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2,800-Year-Old Castle Linked to Enigmatic Ancient Civilization Found in Turkey

The structures dates to the time of Urartu, a kingdom that clashed with the Assyrians in the first millennium B.C.

An eighth- or ninth-century B.C. Urartian castle similar to the one recently found in eastern Turkey (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
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Archaeologists in Turkey have unearthed a 2,800-year-old castle linked to Urartu, an ancient kingdom that spanned modern-day Armenia, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

As Mesut Varol reports for the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA), experts discovered the ruins on a mountain in the Gürpınar district of eastern Turkey’s Van province. The find—made at an altitude of 8,200 feet—was part of an excavation project funded by Van Yuzuncu Yil University.

“Although it is believed to be dated back to the Urartian era like the Van Castle”—a nearby fortress built between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C.—“we see that it was mostly used in the Middle Ages,” excavation leader Rafet Çavuşoğlu, an archaeologist at the university, tells the AA.

Highlights of the discovery include a large cistern measuring roughly 21 feet deep, 21 feet long and 8 feet in diameter. The team also found ceramic artifacts and remnants of walls crafted out of limestone rock and sandstone.

“This castle is a very important discovery for us,” Çavuşoğlu says.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Urartu—located southeast of the Black Sea and southwest of the Caspian Sea—was an ancient civilization that first emerged in the early 13th century B.C. The Urartians wielded much political power in the Middle East during the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. but ultimately lost control of the region after multiple skirmishes with the Assyrian Empire.

In the seventh century B.C., the civilization seemingly vanished into thin air, likely as the result of an invasion by the Scythians, the Cimmerians or the Medes. Researchers only recognized Urartu as a distinct culture following digs conducted in the 19th century, as Mark Cartwright pointed out for World History Encyclopedia in 2018.

During their time in power, the Urartians were known for their impressive architectural projects, including a nearly 50-mile-long irrigation canal and ornately decorated temples. These religious structures were often outfitted with etchings that paid homage to local customs: The lion, for instance, was a popular Urartian motif, as Owen Jarus noted for Live Science in 2017.

Last year, the AA reported on a team of Turkish restorers who refurbished the stone carvings of the 2,700-year-old Ayanis Castle, which sits atop a hill overlooking Lake Van. One of the best-preserved heritage sites linked to the enigmatic civilization, the castle’s Haldi Temple housed walls decorated with “one-of-a-kind” intaglio ornaments, excavation leader Mehmet Işıklı, an archaeologist at Atatürk University, told the AA at the time.

Other recent finds related to Urartu range from the grave of a noblewoman buried with her jewelry at Çavuştepe Castle, also in Gürpınar, to a 2,800-year-old open-air temple at Harput Castle in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ. In April, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that the temple—made up of an oval and flat area used to house sacrificial animals, as well as various niches, seats and steps—was likely used for major religious ceremonies honoring Haldi, the Urartian god of war.

Because the region often experiences powerful earthquakes, few traces of Urartian buildings survive today, per World History Encyclopedia. Interestingly, Çavuşoğlu previously led an excavation at Çavuştepe Castle that suggested the Urartians used a construction technique called “locked stones” to protect their fortifications against tremors, as Daily Sabah reported in 2019.

Experts hope that the new find will shed light on Urartu culture and architecture.

“In cooperation with Van Yüzüncü Yıl University, we made an important discovery here. We found a new castle witnessing the Urartian period and the Middle Ages,” Gürpinar’s mayor, Hayrullah Tanis, tells the AA. “This discovery excites us in terms of tourism and culture.”

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