The “Yesemek Quarry and Sculpture Workshop” are located 23 km Southeast of the Islahiye district on the West hills of Karatepe (Aslanlıtepe) in the Yesemek Village. The Workshop covers an approximate area of 400x20 meters beginning from the watercourse of Yesemek brook rising upwards about 90 meters.
Karatepe, at a distance of113 kmto Gaziantep, is composed of volcanic dolerite/basalt rocks. Basalt extrusive is frequently observed on the surface ground within a large area from the Islahiye plain to the North of the Amik Plain and the surroundings of the Kirikhan District. The area is used as a quarry and a workshop probably due to the availability of high quality and thin porous basalt lodes.
It is accepted according to the excavation findings that the Yesemek Sculpture Workshop dates back to 900-800 B.C. within the Late Hittite States period. It is also estimated that the workshop continued manufacturing during the sovereignty of Zincirli Mound, the capital of the Samal Kingdom which was a powerful state in the Islahiye district during the first millennium B.C. Following the collapse of the Kingdom against the Assyrians during the 8th century B.C., the quarry and workshop were closed and the workers left the region.
It’s a high probability that all the sculptures were manufactured for the capital of the Samal Kingdom and the secondary provinces connected to the capital. The lion figures present the description characteristic of the Hittite Empire art which accordingly indicates that the Hittite Empire art tradition continued until the first millennium B.C., period of the Samal Kingdom.
It is known that the Late Hittite Kingdoms that were sovereign during the first 250 years of the first millennium B.C. firstly followed the Traditional Hittite Art, but later, Assurian and Arami arts were dominant. The people who ordered, manufactured and used the Yesemek sculptures were probably those communities constituted by Hittites and Luwis who used Hieroglyph, Hurs who settled in the region since the second millennium B.C. and the Sami nations of northern Syria.
From the findings of the excavations, it can be understood that in the production process of the sculptures, first the size of the block that would be cut from the quarry was determined and deep grooves were opened around it in order to put trees inside. The required part was cut from the rock by breaking the rock through the pressure caused by the expansion of trees after watering. These rectangle prism-shaped blocks were sculptured with special devices in order to create the desired form. Today at Yesemek Quarry one can find many block samples that were made ready to be sculptured. After this last preparation stage, the job of the quarrymen was completed and the blocks were carried to the hill in order to be drafted by the sculpture craftsmen. The rough copies which were sculptured and formed to a certain level were transferred to the neighbor cities. At this stage, the rough copies which were about500 kgto 15 tons were carried to the locations where they would be placed. The last stage was to complete the details of the sculpture according to the demands of the people who ordered them.
The Yesemek Sculpture Workshop, which was a center of mass production, was founded on one of the vessels of extremely good quality basalt. It was the biggest open air sculpture workshop of Antique Front Asia, providing today invaluable information about the process from a stone block to a sculpture. More than 300 hundred sculptures and orthostats from theLateHittiteKingdomperiod reveal the level of development of the period in art and technology in sculpture production stages.
Criterion (ii): The technology used to transform one piece block ranging from500 kgto 15 tons to art objects and the difficulty of transporting these blocks were important indicators for the technology and art of the period. In addition, the area is an unusual region where the exchange of values among people was experienced.
Criterion (iii): The Yesemek Sculpture Workshop is a unique and very important center of the ancient age for the inventory of Cultural Heritage of Anatolia and is the largest sculpture workshop of the Antique Front Asia World. Hundreds of lions and sphinx figures, many god reliefs and more than 300 sculptures and orthostats with reliefs made up of basalt at different manufacturing stages have been transferred as rough copies to modern days without almost any damage. The sculptures at Yesemek are not only the artworks; but they also represent the religious beliefs of their age.
When the Samal Kingdom was subverted by the Assyrians at the end of the 8th century B.C., the quarry was closed and the workers left the region, after which the workshop and the quarry weren’t used anymore and the surface was covered with soil. Because of the difficulty of carrying heavy basalt blocks, the workshop has not been affected much from neither negative natural conditions nor man-made damages; it is frozen as in the conditions in 8th B.C.
The Yesemek quarry and workshop were registered as archeological conservation sites through the decision of the Adana Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural and Natural Assets in 1988 and is under protection according to the Act for Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets.
Yesemek was first recognized by German scientist F.von Luschan in 1889 during the excavations of Zincirli Mound, but no scientific excavations were realized until it was discovered once again by Prof. Dr. B. Alkım in 1955. During the works between 1957-1961, detailed scientific data was prepared by Alkım and his colleagues, and the site was opened as an open air museum in the subsequent years. A team coordinated by I. Temizsoy -the director of Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum-, conducted excavations and landscaping works from 1989 to 1991. Beginning from2004 anew project was launched to arrange the site as an open air museum and the quarry and the workshop were opened to visit.
Certain sculpture workshops similar to the one at Yesemek can be observed over different periods throughout the Ancient Near East. It is also known that quite a large number of quarries and workshops in which sculptures and other stone products were produced also existed in Anatolia and some other Near East countries; including Boğazköy and Kalınkaya (near Alaca Höyük) in Anatolia, Domuztepe and Carchemish in Southeastern Anatolia, Sikizlar (Sekizler) in Syria, Minet el Beida and Tiripoli in Syria and Aswan in Egypt. Although no stones are found in the natural habitat of most of the alluvion based region of Mesopotamia, a large number of sculptures were made during the Sumerian, Accadian and Assyrian in the period between the 3rd millennium and the 1st millennium B.C. from quality stones extracted from the stone quarries located in the mountainous areas of the northeast of the region. The sculptures produced in the above-mentioned workshops are generally of a higher artistic standard than the sculpture blocks in Yesemek. However, apart from the fact that Yesemek is the largest open air sculpture workshop in the Asia Minor with many sculpture blocks still found in it, it is also possible to easily understand through the workshop the general typology of the sculpture blocks of the period and the production stages from cutting of the stone blocks from the stone quarry to making different types of sculptures.