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Ancient stone Lion Statues found in Turkey

July 26, 2012

A life-size granite lion sculpture discovered in the town of Karakiz in Turkey. Dating back more than 3,200 years, to the time of the Hittite Empire, the lion is shown “prowling forward” with rippling muscles and a curved tail. In antiquity there would have been a second lion connected to it, bringing the total weight of the sculpture to about 5 tons (10,000 pounds). CREDIT: Photo copyright American Journal of Archaeology.

The Hittites – remember them? – their empire straddled present day Turkey and remnants and artifacts continue to be found.  The American Journal of Archaeology (courtesy Live Science) has just published an article about 3,200-year old granite lion statues found in Anatolia (the abstract and images are available free of charge – the full article is available for purchase).

The head of the surviving Karakiz lion. It was never finished, its sculptor intending the piece to be moved and completed on location. Remnants of the second lion can be seen on the left. CREDIT: Photo copyright American Journal of Archaeology.

According to Live Science:

Two sculptures of life-size lions, each weighing about 5 tons in antiquity, have been discovered in what is now Turkey, with archaeologists perplexed over what the granite cats were used for.

One idea is that the statues, created between 1400 and 1200 B.C., were meant to be part of a monument for a sacred water spring, the researchers said.

The lifelike lions were created by the Hittites who controlled a vast empire in the region at a time when the Asiatic lion roamed the foothills of Turkey.

“The lions are prowling forward, their heads slightly lowered; the

ops of their heads are barely higher than the napes,” write Geoffrey Summers, of the Middle East Technical University, and researcher Erol Özen in an article published in the most recent edition of the American Journal of Archaeology.

The two lion sculptures have stylistic differences and were made by different sculptors. The lion sculpture found in the village of Karakiz is particularly lifelike, with rippling muscles and a tail that curves around the back of the granite boulder.

“The sculptors certainly knew what lions looked like,” Summers told LiveScience in an interview. He said that both archaeological and ancient written records indicate that the Asiatic lion, now extinct in Turkey, was still very much around, some even being kept by the Hittites in pits.

Back side of the Lion Statue.  CREDIT: Photo copyright American Journal of Archaeology.

Digging up lions

The story of the discovery of the massive lions began in 2001, when Özen, at the time director of the Yozgat Museum, was alerted to the existence of the ancient quarry by a man from Karakiz village and an official from the Ministry of Culture. An extensive search of the area was undertaken in spring 2002 with fieldwork occurring in the following years.

Looters, however, beat the archaeologists to the catch. The Karakiz lion was found dynamited in two, likely in the mistaken belief that it contained hidden treasure. “There’s this belief that monuments like this contain treasure,” said Summers, explaining that the dynamiting of monuments is a problem in Turkey. “It makes the Turkish newspapers every month or so.”

The second lion, found to the northeast of the village, had also been split in two. As a result of this destruction both lion sculptures, which originally were paired with another, now mainly have one lion intact.

The remainder of the story is fascinating and well worth the time.

One amusing side note, here’s a screen grab of the Google ads embedded into the story – just in case your casa needs lion guardians, these folks might be able to help:

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