According to an online news article, Turkey’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ertuğrul Günay, is pressuring Germany to return a gate sphinx found at Hattusa, even threatening to revoke the German Archaeological Institute’s permit to excavate Hattusa. The Germans have been directing excavations at Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire, since 1906.

The sphinx in question is presently on display in the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin. It belongs to a pair of sphinxes from the Sphinx Gate of the Yerkapi rampart at Hattusa. The complementary sphinx is on display in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, Turkey.

Berlin Pergamonmuseum.
This is a copy of the sphinx shown below. The sphinx which is being disputed is not in the photo; it is displayed on the opposite wall behind where the photographer stood. (The photographer is now kicking himself.)

Istanbul Museum of Ancient Orient.
Sphinx from Yerkapi rampart Sphinx Gate at Hattusa. This sphinx complements the one in Berlin.

Turkey has given Germany until the end of July to return the sphinx. Germany has apparently rejected previous requests. The sphinx was taken to Berlin in 1915 to be restored.

Hattusa is an enormous and complex site just on the outskirts of the modern village of Boğazkale (more commonly known by its former name Boğazköy). Hattusa had dozens of temples and a citadel.

The fortifications included various gates with parabolic arches, a massive rampart on the southern end, and casemate walls. The German excavations are currently directed by Andreas Schachner. From 1994-2005, Jürgen Seeher directed the excavations. Seeher is the author of the best guidebook on Hattusa, Hattusa Guide: A Day in the Hittite Capital, 3rd rev. ed. (Istanbul: Ege Yayınları, 2006). It is chock full of photos, plans, and descriptions, and has a fold-out map.

Much of the guide is available online here. If you have the opportunity to visit the site, allow yourself at least one complete day and make sure you have a car and Seeher’s guidebook.

Yerkapi rampart at the south end of Hattusa.
Below center is a postern gate and tunnel and directly above is the Sphinx Gate.

Buyukkale, the Royal Citadel at Hattusa.

HT: Jack Sasson

UPDATE (5/20): Germany has agreed to give the Sphinx to Turkey.  Details are here.


The Baptist Press recently posted an article about the Middle Bronze II water tunnel at Tel Gezer. The excavation team is currently clearing out the tunnel and conducting a detailed study of it. Below is a picture of the entrance to the tunnel taken in 2004 by Todd Bolen. The tunnel begins to the left of where the man is standing and descends underground past the left side of the picture. (Recent pictures from inside the tunnel are posted with The Baptist Press article.)

Here’s how the article describes the tunnel:

The challenge is excavating a large, rock-hewn water tunnel at Tel Gezer that is believed to have been carved out by Canaanites between 1800 and 1500 B.C. — around the time of Abraham. Tons of debris must be removed from the ancient tunnel before the real work can even begin. …

The Gezer system also is unusually large, measuring 12 feet wide by 24 feet tall, Parker noted. It is believed that the ancient people used donkeys to ferry water from the source to the surface. The width allowed two animals, loaded with jugs, to pass side by side. The height of the tunnel perplexes the expedition team, and they hope to find an explanation as they pursue the dig. …

Last summer the team began the arduous tasks of removing tons of rubble from the tunnel. During a three-week dig, they cleared 72 tons of dirt and rocks. Team members dug out the tunnel and put debris in large sacks which were hoisted out with a crane. Due to the 38-degree slope, Parker compared it to working on a steeply pitched roof.

The Middle Bronze II period was a time when the Canaanite city-states grew strong. Large public works were widespread in the region, such as city walls, massive earthen ramparts, and glacis (i.e., defensive slopes below the city walls). So the cooperation and organization needed to dig a water tunnel was relatively common during that period, but (as the article points out) elaborate water systems were not. Sophisticated water systems (such as the ones at Hazor, Megiddo, and Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem) are more characteristic of Iron Age II cities.

Side Note: The article mentions that 1800 to 1500 B.C. is “around the time of Abraham.” The date of Abraham’s lifetime is a debated issue related to the “Early Date vs. Late Date” controversy about the Exodus. The article apparently assumes a Late Date position. My personal conviction (and that of Todd Bolen) is that the Early Date position is the correct one, which would place Abraham’s lifetime at approximately 2150 to 2000 B.C. If this is correct, then construction of the Gezer water tunnel would have occurred during the time of Israel’s 430-year sojourn in Egypt.

The Baptist Press article can be found here. Details about the dig this summer can be found here. The excavation’s homepage can be found here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer