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Place, Memory and Healing: An Archaeology of Anatolian Rock Monuments

July 2017 (121.3)

Book Review

Place, Memory and Healing: An Archaeology of Anatolian Rock Monuments

By Ömür Harmanşah. Pp. xvii + 200. Routledge, London 2015. £95. ISBN 978-0-415-74488-1 (paper).

Reviewed by

Harmanşah develops a “critical archaeology of place” through an analysis of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age rock monuments in Turkey (2). Places, which are defined in this publication as deeply historical sites of cultural significance, memory, and belonging, have become obscured in a number of academic and global trends. Most worrying perhaps is the dominant paradigm of landscape archaeology in the Middle East, whose remote sensing methodologies and visualization technologies often deny local histories, indigenous knowledge, and the “stratified materiality of places” (11). This can lead to what Harmanşah has called an advanced form of colonialism that appropriates spaces and places as so much empirically and distantly derived data (11). Place, Memory and Healing should be read as a direct challenge to prevailing approaches to landscape archaeology in the Middle East.

Chapter 2 draws from the disciplines of critical geography, ethnography (including archaeological ethnography), and landscape archaeology to define an “archaeology of place.” What emerges is a bold interpretive framework for understanding the relationship between the multitemporality of rock monuments, their geological features, and their ideological, social, and political significance in different historical contexts. The “afterlife” of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age rock monuments is emphasized, for example, by considering how local communities, travelers, antiquarians, tourists, and archaeologists have all engaged with them.

Chapter 3 focuses on Late Bronze Age monuments in their original historical context. It is a study of a Hittite borderland located in the modern region of Konya (Pedassa and the Lower Land from Hittite sources). For Harmanşah, ancient borderlands are contested geopolitical zones that can become archaeologically manifest in rock monuments. A text-based analysis of the cultic significance of rock monuments also underscores their political import. As places of power, rock monuments served to uphold Hittite hegemony in the Konya region (e.g., Tudhaliya IV’s spring monument at Yalburt Yaylası, which is also the focus of Harmanşah’s current fieldwork); but he suggests they were also used to resist Hittite interventions (41). Several rock reliefs proclaim local rulers as “great kings”—an epithet that is normally reserved for Hittite rule from Hattuša.

Chapter 4 develops the cultic significance of Hittite spring and pool monuments. All spring and pool monuments are understood to represent the chthonic feature DINGIR.KAŠKAL.KUR = Divine Road of the Earth. Harmanşah makes a distinction between natural chthonic features (e.g., at Yalburt Yaylası) and mimetic ones (e.g., the Südberg Sacred Pool Complex at Hattuša). Springs were access points to the cosmological realm and also places of state commemoration. The multitemporality of Anatolian rock monuments is introduced with a discussion of Yalburt Yaylası in a Roman context and Eflatûn Pınarı in a medieval Seljuk one. While the cultic significance of Roman rebuilding around Yalburt Yaylası is unclear, historical and ethnographic studies on Eflatûn Pınarı (literally “Plato’s Spring”) point to its continued association with the sacred or magical from the 12th or 13th century to the modern era.

The fifth chapter is the most methodological but also the most disparate, and it reads rather like a microcosm of the book as a whole. It begins with a literature review, spanning from Herodotus’ accounts of the Karabel relief, through 19th-century encounters with Anatolian rock monuments (before the decipherment of Hittite), to current epigraphic, art historical, and archaeological approaches to said monuments. Harmanşah’s approach is integrative but foregrounds “place” and the “unfinished” quality of rock monuments. The latter is equated not only with the roughness of the composition of many of these reliefs but also with their multitemporality. Geopolitical borderlands are discussed again, this time in an analysis of rock monuments in the borderlands between Mesopotamia and Iran, followed by additional Anatolian rock monuments from the Zamantı Su Valley, which locate a contested border region between the Hittite core area (land of Hatti) and Kizzuwatna to the south. The practice of relief making is discussed more extensively in subsequent sections, including with an analysis of the Yazılıkaya monument at Hattuşa and by contrast with the most unusual inscription in this corpus, which was found at Suratkaya. This inscription, in Luwian hieroglyphic, was informally inscribed in a rock shelter. Here Harmanşah draws a distinction between this act of graffiti and all other Anatolian rock monuments, which are understood to be more monumental.

Chapter 6 is a study of river/spring sources and aligns closely with chapter 4. It begins with a study of caves and—somewhat eccentrically—with a discussion of Gustave Courbet’s 1864 painting The Source of the Loue. The wondrous elements of Courbet’s cave are meant to introduce Harmanşah’s approach to two Iron Age rock monuments located at river/spring sources. The first is Assyrian and was carved at a source of the Tigris River in the Birkleyn cave system in southeastern Turkey. Aspects of these reliefs recall dominant themes in previous chapters, including their location in a contested region between the Assyrian and Urartian kingdoms (chs. 3, 5), as places of revisitation and reinscription in several Assyrian campaigns (ch. 5), and as places of state performance, dedication, and cult (chs. 3, 4). The second Iron Age relief, at İvriz, is associated with the “Neo-Hittite” kingdom of Tabal and is located in the eastern Konya province. They share many additional features with the Assyrian reliefs and other Anatolian rock monuments. Harmanşah emphasizes their wondrous geological aspect (at the source of a spring), practices of revisitation and reinscription over an approximately 400-year period, and practices of ritual and image making at such sites.

Chapter 7 was inspired by Harmanşah’s encounters with pilgrims visiting a leech pond to seek healing while he was involved in fieldwork at the Iron Age mountain city of Kerkenes. As a place of healing, the Kerkenes leech pond is a case study in the growing literature of medical geography. Places of healing are symbolically charged contexts with unique geological properties and a history of miraculous events. Historically, healing properties have been associated with Anatolian rock monuments such as Eflatûn Pınarı (as part of the medieval Sufic cult of Plato [ch. 4]) and at the İvriz spring (ch. 6). The healing properties of the latter were recorded by a 17th-century Ottoman geographer. While the healing properties of springs are not accounted for in Hittite texts, Harmanşah nevertheless considers how Anatolian rock monuments might have been associated with miraculous events. He is perhaps most speculative when he suggests that the commissioning of such monuments could have followed sightings of a deity or ancestor at these places, as gods often appear at springs and caves in Hittite religious texts (158).

Place, Memory and Healing is brimming with fresh ideas, though it is often redundant, and I found the methodological framework wanting. The most obvious omission is archaeological ethnography. While chapters 1 and 2 and the epilogue foreground this methodology in an archaeology of place, it is surprising that it was not developed in Harmanşah’s own Yalburt Yaylası project (at least not in the case studies in this book), nor in any of the other analyses of rock monuments. Likewise, the book offers no guidance on how an archaeology of place might be integrated in a regional survey, for example, or some other large-scale fieldwork project. Nevertheless, this is a daring piece of scholarship that fulfills its promise to evoke the politics and poetics of Anatolian rock monuments.

Christoph Bachhuber
Faculty of Classics and Keble College
University of Oxford

Book Review of Place, Memory and Healing: An Archaeology of Anatolian Rock Monuments, by Ömür Harmanşah

Reviewed by Christoph Bachhuber

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 3 (July 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1213.Bachhuber

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