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FIELD OF SCULPTURE
2001 /JANUARY

One spring morning I watched a stork which had built its nest on the dome of the mosque in the village of Yesemek. It sat patiently on its egg, quite motionless. The fields were carpeted with purple mountain hyacinths, and from far off could be heard the buzzing of bees. Children in blue tunics were making their way to school, and a flock of pelicans descended wearily onto the waters of Tahtakopru Dam. The familiar song of nature awakening was all around me. Turning my back on the village I crossed a stream, and came to a sight that stopped me in my tracks; a field of sculpture. This was the largest sculpture workshop of the ancient Near East, and its silent witnesses of history remained, some half finished, some standing and others lying on their sides, watching me. Was this the way they had looked at Felix von Luschan, who had first come upon the site in 1890? And with what emotions had the Hittite sculptors looked at the half-finished lions as they departed, leaving behind them a mystery which still puzzles historians?

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FIELD OF SCULPTURE
2001 /JANUARY

Perhaps this is histry's most fascinating aspect; the way in which it poses questions with elusive answers, drawing us into speculative dreams. But instead of pursuing those dreams, let us look at what is known for certain about Yesemek.

Yesemek is a village in the province of Gaziantep in southwest Turkey, 113 kilometres west of the city of Gaziantep. The ancient Yesemek sculpture workshop and stone quarry cover an area of 300 x 400 metres. The first systematic excavations here were carried out between 1958 and 1961 by Professor Dr. Bahadir Alkim, and the findings showed that both quarry and workshop were originally established at a time when the region was under Hittite rule, probably during the reign of Suppilluma I (1375-1335 BC). The volcanic basalt quarried here is mauvish grey in colour. Over 300 finished and unfinished statues have been discovered.

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FIELD OF SCULPTURE
2001 / JANUARY

As the Phrygians advanced eastwards through Anatolia in the 8th century BC, conquering the Hittite cities one by one, the Hittites established feudal kingdoms in southeast Anatolia, and under one of these, the Sam'al kingdom, the quarry and workshop went into production again. However, when this kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians, the sound of hammers and chisels fell silent once again. Some historians believe that the stone masons were probably carried off by the Assyrians to work on their own monuments, perhaps as slaves. What a tragic fate for these craftsmen!

As you wander through the grassy site you come across sphinxes and lions made to stand at the gates of Hittite cities, as they did in Alacahoyuk and Hattusas, reliefs depicting the mountain god, and carved stones for buildings.

The sphinxes have womn'se heads and lion bodies. Just one completed sphinx has so far been discovered at Yesemek.

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FIELD OF SCULPTURE
2001 / JANUARY

The most remarkable of the lions are winged, a feature rarely encountered in the art of the ancient Near East. Even rarer is the fact that the wings are depicted frontally. Another statue belongs to the strange bear man called Lu Hartagga, whose bea'sg head and human body derives from the custom of Hittite temple officials wearing masks representing various animals at religious ceremonies. Archaeologists think that this statue may have been commissioned.Examination of the Yesemek sculptures reveals three stages in their production. In the first the forms were roughly shaped, in the second detailed carving and polishing of some parts was carried out, and in the third fine polishing made the sculptures ready for delivery. As you look at each unfinished piece of sculpture, it is interesting to see at which stage they were abandoned.

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FIELD OF SCULPTURE
2001 / JANUARY

The carving of final details was not done here, but at the places for which they were intended. How these blocks of stone, some weighing several tons, were carried over long distances can only be conjectured, and is one of the puzzles which for the moment only imagination can provide an answer to.

Many more questions of this kind came to my mind as I wandered through Yesemek. In the distant past the Amanus forests of cedar and oak covered the hills here, and it may be that tree trunks were used to turn and lift the blocks of stone, weighing from 500 kilograms to eight tons. Wooden levers and human muscle power could have moved them, but when it came to the question of transporting them, no satisfactory clues have as yet been found. However, we get some idea of the immensity of the task when we learn that in the 19th century it took eighty people to move the Hadad statue just seven kilometres from Gercin, where Felix von Luschan and his companions had discovered it, to Zincirli.

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FIELD OF SCULPTURE
2001 / JANUARY

When several months later I went back to Yesemek to seek new answers, the ground was bright with red peppers laid out in the sun to dry. I leant back against one of the stone lions and watched as the last rays of sunlight lit up the landscape. The hills faded away in a blaze of red, purple and orange. One by one lamps came on in the tents of the seasonal workers who had come to harvest the peppers, fires were lit, and sheets of unleavened bread were spread over griddles. As the stars came on in the darkened sky I seemed to hear the lions breathe sighs of longing for the Hittite stone masons who had created them back in the mysterious depths of history, perhaps hoping they will return to finish carving them.

 

* Akgun Akova, writer.

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