From 1935 to 1938, a team from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago conducted large-scale excavations at Tell Tayinat over four field seasons, as part of the Syrian-Hittite Expedition. The excavations focused primarily on the West Central Area of the upper mound, although areas were also opened on the eastern and southern edges of the upper mound, and in the lower city.
In all, the excavations achieved large horizontal exposures of five distinct architectural phases, or building periods, dating to the Iron II period (Amuq Phase O, ca. 950-550 BCE). A series of isolated soundings below the earliest Phase O floors produced remains dating to the third millennium (primarily Phases I-J, but also H), indicating that the site was abandoned for a long period between the Early Bronze and Iron Age settlements.
First Building Period
Remains of this period were exposed primarily in the West Central Area, and included two large structures (Buildings XIII and XIV) apparently arranged around an open courtyard. Building XIII preserved the distinctive ground plan of a North Syrian bit-hilani.
Second Building Period
During the Second Building Period, Buildings XIII and XIV were levelled, and an entirely new complex of buildings was erected in their place, including the most famous of Tayinat’s bit-hilani palaces, Building I, with its adjacent megaron-style temple (Building II).
Building I, along with a northern annex (Building VI) and a second bit-hilani (Building IV), faced onto a paved central courtyard (Courtyard VIII). A paved street linked the courtyard to a large gate that provided access from the lower city (Gateway XII). A second gate on the eastern edge of the upper mound (Gateway VII), and two gates in the lower city (Gateways III and XI) were also assigned to this building phase.
Third Building Period
Most of the activity consisted of renovations to the buildings in the West Central Area.
Fourth Building Period
A succession of renovations by the Neo-Assyrians, after they captured the site and converted it into a provincial capital. The University of Chicago excavation uncovered fragmentary remains of a large structure resembling an Assyrian courtyard-style building (Building IX) on the knoll at the southern end of the mound.
Fifth Building Period
The Fifth Building Period saw the continued occupation of Building I in the West Central Area, while the temples were abandoned. The University of Chicago team also assigned to this period a series of poorly preserved structures confined to the highest parts of the upper mound.
The Chicago excavations produced an extensive corpus of Akkadian, Aramaic and Neo-Hittite (or Luwian) inscriptions. Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions accounted for the largest number—a total of 85 fragments, 32 of which have been shown to come from seven distinct monumental inscriptions.
One of these, comprised of six basalt fragments, had formed part of a colossal statue of a figure seated on a throne. Although the precise provenance of the statue remains unclear, the inscription makes reference to Halpa-runta-a-s(a), once thought to be the Neo-Hittite ruler who is listed as having paid tribute to Shalmaneser III in the mid-9th century BCE, now understood to be an earlier ruler of the same name, dated to the 10th century BCE.
The University of Chicago excavation also uncovered a number of pottery shards and small stone artifacts inscribed in Aramaic. While this material remains unpublished, one artifact has received some attention: fragments of a small bowl of “late phase O ware” inscribed with the word KNLH (or KNLYH), tantalizingly similar linguistically to Kunulua, capital of the Kingdom of Patina/Unqi. The paleography of the inscription suggested a 7th-century BCE date. It is not clear whether this is the same Aramaic-inscribed shard that Richard C. Haines reported finding on Floor 2 of Building I in the West Central Area. If so, this inscription would place the Third Building Period in the Od sub-phase identified by Gustavus Swift Jr., while further confirming the historical identification of the site.
Cuneiform inscriptions recovered in the course of the excavations included four small monument fragments, five tablets and a stone cylinder seal. The most informative Neo-Assyrian text, however, is a dedication: “for the life of Tiglath-pileser, King of Assyria,” carved on an ornamental copper disk found in the vicinity of Building I, and assigned by the excavators to its second level (or Floor 3).
In spite of its uncertain stratigraphic context, this votive would seem to corroborate the dating of the Third Building Period, linking its founding levels to the beginning of sub-phase Od, and placing the Second Building Period squarely within sub-phase Oc (ca. 800-725 BCE).
Seven limestone orthostats, carved in the Assyrian provincial style, were found reused in the uppermost layer of pavement (of three layers) in Gateway VII. These orthostats probably date to the Fourth Building Period or later. An eighth orthostat, carved with a scene of a mounted charioteer riding over a fallen human figure, is reported to have been found at Tayinat in 1896, but remains unprovenanced. Finally, a bronze chariot pin with a human figure was also attributed by the excavators to the Neo-Assyrian phase of occupation at the site.
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