Turkish Delight: Archaeological Investigations in Northern Lycia and the Caltilar Project 2008-2011

Report of a talk by Nicoletta Momigliano on 14 February 2012


Nicoletta Momigliano, Reader in Aegean Prehistory at Bristol University, spoke to us about the work she is directing in Southern Turkey. The project is very much work in progress and its future depends on a persuasive case being made to the Turkish authorities.

The land that we know as Turkey today was in earlier times very much a part of the Classical world, and its Greek, Roman and Byzantine remains are well-known. Nicolettas investigations are concerned with the periods prior to that, namely the fourth, third and second millennia BC.

The region of Lycia lies in southwest Turkey, and Antalya, a town at the eastern end of the area is a well-known destination for Mediterranean holidaymakers. Lycia is also known for Roman remains but particularly for its celebrated funerary monuments from the pre-Hellenic period. The area is of interest to scholars because of its interesting geographical position straddling the Aegean world and that of the eastern Mediterranean. It also linked with the Anatolian interior. There are moreover a number of intriguing, if sketchy, early documentary sources of the second and first millennia BC which suggest that the Lycians were a distinct and powerful people and something of a maritime power.

The location of the site, known as Caltilar Hoyuk, is in the highlands of Lycia at 1256 metres above sea level in the upper reaches of the Xanthus river. The site itself is a mound which stands some 12 metres above the surrounding land and is entirely artificial, being a settlement mound made up of successive layers of building material. Such features are found throughout the eastern Mediterranean and are known in Turkey as Hoyuks and in the middle east as Tells.

Earlier research in Lycia had suggested significant occupation of the area in the fourth and third millennia BC but with something of a gap in the second. The aim of the project was threefold, the first being to provide substantial new data on the Chalcolithic (“Copper Age”), Bronze Age and early Iron Age periods. Secondly, to explore the role of the region within its broader geographical location and its links to the Aegean, eastern Mediterranean and Anatolian worlds. And finally to investigate shifts in settlement patterns in the context of environmental and socio-political changes.

Caltilar Hoyuk is three hectares in extent and has several important features. It was not occupied in the Greek or Roman periods so there are no remains of that period to get in the way and neither has later construction caused disturbance to the layers under investigation. Previous investigations suggested that there had definitely been occupation in the pre-classical period and its highland position in the summer pasture land gives an opportunity to compare settlement patterns with the present-day land use involving transhumance.

Following very rapid reconnaissance to establish the size of the site a geophysical survey was carried out which produced one big anomaly that suggested a probable building in the northwest of the mound.

The research team also carried out a systematic and total collection of surface-lying artefacts, working in 5 metre square grids. Some 33,000 potsherds were recovered, just about enough for a self-confessed “sherd-nerd” such as Nicoletta. There were also over 1000 finds of other material such as chert, brick etc. Amongst these was a piece of obsidian core. Obsidian is a kind of volcanic glass with flint-like properties and the sample found would have originated in Cappadocia in central Anatolia some considerable distance to the north east. Tools of the same substance have been found in Crete suggesting the intriguing possibility of trade routes through Lycia.

An analysis of the pottery was sufficient to suggest that there had been significant occupation in the second millenium BC. 60% of the pottery found was of the Iron Age but it is inevitable that the larger part of the surface finds will be of the most recent period. Interestingly, many of the finds from this period were imports of much larger size than might normally be expected from a purely pastoral society.

The research so far suggests that the site was occupied from the 4th millenium to the early first millenium but pretty well ceased after about the 6th century BC. Importantly, evidence of Bronze Age (second millenium) occupation was established and finds of imported materials indicate extensive contact networks for both the Bronze Age and Iron Age periods.

All this had been achieved without any excavation, though permission to dig was now the project’s ambition. Gaining this would need a great deal of negotiation and, it appears, the drinking of large quantities of hot sweet tea! We wish Nicoletta every success in this department and look forward to a future talk entitled “Excavations at Caltilar”.

For a detailed account of the project please consult

Anatolian Studies 61 (2011): 61–121
Settlement history and material culture in southwest Turkey: report on the 2008–2010 survey at Çaltılar Höyük (northern Lycia). Momigliano et al.