Unique Roman Relief Discovered

Classical scholars from the Cluster of Excellence discover depiction of unknown god in Turkey – relics from 2,000 years of cult history excavated.

Münster archaeologists excavated a unique Roman relief depicting a mystery god in an ancient sanctuary in Turkey. According to a first assessment, the one and a half metre (five feet) high basalt steel, which was used as a buttress in the wall of a monastery, shows a fertility or vegetation god, as classical scholar and excavation director Prof. Dr. Engelbert Winter and archaeologist Dr. Michael Blömer from the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” said after their return from the sacred site of the god Jupiter Dolichenus near to the ancient city of Doliche in Southeast Turkey. “The image is remarkably well preserved. It provides valuable insights into the beliefs of the Romans and into the continued existence of ancient Near Eastern traditions. However, extensive research is necessary before we will be able to accurately identify the deity.”

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In the field season 2014, the excavation team of 60 unveiled finds from all periods of the 2,000-year history of the cult site, including the thick enclosing wall of the first Iron Age sanctuary and the foundations of the main Roman temple of the god Jupiter Dolichenus, who became one of the most significant deities of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century A.D. His sanctuary is located close to the town of Gaziantep on the 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) high mountain of Dülük Baba Tepesi. The archaeologists discovered the stele in the remains of the Christian monastery, which was constructed on the site of the ancient sanctuary in the Early Middle Ages.

Bearded deity with astral symbols

Archaeologist Blömerdescribed the depiction: “The basalt stele shows a deitygrowing from a chalice of leaves. Its long stem rises from a cone that is ornamented with astral symbols. From the sides of the cone grow a long horn and a tree, which the deity clasps with his right hand. The pictorial elements suggest that a fertility god is depicted.” There are prominent iconographic details such as the composition of the beard or the posture of the arms, which signal to Iron Age depictions from the early 1st millennium B.C.

The new discovery therefore offers information regarding a key question of the Cluster of Excellence’s research project B2-20, the question of the continuity of local religious beliefs. According to Prof. Winter, “The stele provides information on how ancient oriental traditions survived the epochs of the Iron Age to the age of the Romans.”

The excavation activities that took place this year concentrated on exploring the medieval monastery of Mar Solomon (St. Solomon). “The well-preserved ruins of the monastery complex permit numerous conclusions regarding life and the culture in this region between Late Antiquity and the time of the crusaders”, according to Prof. Winter. Until the international team discovered the remains of the monastery in 2010, experts had known of it from written sources alone. According to Blömer, “All finds from this year’s excavation season are important pieces of the puzzle, contributing to the knowledge concerning every phase of the long history of this holy place.” The history stretched from the early Iron Age and the Roman sanctuary known throughout the empire to the long utilisation as a Christian monastery, which still existed at the time of the crusaders.

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Preparing the excavation site for tourists

Work on an archaeological park is in progress, which is to make the remarkable temple complex and the monastery ruins accessible to the public. The monastery ruins were preserved and covered with a special fleece material. The complex protection measures were made possible due to the cooperation with the Turkish Zirve University in Gaziantep, which provided around 200,000 Euros for three years. For the digital documentation of the area, the team uses a quadrocopter, a remotely piloted vehicle with a 3-D camera, developed by the Institute of Geoinformatics of the University of Münster. A visitor’s trail signposted in three languages, which was completed in 2013, leads to the central areas of the excavation site. An initial large protective shelter was erected.

Supported by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft, DFG), the University of Münster’s Asia Minor Research Centre has been conducting excavation work at the main sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus under the direction of Prof. Winter since 2001. Thus far, the international group consisting of archaeologists, historians, architects, conservators, archaeozoologists, geoinformation scientists and excavation workers unveiled foundations of the archaic and the Roman sanctuary, as well as the medieval monastery of Mar Solomon. The Cluster of Excellence’s project B2-20, “Media Representation and Religiois ‘Market’: Syriac Cults in the Western Imperium Romanum”, is interlinked with the excavations.

Contributing Source: Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics”

Header Image Source:  WikiPedia









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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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