Photo for The Kahramanmaraş Project: Unearthing History in Southeastern Turkey
Domuztepe display at the Kahramanmaras Museum in Kahramanmaras, Turkey (Photo Credits)
The Kahramanmaraş Project: Unearthing History in Southeastern Turkey
International archeological digs in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey — led by UCLA professor Dr. Elizabeth Carter — have revealed significant findings about cultural intersections amongst groups such as the Hittites, Romans, and Armenians since the Late Neolithic Period.
"Domuztepe is one of the few [settlements] that bridges [the] elusive gap between early farming villages and later cities."
World Archaeology
Kahramanmaraş is an archeological treasure. Situated at the foot of the Taurus mountains in Southeastern Turkey, the picturesque city is rich in history and culture. Kahramanmaraş, along with its province of the same name, was the settlement zone for several civilizations since the 6th century BC. The region witnessed significant development while inhabited by these ancient societies, and archeological digs have unearthed their stories.

Until the 1980s, what lay under the now-bustling Kahramanmaraş was largely unexplored. But this would not be the case for long. During the second half of the decade, UCLA professor Dr. Elizabeth Carter would develop an interest in the area and pioneer a project that would result in the discovery of incredible cultural innovations.

Dr. Elizabeth Carter, Professor Emerita, UCLADr. Carter, now a professor emerita, taught at UCLA for over 40 years. As a faculty member of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures — as well as a member of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology — Dr. Carter was heavily involved in archeological pursuits in the Near East Region. An especially memorable involvement was the Kahramanmaraş Project, her original idea.

“I started this project back in the late 80s, early 90s when I first visited the area,” Dr. Carter said. “I talked to the people in the Kahramanmaraş Museum and they were interested in having an archeological survey done of the region. And I was interested in the region,” she shared. Thus the Kahramanmaraş Project was born.

Before the project was initiated, Dr. Carter had known about several artifacts that were found in the region, including a Neo-Hittite lion statue and Iron Age figurines. However, these artifacts were not discovered through archeological digs. Dr. Carter’s project would introduce a regulated process to unearth such artifacts, while protecting and preserving the history of the region.

The Kahramanmaraş project mainly focused on a site on the southeastern edge of the Kahramanmaraş province, at a site called Domuztepe. From the start, the project covering Domuztepe’s 20 hectares was a collaborative effort. Turkish students and scholars from various universities gathered at the site to begin work on the initial survey.

“We always had Turkish students on the project,” Dr. Carter shared, noting that the first students to participate in the effort were from Istanbul University and Hacettepe University. There was also a local representative from the Turkish Antiquities Service who was always on site.

After the initial survey of the area was completed, the Kahramanmaraş Project moved to its excavation stage. Involvement at Domuztepe increased as researchers from other countries arrived at the site. Members flew in from England, Germany, Sweden, Japan, China, Spain, and Romania.

Though faculty from abroad contributed to excavation efforts, most project participants were students. “We had quite a global student body,” Dr. Carter commented after listing countries where project members were from.

The international archeological dig revealed significant findings about the area. Dr. Carter’s team unearthed an extensive architectural plan, an elaborate mass burial, and artificial terracing at Domuztepe. The findings date to the 6th century BC, or Late Neolithic Period.A cache of six thick-burnished jars built into a base of a circular wall at Domuztepe
Individual artifacts from the site — including seals and ceramics — are now on display at the Kahramanmaraş Museum. A room and a half in the museum is devoted to Dr. Carter’s excavation. A remarkable part of this large collection is the reconstruction of a house, based on uncovered ceramics that had pictures of houses on them.

Discoveries from the Kahramanmaraş Project have had an immense impact on the global archeological community. Findings from Domuztepe can be attributed to groups such as the Hittites, Romans, and Armenians, illuminating cultural intersectionality over time. Dr. Carter’s team suggests that Domuztepe is one of the largest known settlements from the Late Neolithic Period. The site was also likely a social and political center for inhabitants of the general region.

There has been steady progress on the project since initial work at Domuztepe began in 1995. Dr. Carter continues to contribute to the Kahramanmaraş Project through research and publications, but the physical project is now led by her colleague, Professor Halil Tekin of Hacettepe University.Large jar from the Domuztepe excavation site showing buildings and "tree of life" motif

It is unlikely the project will see any progress in the upcoming years. Earlier in February 2023, several deadly earthquakes hit Southeastern Turkey, precisely in the Kahramanmaraş area. According to Dr. Carter, the exterior of the Kahramanmaraş Museum was untouched. However, the condition of the Domuztepe collection inside remains unknown.

As Turkey looks to repair the damage done by earthquakes, the Kahramanmaraş Project will likely be halted. “I doubt there will be much money for archeology in the next few years. I think [Turkey] will be more focused on reconstruction than anything else,” said Dr. Carter.

The UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and Cotsen Institute of Archaeology continue to pursue projects abroad, expanding UCLA’s presence around the globe and contributing to historical findings in archeology. Dr. Carter’s latest paper on the Domuztepe excavation was recently accepted for publication by the Cotsen Institute, and will provide further insights into the global impact of the Kahramanmaraş Project.