A happenstance discovery made by a Turkish farmer has led to the uncovering of an ancient city belonging to a king rumored to have defeated King Midas, a mythical Greek ruler whose infamous greed granted him the ability to turn anything he touched into solid gold.
An international team of researchers surveying a site in southern Turkey known as Türkmen-Karahöyük was tipped off by a local farmer who found a large inscribed stone while dredging an irrigation canal the previous winter.
“We rushed straight there, and we could see it still sticking out of the water, so we jumped right down into the canal – up to our waists wading around,” said Assistant Professor of Anatolian Archaeology James Osborne in a statement. Osborne is an archaeologist with the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and was mapping the site as part of the Türkmen-Karahöyük Intensive Survey Project. The area is known to have been home to other famous ancient cities throughout the millennia.
“Right away it was clear it was ancient, and we recognized the script it was written in: Luwian, the language used in the Bronze and Iron Ages in the area.”
The stone was extracted using the farmer’s tractor and transported to a Turkish museum for cleaning, photographing, and to be readied for translation.
Scholars from the Oriental Institute translated the hieroglyphic markings written in Luwian, one of the oldest branches of Indo-European languages native to the Turkish region and read by alternating between right to left and left to right. Markings indicated that the message came from a king named Hartapu towards the end of the 8th century BCE – the same time as Midas’ mythical rule – and boasted of defeating the golden-handed kingdom of Phrygia. It's possible that Midas is based on a real 8th-century king called Mita.
“The storm gods delivered the [opposing] kinds to his majesty,” reads the tablet.
King Hartapu likely ruled the area surrounding Türkmen-Karahöyük, an ancient city that would have covered an expanse of around 120 hectares (300 acres) at its peak, making it one of the largest cities of the Bronze and Iron Age in Turkey. The tablet aligns with another hieroglyphic inscription previously discovered 16 kilometers (10 miles) south, which describes King Hartapu. Until now, experts had no indication of who the ancient ruler was.
“We had no idea about this kingdom. In a flash, we had profound new information on the Bronze Age Middle East,” said Osborne.
Today, a large earthen mound covers what archaeologists believe was a large empire 3,000 years ago.
“Inside this mound are going to be palaces, monuments, houses. This stele was a marvelous, incredibly lucky find – but it’s just the beginning,” said Osborne, adding that his team plans to return this summer for further surveys and potential excavations.