Kilise Tepe Excavations

Location: near Kışlaköy; Mersin Province

Years: 1994-2000, 2007-2011

Director: Nicholas Postgate

Participants: J. D. Hawkins, T. Pollard, Heather Baker, Sarah Blakeney, Graham Chandler, Dominique Collon, Sara Da Gama Howells, Martin Densham, Nicholas Jackson, Gail Mackinnon, Sara Owen, Tom Pollard, Caroline Steele, Dorit Symington, David Thomas, Leyla Umur, Andrew Wilson, Şinasi Başal, Erhan Özcan, Fatih Ferli, Ergün Laflı, Karl Knappet, Sue Colledge, Polydora Baker, Jessica Pearson, Bronwyn Douglas, Franca Cole, Carl Knappett, Wim van Neer, Hasan Bahar, Naoise Mac Sweeney, Bob Miller, Vicki Herring, Margaret O’Hea, Christina Bouthillier, Carol Colantoni, Emre Şerifoğlu, Sue Poll, Julie Best, Jennifer Jones, Tom Sutcliffe, Ekin Kozal, Caroline Steel

Government Representatives: Musa Tombul (1997), Mustafa Ergün (1998), Tolga Çelik and Mevlüt Üyümez (2008), Mahmut Altuncan (2009), Nurettin Özkan (2010), Yaşar Yılmaz (2011)

Funding: BIAA, British Academy, McDonald Fieldwork Fund and Cary Robertson Fund of Trinity College (Cambridge), Arts and Humanities Research Board, Institute for Aegean Prehistory, Isaac Newton Trust in Cambridge, National Geographic Society, Dumbarton Oaks, Newcastle University (School of Historical Studies), Mediterranean Archaeological Trust



Kilise Tepe (sometimes known as Maltepe) had been known for around 30 years when a barrage project planned for the lower Göksu threatened to submerge it entirely.  Because Kilise Tepe was believed to be a significant site (some surface sherds suggested that it had been part of the Hittite Empire), a project was initiated.  Between 23 July and 11 August 1994 a survey was undertaken, which involved mapping with a total station then producing contour plans of the site.  Surface collection and mound clearance was also conducted, with all collected material washed, sorted, and labelled.  Excavations were also begun in three areas of the site: at the mound’s northwest end, on the eastern edge, and then in a row of three soundings.  The soundings each uncovered stone architecture.  The collected pottery, upon analysis, pointed to continuous occupation, with two possible gaps between 600BC to 300BC, then again between 100BC and AD400.  Some interesting small objects, such as clay loomweights and a spindle whorl, were also discovered in the course of the season.

The second season took place in the summer of 1995, with some 21 team members working to complete the surface clearance of the site.  On the east and south sides of the mound Bronze Age material was found in greater density.  By the end of the season, some 21,900m2 had been cleared, and over 48,000 sherds processed.  A new excavation strip was opened, and to the north of this some stone building foundations were located.  At this point the site’s chronology had been dated from the Early Bronze Age through to Byzantine times.  A Late Bronze Age structure was also identified, with remnants of Imperial Hittite pottery.  A dry and wet sieving programme of soil was undertaken.  Some regional studies were also undertaken, with a hilltop fort (Eğlence Kale) and some tombs identified nearby. 

Between 15 July and 14 September 1996 work was resumed, with a team of 27 people.  The deep sounding in the northwest provided some clear stratification.  Seven or eight Late Bronze Age phases were identified as wall foundations were cleared away.  The Byzantine church was studied further, and some interesting architectural features discovered.  Some more regional survey work was undertaken, and Hellenistic and Byzantine sites were found; this was deemed a particularly important priority as the imminent dam would submerge any existing sites in the region.

The fourth season of work occurred in 1997, during which the stratigraphic sounding reached bedrock.  A building containing a stele was also better understood through study (though the disparateness of its contents – storage vessels with cabonised grains, and some official seals – left its overall purpose enigmatic), and the Byzantine church’s plan and history was elucidated.  More pottery was added to the assemblage of the upper levels of the deep sounding, and some logs were discovered that were helpful for dendrochronological dating; one displayed 192 preserved rings, implying a date of around 1381BC.  Studies on the red-painted pottery and archaeobotanical and zoological sample studies continued parallel to the excavation work. 

By 1998 a decision had been taken to reduce the level of the Kayraktepe barrage, which meant Kilise Tepe was no longer under threat.  This season was dedicated to solving some of the extant questions of the site.  The east wall of the church was discovered, and some of its building history was elucidated.  The stele building was also a subject of focus: some carbonised timber was recovered, and some pottery fragments pointed to some interesting evidence for contact with the Mediterranean.  Some astragali (knuckly bones) were found in a pit under the floor of the stele building, as were a few beads and shells.  Towards the season’s end studies on ceramics, wood, animal bone, and other things began more intensively.  A storeroom in the Silifke Museum was provided for housing study material, which took 350 plastic crates to keep it all.

1999 was a study season, with preparation made for publications on the previous five seasons of work.  The stored material was photographed, organised, and sorted, even as a variety of studies were undertaken (on animal and human bone collections, small finds, shells, metal-work, etc). 

The year 2000 saw the continuation of study and the write up of final reports.  Also, an exhibit on Kilise Tepe was prepared for the Silifke Museum, which allowed visitors to learn more about the site and to see some of the finds it had yielded through the course of excavations.

After a hiatus of nearly ten years, excavations on the site were resumed in 2007.  In the interim, many results had been published.  In July 2007 the northwest area of the mound was returned to, with a focus particularly on the stele building and its internal history.  Some interesting founds were recovered there, and stratified materials from earlier phases were found.  Studies continued on the local painted and imported wares, as did archaeo-botanical and zoo-archaeological analyses. 

By the following year, plans for the hydro-electric barrage had been renewed; it appeared as though Kilise Tepe would be unharmed, though Çingentepe became a point of concern.  From July to early September 2008, further work was undertaken at Kilise Tepe with 24 team members.  This year they focused on the period of change between the Bronze Age into the Iron Age, as well as on the Byzantine areas.  The stele building yielded a room containing over 1,000 animal bones, as well as some interesting small finds.  Two or three ovens and some deep storage pits were discovered.  The area surrounding the church (including the domestic buildings) was also explored in an effort to situate the Byzantine church in its context. 

Excavation work continued into 2009, with 24 team members working between July and August.  Excavations were extended further west, where a room with some interesting stratified pottery and animal bone was found.  The sounding work south of the church was also continued, in an effort to establish a bettery stratigraphy sequence for the period between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.  Work at the Byzantine church yielded a burial and a few coins, and pointed to the likelihood of the buildings and church having been occupied contemporaneously.

A successful season was enjoyed in July and August 2010, though it was primarily devoted to post-excavation work and study.  Materials were drawn, photographed, and recorded, and some studies were undertaken specifically on glass, lamps, and ceramics.  The ceramic sequence from the Iron Age was completed, and site plans were created. 

The final season was undertaken in 2011.  Stratigraphy sequences in the cross-sections were examined, then excavation sites were back-filled.  Studies were continued, including zoo-archaeological investigations, digitisation of archives, and analysis of Late Bronze ceramics.  All the finds were recorded and archived in a database, and stored in plastic crates, after which they were taken to the Silifke Museum.


Anatolian Studies 45: 139-191

Anatolian Archaeology 1: 7-8; 2: 10-11; 3: 8-9; 4: 13-14; 5: 11; 6: 13; 13: 28-30; 14: 23-24; 15: 21-23; 16: 22-23

Heritage Turkey 1: 23-24


Postgate, J.N., Thomas, D.C. (eds) 2007: Excavations at Kilise Tepe, 1994-1998: From Bronze Age to Byzantine in Western Cilicia, 2 vols. McDonald Institute/British Institute at Ankara Monograph 30

Baker, H.D. et al. 1995: ‘Kilise Tepe 1994’ Anatolian Studies 45: 139-191

Knappett, C. 1996: ‘Characterising Ceramic Change at Kilise Tepe’ Anatolian Archaeology 3: 10

Postgate, J.N. 2007: ‘The ceramics of centralization and dissolution: a case study from Rough Cilicia’ Anatolian Studies 57: 141-150

Debruyne, S. 2010: ‘Tools and Souvenirs: The Shells from Kilise Tepe (1994-1998)’ Anatolian Studies 60: 149-160

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