EGER Alexander

The Tüpras Field Archaeological Project began in 2006 after a substantial scatter of Early Islamic ceramics was detected from a walking survey around the Bronze, Iron Age, and Hellenistic port of Kinet Höyük in 2005. The site, known as the Tüpras Field, is a low mounded site completely covered by cultivated fields located 800 meters north of Kinet. The site is in the province of Hatay in Turkey, in the northern part of the Bay of Iskenderun and at the foot of the western side of the tall Amanus Mountains near Antakya (classical Antioch). Geographically and topographically, the site is part of the Plain of Issos, the easternmost extent of the broad Cilician Plain. Located near the Syrian Gates, this narrow coastal plain was a corridor that connected Anatolia (via Cilicia) with Syria (via the Amuq Plain) and was known as a key area for the harvesting of timber from the mountains. Archaeological investigations at Tüpras Field in 2006, 2008, and 2010 revealed an eighth to twelfth century settlement dominated by a small fortified enclosure with surrounding buildings. The site is to be identified with the frontier settlement of Hisn al-Tînât, previously unlocated but known from the tenth century geographical sources of Ibn Hawqal and Muqaddasî as a military garrison and depot and port for the gathering and redistribution of timber to Syria, Egypt and other parts of the frontier.


General view of Tupras

General view of Tüpras field and surrounding area
(A.A. Eger)


Very little is known about the Islamic-Byzantine frontier or al-thughûr in the Early Islamic period (mid-seventh to mid-tenth centuries) and even less is known from the subsequent period of Byzantine reconquest (c. 963 to the end of the eleventh century). What little is known comes from historical accounts from either Muslim or Christian sources that are imbued with a strong sense of religious and political propaganda. New archaeological work is filling in our understanding that the frontier was a settled region, well-connected with both Byzantine and Islamic central lands, with an economy comprised of local industry and long-distance trade. Early Islamic settlement on the coasts of the Byzantine-Islamic frontier, itself another frontier, has remained elusive. Yet, historical accounts of sea-borne Islamic invasions as far as Constantinople and archaeological evidence of both (eastern) Islamic material culture in the west and non-Islamic material culture in eastern sites around the Mediterranean attest at the very least to Islamic presence and involvement in port sites, trade, and shipping. At the intersection of two frontiers, the site of Hisn al-Tînât in the Plain of Issos is well situated to closely examine a frontier settlement and its role.


Plan of Early Islamic and Middle Byzantine

Plan of Early Islamic and Middle Byzantine phases around the fortified enclosure.
(A. Eger)


Given that sources mention that the site was not only a garrison but depended local natural resources (timber) as a depot and port, the project incorporated both an archaeological and an environmental investigation of the site in relation to its surroundings. Soundings in 2006, archaeological and geomorphological excavations with geophysical prospection in 2008, and material culture analysis and geomorphological survey investigating the site’s watershed in 2010 were conducted by myself and geomorphologist Dr. Timothy Beach (Georgetown University) under the auspices of the director of the Kinet Höyük project, Dr. Marie-Henriette Gates of Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey) with funding from the Fondation Max van Berchem.


Tupras field

Tüpras field (Hisn al-Tinat) seen from the sea
(photo Marie-Henriette Gates)


Archaeological excavation revealed that the site had two major phases and an intervening secondary phase and was founded in the mid-8th century and destroyed and abandoned sometime in the early 12th century when settlement during the Crusader period was taken up once more on the high mound of Kinet. The earliest phase of the site (mid-8th century to tenth), was only revealed in small areas and suggest a wide cobblestone and ashlar fortification wall with smaller interior walls perpendicular to the enclosure walls. Parts of a room with a stone pavement and a patch of tile floor were excavated and associated with this structure, likely the original Hisn al-Tînât known from primary source descriptions. South of the enclosure, a domestic building was excavated with several rooms around a possible courtyard with a main threshold flanked to either side by low square ashlars supporting plastered colonettes. The walls of the building contained spolia from a nearby Late Roman settlement. Part of a stone pavement in a room off of the courtyard was found utilizing a basalt grave stela with a crude Greek inscription. Grain bins in the courtyard indicated a domestic function. The Early Islamic assemblage associated with the lower enclosure and its floors and the domestic building included glazed wares mainly produced locally on the frontier at cities such as Raqqa and Antâkiya, as well as some wares produced farther south in central Islamic lands and Iraq (such as lusterware). Brittleware cooking pots were locally produced on the frontier and buffwares, including the thin-walled mold relief pitchers mainly from the ninth century, were locally produced or similarly from Iraq and the Jordan Valley. An early ‘Abb­asid copper coin (767/768-816/817 C.E.) from an Iraqi mint was found in the domestic building. The material culture shows both local frontier manufacture and long distance imports, mainly with ‘Abbasid central lands during the eighth - tenth centuries, implying that the frontier, beyond a military no man’s land, was part of an interconnected economic trade network.


View of the fortified enclosure

View of the fortified enclosure from the west
(photo courtesy of M-H. Gates)


Following an intermediate phase or rebuilding, a large well preserved and articulated fortified structure was constructed and inhabited in the last two phases of occupation. The structure measured 25 x 25 m with corner square towers and tower buttresses arrayed along the midpoints of the massive fortification wall. The building was built directly over the Early Islamic enclosure. Internal walls created rooms about 3.4 m to a side and were built above earlier leveled walls. A thin black floor surface with many large sized ceramic sherds was the living surface of the structure which was subsequently destroyed by fire, evident from thick layers of burning within the building in the uppermost phases. This was corroborated by geophysical evidence of burning only in the area of the fortified structure and nowhere else on the site itself. The structure belongs to the period of Byzantine reconquest of the region or the Middle Byzantine period. Unlike the Early Islamic period of occupation, no other structures were found on the site during this period but the well-built fortified enclosure. In contrast to the Early Islamic phases, preliminary faunal analysis showed a significant and majority presence of pig, many bones of which were juvenile with butchery marks, suggesting that pigs were bred for meat production from this phase of the enclosure. Pottery ranged from the tenth to early twelfth and constituted a predominately less local and more Levantine and Egyptian coastally connected assemblage. The presence of many metal and industrial objects and weaving related objects suggests that some rooms were used as workshops or stables or other livestock areas. Some may have had purposeful usage, for example one room revealed at least four clay pestles while another room had none. The discovery of horseshoes and nails in great amounts from the excavations suggests the importance in manufacture and/or trade in iron. The material culture of the period of Byzantine reconquest on the frontier implies more connection and exchange with Islamic lands than suggested by historical sources which paint a picture of instability and holy war. The fortified enclosure of the latest phase seems of similar size and orientation to the Early Islamic one below and as such, can be used to hypothesize what the Early Islamic structure represented. This type of structure, based on its small size, qusûr type of arrangement, mid to late eighth century date, and open location along major frontier roads corresponds with the category of the fortified waystation, seen throughout the frontier, and part of a network of sites built in the early ‘Abbasid period. Geophysical survey indicated that there are more extramural buildings like the domestic structure, between the fortified enclosure and the coast. This raises the possibility whether there was continual settlement down to the sea not relegated within the confines of a fortification questioning the idea militarized frontier and garrison under constant threat.


View of the fortified

View of the fortified enclosure from the west during excavation
(photo courtesy of M-H. Gates)


Key to the project was an environmental investigation whose aims were to locate the elements of a timber industry. In a geomorphological trench excavated at the coastal faultline, a buried peat layer contained many well-preserved pieces of wood laying along parallel lines outside of a building with a tile and plaster floor and two Early Islamic large buff amphora fragments and an Early Islamic eighth to tenth century brittleware holemouth cooking pot. Remote sensing using CORONA satellite imagery shows a relic stream, the Tüm Çay, coming down off the Amanus Mountains and opening up into a lagoonal delta west of the site. The lagoon would presumably have also functioned as the harbor anchorage. Geomorphological survey into the Tüm Çay watershed at the foot of the mountains showed one other significant Early Islamic site on the streambed which would have facilitated the transportation of timber. Southeast of the site, near Kinet Höyük, we excavated patches of a Roman/Late Roman coastal road used in the medieval periods in 2005. These elements – the excavated wood, coastline, anchorage/harbor, river, coastal road, and a contemporary site on the same river – build a picture of the environmental landscape of the site and the site’s connection to its immediate natural resources, its role in the procuring and shipping timber, and the site’s wider connections.

The frontier site of Early Islamic/Middle Byzantine Hisn al-Tînât alludes to the complex symbiotic yet stable relationship of a militarized and economic resource-based frontier for an otherwise turbulent period of history generally thought to be characterized by one of general decline, abandonment, or conquest by Islamic (including later Saljuq), Byzantine, and Crusader groups. Future work in 2011 will target the Early Islamic enclosure, port, and area in between, examine the capacity for timber trade with geomorphological excavation and coring of the streambed and coastline, and finish analysis of the material culture to gain a better understanding of the scale of these short and long distance networks on the frontier.

Alexandre Asa Eger