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2019 excavation campaign in Doliche

Report of the 2019 excavation campaign in Doliche by assistant professor Michael Blömer (UrbNet).

View over the central nave of the South slope church of Doliche towards the apse. Photo: Doliche Project.
Part of the mosaic of the apse, fifth century CE. Photo: Doliche Project.
Newly excavated section of the northern aisle of the South slope church of Doliche. Photo: Doliche Project.
Early Byzantine smith's workshop. Cleaning of a floor. Photo: Doliche Project.
Excavation in the Roman baths of Doliche. Room with central swimming pool, second-third century CE.
Bust of Athena. One of 1400 seal impressions found in Doliche this year. Photo: Doliche Project.

Between July 21 and September 23, an international team of researchers and students continued to explore Doliche, an ancient city in South-Eastern Turkey. Doliche was a regional centre of Roman and Byzantine North Syria. The city is best known for its main deity, Jupiter Dolichenus, who gained popularity in many parts of the Roman Empire in the second century CE. Today, Doliche offers the fantastic opportunity to investigate the biography of a middle-sized city in a diachronic perspective and in high definition. The excavation project started in 2015 as a collaboration between the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Asia Minor Research Centre at Münster University, and the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions at Aarhus University. It is generously sponsored by the German Research Council, which has just awarded a new grant of 780.00 Euro to continue fieldwork until 2021.

In 2019, excavation work focused on two areas of the city. On the south slope of the city hill, the investigation of a large Christian basilica continued (Fig. 1). The construction of the massive church started in the late fourth century CE and attests to the revival of the city at that time. In 2015 and 2017, parts of the central nave and the aisles had been excavated. This year, the aim was to investigate the transition between the nave and the apse. Of the apse itself, only a small section has been excavated, but it already offers valuable information about the complex building history of the church. We can distinguish at least three different building phases. In the final phase, which can tentatively be dated to the late fifth or early sixth century CE, the floor of the apse towered 0,7 m above the nave and was covered with a mosaic showing a Nilotic scene fishes, birds, and lotus plants framed by bands of geometric ornaments (Fig. 2). 

Particularly revealing was the further excavation of the northern aisle. Beneath up to 3,50 m soil the original mosaic floor that dates to the first phase of the church is still well preserved (Fig. 3). A destruction layer with thousands of roof tile fragments that were part of the timber and tile roof covered the floor. The excavations also revealed later installations that altered the original layout and separated parts of the aisle.

Near the church, the excavation of a building complex of the early Byzantine period resumed. A large number of iron objects and an installation that can be interpreted as a forge suggest that the building was a smith`s workshop (Fig. 4). The investigation of this building will continue next year to shed new light on the production economy of Doliche in the early Byzantine period. 

In the eastern part of the city, excavations targeted a large civic bath building of the Roman period. The aim was to gather additional information about the layout and the chronology of the complex. A large room with a central rectangular swimming pool has been completely uncovered (Fig.5). The room gives a good impression of the original grandeur of the bath complex and relates interesting details about water management. Moreover, the excavations exposed further parts of the heated rooms in the southern part of the thermal complex. The finds suggest that the baths were destroyed in the third century CE and subsequently robbed out. In Late antiquity, even the foundation walls were almost completely removed in order to be reused in new buildings. However, the area of the baths has never been reoccupied.

East of the bath complex, massive foundations of the Roman Imperial period indicate the presence of another monumental civic building. In 2017, more than one thousand Hellenistic and Roman seal impressions were retrieved from fill layers near the foundations. The finds indicated that the city archive of Doliche was located in this area. This year, an extension of the trench to the west substantiated this assumption. Along with further parts of the massive foundation walls, additional 1400 impressions of public and private seals were discovered (Fig. 6). They display a rich variety of images that provide fascinating insights in the everyday life and the culture affiliations of the people of Doliche. The large concentration of seal impressions suggest that the ashlar foundations discovered are part of the building complex that housed the archive. Unfortunately, illicit excavations have caused massive damage in this area. It is therefore currently not possible to put forward any assumptions about the design and organisation of the archive.

In addition to the excavation, geophysical prospections and an intensive survey aimed to further the understanding of the layout and organisation of the city in a diachronic perspective. In general, a multi method approach is elementary for the exploration of the city. Only by combining archaeological, historical, and scientific approaches, it will be possible to develop a high-resolution image of urban life in Doliche through the ages.