When the builders started digging the foundation of a house in 2017 in Başbük, a village in Turkey about 70 miles from the Syrian border, they came across a curious opening in the limestone bedrock. Soon, they unearthed a staircase that descended more than 20 feet. It led to a cool, damp chamber nearly 28 feet wide with a 16-foot ceiling.
Etched into one wall was a 13-foot-long procession of almond-eyed deities, led by Hadad, a storm god who was identified by his three-pronged lightning rod and headdress with a five-point star. The goddess Atargatis, a fertility deity with a double-horned cylindrical crown inset with a star, followed. Six more beings trailed, in various stages of completion.
The discovery, described Wednesday in the journal Antiquity, captures a moment some 2,800 years ago when the Neo-Assyrian Empire was the dominant power in the region and its cultural influence was being integrated by subjects distant from its center. But the find also highlighted the fragility of archaeological treasures, which are vulnerable to looting and trafficking before the knowledge they preserve can be studied.
After discovering the chamber, “the occupants tried to gain economic advantage,” said Selim Adali, a historian and epigrapher at the Social Sciences University of Ankara and a co-author of the study.