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Rock-Cut Tombs in Turkey May be Part of Largest Necropolis in the World

Rock-Cut Tombs in Turkey May be Part of Largest Necropolis in the World


Large tombs cut into rock of the hill upon which sits Urfa Castle in Sanliurfa, Turkey, may have been meant for members of a royal family, archaeologists report. The tombs are in an area that Turkish researchers are calling the world’s biggest necropolis.

Researchers have been excavating the area near the castle and have so far restored about 80 tombs. A story about the discovery in Hurriyet Daily News does not say if human remains or artifacts were discovered in the tombs.

“Among the newly found tombs, one was situated on the highest part of the castle’s hill and was bigger than the other tombs,” Hurriyet reports. “It was estimated to have belonged to the nobles of Edessa King Abgar’s family. The tomb had rooms for 10 people. Also, floor mosaics were found in one of the tombs. Syriac inscriptions and fine engravings can also be seen in another tomb in the area.”

These tombs along with other rock tombs near the castle in the Kızılkoyun and Dedeosman neighborhoods could comprise the world’s largest burial ground, says Hurriyet. Those tombs too are being excavated. Sanliurfa castle is now an open-air museum.

Şanlıurfa Castle or just Urfa Castle is the seat of the ancient capital of Osroene, a kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia that came under the influence of various powers, including Rome, Asia Minor, Persia, Syria and Armenia over the years. Today’s borders put it in southeast Turkey near the border with Syria. Sanliurfa was formerly known as Edessa.

The province of Sanliurfa in Turkey

The province of Sanliurfa in Turkey (Wikimedia Commons)

Several monarchs of the Osroene kingdom were named Abgar. The Hurriyet story does not specify which Abgar’s family may have been interred in the recently excavated tombs or if more than one was. There were various kings with forms of the name Abgar in the period from 94 BC to 116 AD.

One of the most prominent Abgars, Abgarus, made a treaty with the Romans in 53 BC and aided General Crassus in the war with the Parthians. Later, Abgarus switched his allegiance and fed erroneous intelligence to Crassus to help the Parthians in the war, a factor that helped defeat the Romans. Abgarus also switched sides in mid-battle of another conflict in which his forces had been pledged to fight with the Romans.

Abgarus has been variously identified as Armenian or Arab.

Legend says another famous King Abgar, Abgarus V the Black, corresponded with Jesus Christ after converting to Christianity. It may be that Abgar to which the Hurriyet article refers because this reported correspondence is important to church history and the letters were famous for centuries in the East and West.

Abgar V on a modern Armenian 100,000 Dram banknote

Abgar V on a modern Armenian 100,000 Dram banknote (Wikimedia Commons)

An even more ancient people of Turkey, the Lycians, also left spectacular rock tombs.

The Lycians are among the most enigmatic people of antiquity because little historical record has been documented, wrote Dhwty in Ancient Origins in June 2014. Around 20 major sites remain today with the Lycians' unusual funerary architecture, including incredible rock-cut tombs carved into cliff faces dominating parts of the landscape. One of the most interesting features of the Lycians is their funerary culture.

Lycian tombs carved into the face of a cliff in Turkey.

Lycian tombs carved into the face of a cliff in Turkey. Source: BigStockPhoto

There are several types of Lycian tombs, the most common of which is the rock-cut tomb. The earliest examples of these are said to have been carved in the 5 th century BC, and can be found in places such as Myra and Amasia. These tombs were carved directly into the rock face, usually into a cliff, which makes them an amazing sight to behold. It is said that the Lycians believed that a mythical winged creature would carry them off into the afterlife, which is the reason for they positioned their tombs on cliffs.

Another interesting aspect of Lycian tombs are their reflection of domestic life. The tombs are often carved like the façade of Lycian houses, and usually have one or two levels, but sometimes even three. In addition, the tombs usually held more than one body, most likely of people who were related to each other.

Another form of Lycian tombs is the sarcophagus. Although this is a common form of burial, Lycian sarcophagi are unique for their great size. These structures consist of three parts: a base, a grave-chamber, and a pointed lid. Most of the intact sarcophagi have been dated to the Roman era. Lycian aristocrats sometimes buried their dead with slaves and dependents. These people were entombed in a hyposorion under the main grave-chamber. Most Lycian sarcophagi are free-standing monuments that were exposed to the sky. Nevertheless, there are other sarcophagi which were placed inside tombs as well.

Rock-cut tombs are not unique to the Lycians and Osroenes, as similar structures can be found in other parts of the Mediterranean, such as Petra in Jordan and Cyrenaica in Libya.

Featured image: Some of the rock-cut tombs found in southeastern Turkey possibly housed the bodies of the royal family. (Hurriyet photo)

By Mark Miller



 I am sure that if they were tombs then there would have been some remains but it would seem that none were found, so one intelligently concludes that they are not tombs. Yes or No?

The article sure hammers home that they were/are tombs as the word is used 31 times in the article. The over use of the word ‘tombs’ implies and inculcates that they are tombs but again we just don’t know their culture. So an average person would read the article and conclude that they are tombs and never be the wiser.

Refering to the first photo.They look to me like food (security) storage areas, a type of pantry perhaps. They don’t look like tombs.

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Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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