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Oylum Höyük

Oylum Höyük

The Oylum Höyük is situated in the old village of Oylum, in the central county of the province of Kilis, to the south of the Kilis-Gaziantep highway. The mound is 460 meters long and 370 meters wide. It consists of two mounds, one 22 and the other 37 meters high, connected by a neck. Its dimensions make the Oylum Höyük one of the biggest mound not only on the Plain of Kilis, but also in south-eastern Turkey.

The Oylum Höyük is situated on the fertile land at the point where the high Anatolian plateau gives way to the Syrian plains that extend southwards, overlooking the Plain of Kilis. This region constitutes the northwestern end of the “Fertile Crescent”, a half-moon shaped area stretching from South Mesopotamia to Palestine. Due to its situation at the junction of east-west and north-south roads, the mound has been a strategically significant settlement during various periods.

Excavations have revealed that the Oylum Höyük is situated on a relatively low elevation on the plain. The Akpınar River that gave life to the settlement is born on the Plain of Kilis and flows along the western skirts of the mound. The existence of a wall built as a flood barrier about 5500 years ago indicates that the stream, which has a low flow rate today, was probably a river with much greater volume back then.


Research History

The first archaeological surveys in and around Kilis were carried out by Prof. Dr. Uluğ Bahadır Alkım in the 1960’s. In his survey reports, Uluğ Bahadır Alkım mentions many mounds around Kilis, including the Oylum Höyük. Following these, in the late 1960’s an Italian team consisting of A. Archi, P. E. Pecorella and M. Salvini carried out research within the province of Gaziantep, focusing mostly on the historical geography of the region. The Oylum Höyük is also mentioned in their reports.

Archaeological studies at the Oylum Höyük began with the surface survey conducted by Prof. Dr. Engin Özgen in the years 1987 and 1988. Excavations were carried out in 1989, with purposes of preventing unintentional destruction of the area by peasants through digging and removal of soil from the area; and shedding light on the unknown history of the region through studies of the Oylum Höyük, which was an important site during the Bronze Age (3000-1100/1000 BC), thus contributing to regional archaeology.

These researches and studies performed on behalf of Hacettepe University and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Turkish Republic have continued until today, with the involvement of domestic and foreign researchers.


Excavation Results

Excavations at the Oylum Höyük have continued in five different areas on the mound and also in the area named “Mozaikli Bazilika” (Basilica Church with Mosaics), which is located in the fields to the west of the Oylum Höyük. Data acquired suggests the existence of continuous settlement in the Oylum Höyük region beginning from the Late Chalcolithic Period (3500-3000 BC) until today.

Late Chalcolithic Period (3500 – 3000 BC)

Settlement strata dating back to the Late Chalcolithic Period have been found on the northeast and southwest slopes of the mound which were damaged through removal of soil from the area. As a result of the work carried out on the northeast slope, structure levels reflecting the Late Uruk culture recognized from Mesopotamia and Syria have been unearthed. Structural units reflecting the same plan pertaining to the same stage indicate the existence of long term use. Structures with rectangular rooms built with mud-bricks were erected on foundations formed using rubble stones. During that period, inhabitants of the Oylum Höyük put their dead babies into earthenware pots and buried them under the floors of the rooms.

In excavations performed on the southwest slope of the Oylum Höyük, remains pertaining to the Ubaid culture phase of the Chalcolithic Period have been discovered. The houses of this period had their own hearths and were built with mud-bricks on a single layer of stone foundation. Simple and rough hand-made bowls of Coba style were widely used. In a later period, this area was converted into a burial site. At this burial site, bodies of babies and children were put in earthenware pots whereas adults were simply buried in the ground. In some graves, traces were found indicating that the dead were wrapped in some kind of textile product before they were buried.

Early Bronze Age (3000 – 2000 BC).

Excavations on the northeast side of the mound have unearthed a settlement stratum dating back to the transition phase from the Late Chalcolithic Period to the Early Bronze Age (EBA), and above that, a burial site dating back to the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. It is known that there were city-states called “badallum” engaged in interregional trade, especially located on the banks and in the vicinity of the Euphrates River, during this period when bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was widely used. The Oylum settlement also must have been an important centre of this kind during the mentioned period.

Excavations carried out in the burial site have yielded important information concerning the burial customs of the Early Bronze Age. The five types of burials observed are: inhumation in pits, cooking-pot burials, pithos burials, cist grave and chamber tomb. In addition, small, hut-like structures in the centre of the burial area associated with food offerings in burial rituals have been brought to light. Ceramic pots, bronze tools and weapons; and various ornaments made from stones, shells and metals were put into the graves. There are also findings of food along with the aforementioned materials found in burial grounds, which indicate that the inhabitants of the Oylum settlement in that period believed in the other world.

Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1600 BC)

Remains from the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) were found in the excavations carried out on the northeast slope and the northwest elevation of the mound. The Early Bronze Age cemetery on the northeast slope continued to be used also in MBA I (2000-1800 BC). The MBA graves, which were poorer than those of the EBA with respect to the things put into the graves, consist of inhumation in pits, pot burials and chamber tombs. In the MBA II (1800 -1600 BC), a settlement partly consisting of at least two-storey structures was set up in the same area. This settlement stratum appears to have been destroyed by a fire.

Excavations of the elevation to the northwest have unearthed part of a monumental mud-brick structure supported by a mud-brick terrace, dating back to MBA I according to studies. This great structure with 1.5 m wide and 3 m high fortified walls is assumed to be an important administrative building. The site of this structure was used for dumping waste for a while after being destroyed by a fire. Then, during MBA II, houses were built again in the same area. These MBA II houses with narrow streets in between were also destroyed by a big fire. Renewed houses of the second settlement phase faced the same end.

Nail-shaped bronze statuettes used for the purpose of votive offering to protect the building were found under some of the houses built in that period. Numerous inhumation in pits or pot burials under the floor level of houses suggests that, unlike MBA I, house burials had become the custom in that period. Bodies were placed in the graves in crouched position on their sides. Faience, ceramic or marble vessels; ornaments made of bone, stone, shells, bronze and frit glass; and food were also placed in the graves. Charred olive and grape pits and wheat and barley grains shed light on the deep-rooted history of these fruits and crops still being grown widely on the Kilis Plain.

In the MBA II period settlement, findings related to glass making in a two-chambered workshop built adjacent to a house were uncovered. Numerous hearths, slag, cinder, and grinding stones show that the place was probably one of the oldest glass-making workshops in the world.

The cuneiform inscription on a cylinder seal made of lapis lazuli pertaining to the MBA II, which was found in 2010 in the researches carried out on the northwest on the mound, gives us very important information on the history of the Oylum Höyük. The seal belonging to a regent named Bitna supports the idea that the Oylum Höyük was an important regional center during the Bronze Ages.

Late Bronze Age (1600 - 1200/1100 BC)

Architectural remains pertaining to the Late Bronze Age (LBA) were identified during the excavations carried out on northwest of the mound. This period is represented by two settlement strata: one of LBA I (1600-1400 BC) and the other of LBA II (1400-1200 BC). The structures dating to the LBA I period are small-sized mud-brick houses, some with courtyards; and houses dating to the LBA II period are bigger in size, with thick mud walls and bond beams. The most important object discovered in the level of LBA II remains is a bulla (a lump of clay molded around a cord and stamped with a seal) on which the seal of Ini-Tesup, king of Carchemish, is impressed. The Oylum Höyük is the third centre where an impressed seal belonging to Ini-Tesup was found, the other two being Ugarit-Ras Shamra and Emar-Meskene, both of which were significant kingdoms in Syria. Ini-Tesup was a Hittite Prince who ruled as king of Carchemish for almost half a century and kept the Syrian region under control on behalf of the Hittite Empire in the 13th century BC.

Iron Age (1200/1100 – 535 BC)

Archaeological studies performed on the northeast slope and on the northwest mound have ascertained that the Oylum Höyük was densely settled during the Iron Age. In the strata pertaining to the Iron Age, houses with rectangular plans opening onto narrow streets of gravel have been discovered. Most of these structures include spaces with hearths/ ovens or storage pits where big jars are buried. Cesspits and storage pits set into the floor used as grain silos are characteristics of the Iron Age and found in almost all the settlements of that age.

Achaemenid/Persian Age (535 – 330 BC)

During the course of excavations performed on the northwest mound, a poorly protected settlement layer dating to the Achaemenid Age was discovered above those of the Iron Age. A big defensive structure with thick walls made of mud-bricks was discovered in this area and was determined to have been renewed and reused in the Roman Period as well. A great number of baked clay figurines of cavalry men, some painted red, were found in the area, dating to the Achaemenid Age.

Hellenistic Age (330 – 30 BC)

As a result of the studies performed on the northwest mound, remains pertaining to the Hellenistic Age were identified as well. multi-chambered structural units have been observed in the settlement layer of that period. Iron arrow heads, silver and copper coins, and baked clay figurines are also among the findings dating to the Hellenistic Age.

Roman Period (30 BC –395 AD).

The uppermost layer of settlement on the northwest of the mound dates back to the Roman Period. The settlements that used to exist in the times of this partially protected stratum are represented by rectangular houses with ovens; a large defensive structure with 1.8 m thick mud-brick walls; and a mud-brick terrace. Roman coins dating to the 4th century BC have also been found inside the monumental structure which was first built in the Achaemenid Period, and renewed for continued use in the Roman Period.

The Medieval Period (4th Century – 15th Century AD)

11 simple ground graves pertaining to the Byzantine Age unearthed through excavations performed in an area just to the north of the village houses on the southern elevation of the Oylum Höyük, show that the area had been used as a cemetery in the Medieval Period. No objects except the glass bracelets on the wrists of the buried bodies have been found in the excavations in the mentioned cemetery site.

Another excavation site was approximately 600 meters to the south of the Oylum Höyük, in a field on the west bank of the Akpınar River, in the area where a Byzantine basilica church with mosaics was damaged through unauthorized diggings. The structure unearthed after 3 seasons of work in the site has a size of 39.70 to 21.10 meters. This church dating to the 6th century AD is divided into three naves with two rows of columns. There are two main gates which provide entrance to the central nave, connected to a courtyard located in the west.

The floor of the church features mosaics with geometrical or botanical motifs such as intersecting circles, diamonds, squares, zigzags, leaves and the Maltese cross; in red, black, gray, white and yellow. The mosaic floor has remained in a better condition in the western part of the structure. In the northeast section of the church, inside the northern nave, there is an epigraph in Ancient Greek, reading, “Aidesim, man from Alassios; he, for the salvation of himself, his country and his children”.

The Church with Mosaics underwent renovation shortly after being built, and continued to be used long afterwards. Excavations and studies have shown that the structure was seriously damaged by an earthquake. However, people continued to live in the region after the disaster. A two-staged medieval settlement has been determined to have been built there after the destruction of the church.

The Church with Mosaics has been temporarily covered and put under protection; it is planned to be converted into an open-air museum as a cultural asset for tourism in the region in the near future.