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Ancient 'lost' civilisation uncovered by archaeologists in Turkey

Harry Cockburn
The ancient stone was found by a farmer who was dredging an irrigation ditch: James Osborne/University of Chicago

A mysterious “lost kingdom” dating to between 900 – 600BC has been discovered after a chance find by archaeologists in Turkey.

Hieroglyphs etched in stone suggest the rulers of the civilisation may have conquered the kingdom ruled by King Midas, the legendary ancient ruler said to have a golden touch.

An international team of researchers were working on a significant archaeological dig in Ankara, when they were tipped off by a local farmer who had come across a large and unusual piece of rock while dredging a drainage ditch on his land nearby.

The man described a large stone covered with strange inscriptions, immediately exciting the researchers.

“My colleague Michele Massa and I 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 of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

“Right away it was clear it was ancient, and we recognised the script it was written in: Luwian, the language used in the Bronze and Iron ages in the area.”

Luwian is one of the oldest branches of the Indo-European languages and was written in hieroglyphic signs native to the Turkish area which are read alternating between right to left and left to right.

The survey team immediately identified a special hieroglyphic marking indicating the message came from a king.

The farmer then helped pull the “massively heavy stone” out of the irrigation ditch with a tractor.

It was then sent to a local Turkish museum where it was cleaned, photographed and readied for translation.

The nearby archaeological dig was at a site called Türkmen-Karahöyük, a large Bronze and Iron Age mounded settlement that was occupied between about 3500 and 100 BC, and identified as a major archaeological site in 2017.

The researchers believe that at its height the city covered about 300 acres – which would make it one of the largest ancient cities of Bronze and Iron Age Turkey.

They do not yet know what the kingdom was called, but Dr Osborne said its discovery is “revolutionary news in the field”.

Once translated, the stone tablet revealed that the king was called Hartapu, and Türkmen-Karahöyük was probably his capital city.

The stone tells the story of King Hartapu’s conquest of the nearby kingdom of Muska, better known as Phrygia – home to King Midas.

“The storm gods delivered the [opposing] kings to his majesty,” the stone read.

“We had no idea about this kingdom. In a flash, we had profound new information on the Iron Age Middle East,” said Dr Osborne, who specialises in examining the expression of political authority in Iron Age cities.

He said it was “a marvellous, incredibly lucky find”.

The Oriental Institute’s linguistic analysis suggested the engravings was made in the late-eighth-century BC, which lines up with the time Midas ruled.

The stone also provides answers for a long-standing mystery: Less than 10 miles to the south of the ancient city is a volcano with a well-known inscription in hieroglyphics. It refers to a King Hartapu, but no one knew who he was – or what kingdom he ruled.