(or Neša; mod. Tk., Kültepe [ashmound] and Karahöyük, the latter the name of a small village near the mound), site situated 21 km (13 mi.) to the northeast of Caesarea (modern Kayseri), the capital of the Cappadocian kingdom. The site is at the junction of several natural roads: an east-west road coming from Sebasteia (modern Sivas), a southeast–west road via Malatya, and a south-north road from Cilicia. This strategic location increased the importance of Kaneš in the commerce of the ancient world and is one of the main reasons it became one of the trading centers of ancient Syro-Mesopotamia.

Kaneš consisted of two parts; a city mound (tepe) and a lower city (karum or trade center in Assyrian terminology). The city mound includes an inner citadel and the areas in which the palaces and temples of the kings were built. The mound rises 20 m above the Kayseri plain and contains a series of occupation levels. With a diameter of 550 m, it is among the largest mounds in central Anatolia. Surrounding the mound and rising 2–2.5 m above the plain, and with a diameter of up to 3 km (2 mi.), is the lower city of Karum Kaneš, the center of the system of Old Assyrian trading colonies in Anatolia.

Kaneš is 124 km (77 mi.) from the Hittite capital Ḫattuša (Boğazköy) and 73 km (45 mi.) to the south of Alişar (ancient Ankuwa). The city mound of Kaneš had a long existence, while the Karum Kaneš only lasted for about three hundred years—it was founded much later than the site on the mound and was abandoned much sooner.

Kaneš-Kültepe became known in the archaeological literature when the first cuneiform tablets were found there in 1871. Ernest Chantre undertook the first excavations on the mound in 1893–1894. In 1906, Hugo Winckler and also Hugo Grothe carried out brief excavations on the mound only. In 1925, Bedrich Hrozny conducted excavations both on the mound and in the lower city for one season. He succeeded in discovering about one thousand tablets. The finds identified the center as Karum Kaneš, which had been suggested by Benno Landsberger as early as 1924.

Systematic excavations by a team under the direction of Tahsin Özgüç began in 1948 on behalf of the Turkish Historical Foundation and the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums; they are still underway regularly. Both the mound and the karum were excavated in parallel projects and yielded important monuments, now in the process of being restored.


The karum of Kaneš consists of four levels (I–IV): the upper level contains two phases, Ia and Ib. Levels IV (built on virgin soil) and III belong to the very beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1920 BCE). They did not yield written documents, but the entire area of the karum was built up in both levels. The pottery used in these levels was monochrome wheelmade ware found side by side with handmade polychrome ware.

The most spectacular era at Kaneš is represented by karum level II (1920–1850 BCE), established in the period of the Assyrian king Erishum I, and the following phase of karum Ib (1800–1750 BCE). Level II was destroyed by a heavy conflagration in about 1850 BCE, in the time of the Assyrian king Puzur-Ashur. After an interval of at most two generations, the town of level Ib was established on the ruins. From historical and archaeological perspectives, the discoveries from these levels reveal two facts of major importance: cuneiform tablets record the beginning of Anatolian history, and the very lively commercial and cultural relations that existed among Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and North Syria, stimulated the development of native Anatolian art.

Karum level II presents a town with stone-paved streets, below which run functional drainage channels, and open spaces that mark divisions into various districts.

The karum of Kaneš in levels II and Ib was surrounded by a fortification wall whose diameter is the largest in the Near East.

In the period of the Assyrian trading colonies (levels II and Ib), Kaneš was a very strong city protected by two concentric fortification systems, the center of the kingdom of Kaneš.


KANEš. Beak-spouted pitcher. From level II; red slipped and highly polished. Note the pair of horses set on the wide band handle, which tend to be light brown in color. Height, including horses, is 26 cm. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara. (Courtesy T. Özgüç)

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In houses of two, four, or six rooms, most of them two-storied, tablets in Assyrian were found, in archives mostly belonging to Assyrian and, in fewer instances, to native merchants, on top of regularly aligned jars, boxes, rush matting, and bags and on wooden shelves. Fourteen thousand tablets and envelopes were discovered between 1948 and 1992. Because the fire that destroyed the city started very suddenly, the people of the town could just save their lives; all their belongings that were fireproof remained in place until they were excavated. Pottery in the Hittite style and cult objects in the shape of animals sacred to the gods—bulls, lions, eagles, antelopes, rabbits, and boars—reached a high level of development in this period. [See Hittites.]

In layout, karum level Ib follows that of level II, in which building techniques and plans are native Anatolian. In level Ib, in contrast to level II, commercial relations with Aššur weakened, while trade within Anatolia gained momentum. As in level II, ivory, bronze, faience, silver, lead, stone, and terra-cotta figurines of gods and goddesses and stone molds for their manufacture were discovered in houses and in tombs. These are the first examples of native Anatolian style. They became the source of the Hittite style that developed later in central Anatolia. In level Ia, Kaneš declined in importance, written records disappeared, and evidently trade relations were cut. The karum of Kaneš was not subsequently occupied.

In every level of Kaneš the dead were buried below the floors of the houses in pits, jars, or stone cists. The funeral gifts were rich and varied. Figurines imported from northern Syria and Mesopotamia, in metal and terra cotta, expand the evidence provided by tablets and cylinder seals to refine the dating for this period.

One of the richest groups of finds from the Assyrian trading colony period represented at Kaneš level II (1920–1840 BCE) is the glyptic group—cylinder seal impressions on baked clay envelopes containing tablets and on bullae. These seal impressions, clearly reflecting the cosmopolitan character of the trade with foreign peoples, are in Ur III Neo-Sumerian, Old Babylonian, Old Assyrian, and Old Syrian styles. Among the styles represented, Kaneš's native Anatolian group takes a very important and very informative place. Executed in a highly individual style, they consist of representational scenes executed in fine detail: processions of deities standing on sacred animals and hunting or war scenes. The surface of these seals is filled with multiple motifs and symbols. Stamp seals, which are typical of Anatolia, and appear in every level at Kaneš, reached their true development in levels II and Ib. With the end of the Assyrian trading period at Kaneš, cylinder seals went out of use. [See Seals.]


Excavations on the mound went down to the final phase of Early Bronze Age I, distinguishing a total of eighteen building levels. The final phases on the mound are two Roman building levels (1–2) and one Hellenistic level (3). At that time Kültepe was a small town overshadowed by Kayseri. A major part of the karum of Kaneš had become the site of the cemetery. Levels 4–5 represent the Late Hittite period. Kültepe then was the center of one of the kingdoms allied to the land of Great Tabal. In the tenth–eighth centuries BCE, Kültepe maintained a strong position, but toward the end of the eighth century BCE it was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians, who shattered its hieroglyphic stelae, statues, and sculpted orthostats.

The concordance of the Middle Bronze Age levels on the mound and in the karum follow:

mound karum
6 Ia
7 Ib
8 II
10 IV

In levels 7 and 8 a series of five royal rulers (one of them a queen) are known by name; they had palaces and temples that were built both on the inner citadel and in the surrounding area. Tablets from the palace archives reveal that one of those palaces belonged to Waršama son of Inar, king of Kaneš. It is evident that palaces in that period were built like Old Babylonian palaces, but temples were built in the native Anatolian style. [See Palace, Temples, article on Mesopotamian Temples.] A spearhead with an Akkadian inscription by King Anitta, who ruled over Neša, found in the official storage building of the Anitta palace, was the first authentic historical document found in situ at Kaneš.

Levels 11–13 represent the Early Bronze III period, an important prelude to the Assyrian trading colony era. Kaneš, equipped with monumental buildings, had developed extensive economic and cultural connections with Mesopotamia and North Syria, to which imported cylinder seals, pottery, and metal objects testify. Alabaster figurines of goddesses and gods, characteristic of this period, were discovered in the inner sanctum of temples and in tombs. Levels 14–17 represent Early Bronze Age II. Level 18 is the final phase of Early Bronze I.

[See also Kültepe Texts.]


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Tahsin Özgüç