A Life In Pursuit Of The Hittites...

Prof.Dr.Nimet Özgüç is 96 years old. The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara is chock full of artifacts and monuments unearthed by her and her husband, Prof.Dr.Tahsin Özgüç.

When we arrived for our appointment, we found Prof. Özgüç working in her extensive library. Nimet Özgüc and her husband, Prof. Dr. Tahsin Özgüc, who carry on living with their work around them, are big names in Anatolian archaeology. We interviewed Prof. Özgüc about her work on the archaeology of Asia Minor for Skylife readers.

How did your career in archaeology get started?
I was a student in the Ankara University School of Language, History and Geography. I was very impressed by the history courses I took from Prof. Şemsettin Günaltay, who had come from Istanbul to lecture. At that time we also had renowned professors who had come from Germany. Von der Osten, Blegen, Bittel, Landsberger and Güterbock were extremely competent men in their fields. I graduated in 1940 and went into the field.

Where did you make your most important discoveries?
I made discoveries I will never forget at Kültepe and Acemhöyük, which I directed together with my husband, Tahsin Özgüç. The Acemhöyük excavations got underway in 1962 under my direction. They were interrupted briefly from 1984 to 1987 due to the urgency of the Samsat rescue excavation. After Samsat we went on excavating up to 1987. At Acemhöyük we identified at least 12 layers from the Early Bronze Age and the Age of the Assyrian Trade Colonies, and we established that the Lower City was inhabited only during the latter, when it was at its zenith.

What is the significance of Acemhöyük?
According to the sources at Kültepe, there is a city by the name of Burushadum in Anatolia, a city that was at the same time a center of mining and of textiles. The majority of Hittite philologists believe that Burushadum is Acemhöyük. I too was convinced of that following my excavations at Acemhöyük, because the most salient characteristic of Burushadum is that it was the capital of a great kingdom. There are two great Hittite capitals in Anatolia, one Kanesh at Kayseri, the other Burushadum. Acemhöyük is one of the biggest tumuli in Anatolia. Bigger even than Kültepe.

What did you find in those areas?
The key finds here are the palaces. The most important palaces in Anatolia are at Acemhöyük. We called one of the palaces we found here Sarıkayalar, and the other Hatipler. There are also a number of official buildings of different sizes between the two palaces. Close to a hundred chambers have been brought to light so far in the two palaces, which are almost as spacious and organized as the palace at Knossos. We also uncovered 12 ovens that were used to feed the sizable palace population. But the most significant aspect of the palaces is their workshops, among which are ivory workshops. The works produced in the ivory workshops at Acemhöyük are regarded as the masterpieces of Hittite art.

What has been learned from these excavations?
Had it not been for the digs at Nemrut and Minida (Egypt), our knowledge of the history of Asia Minor in the early period would be extremely sketchy today. The presence in Anatolia of the Assyrians and their relations with the Hittites would have remained in the dark. I believe that we recovered great monuments for Turkey in the Kültepe, Samsat, Acemhöyük, and Elbistan Karahöyük excavations.

Who are the Hittites, and where did they come from?
The Hittites founded an empire in Anatolia, the effects of which are still in evidence today. Exactly where they came from is not clear. They are thought to have come from the east but this has not been established with certainty.
What do we know about the Hatti?
When the Hittites arrived in Anatolia they encountered a highly advanced civilization, the Hatti. The land of the Hatti developed around the bend in the Kızılırmak River (the Halys of antiquity).  The core of the Hittite state, the Hittite homeland, also grew up here. The Hittites adopted the civilization of the Hatti and developed it further.

What was the nature of the Hittites’ beliefs? And what did they eat and drink?
The Hittites were a civilization with numerous holidays, festivals, religious rituals and forms of worship. They claim to have had a thousand gods. It was their custom to adopt the gods of the lands they conquered and incorporate them into their own belief system. Within this polytheism, bodily and spiritual purity formed the essence of the Hittite religion. At the same time the Hittites also loved bread. We found 12 ovens in the excavations at Acemhöyük.

What was the structure of trade in Anatolia in those periods?
In the second millennium B.C., in other words from 2000 to 1750, there was a lot of commercial activity in Anatolia. This was trade between countries. The city of Kanesh at Kayseri was the leading center in Anatolia of the Assyrian leg of the Hittite-Assyrian trade. Kanesh is also the city that heralded the dawn of written history in Anatolia.

Is it possible to compare the two great civilizations of that period, the Hittite and the Egyptian?
When we compare the Hittite and Egyptian civilizations, we see that they did not resemble each other at all. Egypt followed a very specific trajectory starting from 3500 B.C. This basic style continued over the centuries with little change. Everything was on a very grand scale in Egypt. The pyramids, the palaces, the sphinxes - all were very big and there is a very large number of monuments.