Researchers decipher 3,200-year-old rock landforms that represent the cosmos

An intriguing group of limestone sculptures from the Yazilikaya Rock Temple in Turkey may hold the secret of the afterlife, at least as it was understood by the inhabitants of the Hittite kingdom. The 3,200-year-old rock-cut reliefs include more than 90 figures of gods, animals and chimeras whose significance had long eluded art historians until now.

Almost 200 years since the temple was rediscovered in modern times by French archaeologist Charles Texier in 1834, researchers may have finally deciphered the elaborate carvings. A new study published this month in the Skyscape Archeology Journal suggests that the rock sanctuary depicts a symbolic cosmos, depicting earth, sky, and the underworld and parallel cycles of renewal, temporary death, and rebirth.

The highest deities of the Hittite pantheon are depicted on a central panel of Chamber A, a section of the sanctuary representing the terrestrial and celestial spheres, with the remaining figures walking towards them on the two side panels. Because it’s located due north, researchers believe this area refers to the Northern Celestial Kingdom, home to the circumpolar constellations – stars that always reside above the horizon, never rising or setting. .

“The celestial north pole is the still place around which the sky, and therefore the entire universe, seems to revolve. In traditional cosmology, it stabilizes the cosmos and governs its behavior, ”write study authors Serkan Demirel, Rita Gautschy, EC Krupp and Eberhard Zangger.

Room B, which looks southwest, contains reliefs of a dozen male figures believed to depict the gods of the underworld, including an 11-foot-tall sculpture of Nergal, the lord of underground space. “The iconography of Room B reflects death, but it is temporary death – the death of the Sun at night, the time the Sun spends south during winter, and the temporary disappearance of the Pleiades and other stars. after heliacal bedtime, ”the study says.

The Hittites were an ancient people of Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and the Yazilikaya Temple in the capital of Hattusa was considered one of the holiest places in the kingdom. In addition to its religious and ceremonial functions, the shrine likely served as an astronomical calendar, with several reliefs marking days, lunar months, and solar years. The Hittite calendar system was so sophisticated that it could still be used today, according to the Luwian Studies Foundation.

While the impact of celestial knowledge on culture and rituals has been well documented in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, there is a relative dearth of information on the Hittites’ use of astral phenomena. If researchers’ new interpretations of the Yazilikaya Shrine can be confirmed by observations and additional evidence, they write, “a new approach to understanding Hittite religion may be open.”

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