (Moorey, Fleming 1984).

9Another good candidate for the place of origin is Cilicia, the region known for the deposits of iron ores and the discovery of iron objects since the 3rd millennium BC (Jean 2001: 164, 170). The ethnical picture of Cilicia in the MBA is still a subject of debate, but my recent research on its onomastics shows that the Hurrians must have settled the region by the MBA (Shelestin 2019). Their migration could have brought here the type of anthropomorphic figurines, which acquired a new iron body, in these lands known for rich iron resources. Nevertheless, be the place of their origin Syria or Cilicia, what should bring these figurines so far from it?

3. The Nature of the Contact

10In the absence of Hittite (and certainly Hurrian) traces in the regions between the Sea of Marmara and Central Anatolia during the MBA, we can only discuss the possibility of indirect contact. Even this type of contact could lead to cultural interchange, if these artifacts would stimulate a new tradition of local imitations. However, this finding is unique, and other figurines of Anatolian or Syrian origin in Europe are import products, rather than local imitations (Bouzek 1972: 158-159).

11The votive figurines would hardly be products of exchange, but rather they would be byproducts of the trade contacts between Thrace and their place of origin. The “Great Caravan Route” connected Cilicia and the Sea of Marmara in the EBA (Efe 2007), but the geopolitical situation in the MBA would hardly allow using it. Noteworthy that the Old Assyrian merchants were not able to include both these important regions into their network of trade routes, whereas the alternative inland route did not link these parts of Anatolia in that period (Barjamovic 2011: 8). The later military activity of the Old Hittite kingdom hardly facilitated the communication between Cilicia and the Sea of Marmara, because the Hittites did not incorporate Wiluša in the Marmara region into their kingdom. In the loss of the inland ties between these regions, sea routes would be the only possible way for such interregional trade contacts, but even Troy does not provide enough artifacts from the Eastern Mediterranean that would confirm such contacts for the second quarter of 2nd millennium BC (Kozal 2017: 132-133).

12However, indirect contact could have taken place several hundred years after the creation of these pieces of art, and they could have obtained new functions by the moment of their diving to the soil of Istanbul. Many Hittite seals have been found in northwestern Anatolia in contexts not appropriate for scribal activity, becoming amulets in the eyes of their later holders and losing their initial functions – could this be the case for these figurines?


13The votive iron figurines found at Küçükçekmece remain mysterious from the aspect of determining a concrete place for their origin and a concrete way for their transfer to the European coast. As their findspots do not represent a good archaeological context, it is difficult to judge whether the Cypriote ware should support their dating to the late MBA, even though their style fit it. Nevertheless, regardless of their origin and dating, these artifacts hardly testify the Hittite presence in Europe, therefore we should not change our picture of the Old Hittite history in this aspect.

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1 ) This investigation has been supported by the Presidential grant for young scholars МК-6693.2018.6.

2 E.g. “Hititler İstanbul’da”, Sabah, 30.10.2013 (URL:; “İstanbul’un Hitit dönemine ilişkin yeni bulgular ele geçti”, Milliyet, 17.09.2015 (URL: It is noteworthy that even the name of the ancient city of Bathonea widely identified by this team with Küçükçekmece has been disputed, Tekin 2017.

3 Cf. Jean 2001; Muhly et al. 1985; Yalçın 1999.

4 For the summary of discussion, see Gander 2017: 260; Gilan 2017: 31-32.

5 For the recent surveys, see Efe, Perello 2016.

6 Cf. Sarı 2013: 310-312.

7 Despite Güterbock, Hoffner, van den Hout 2013: 373 reject the association between ALAM and šina-, they do not eliminate the identity of both Hittite words with Akkadian ṣalmu in the lexical lists KBo 1.44 + KBo 13.1 iv 31, KUB 3.94 ii 10 and KBo 13.2 obv. 2. The diversity between ALAM and šina- could develop in the texts of later epochs, when ešri- came into Hittite and was identified with ALAM.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1 Küçükçekmece iron figurines
Crédits Aydıngün 2017b: 386, res. 7
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Titre Fig. 2 Statues in the Old Hittite texts
Fichier image/jpeg, 205k
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