Thanks to the concession by the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums of Turkey the annual campaign of excavation at Mersin-Yumuktepe was carried out from the 26th of July to the 14th of September 2003, with funding from the University of Lecce, the University of Rome La Sapienza and the Italian Ministery for Foreign Affairs, as well as with contributions from the Mimar Sinan University and from several Municipalities of the city of Mersin, to whom we are most grateful. Members of the Mission were: Isabella Caneva, Köroğlu, Hittitologist, Gülgün Köroğlu, Bizantinologist, Zambello, prehistorian, Tülay Özaydin, protohistorian, Emanuela Brunacci, topographer, Giovanni Siracusano, archaeozoologist, Claudia Minniti, archaeozoologist, Lorella Balsorano, archaeologist, Silvia Ficco, Patrizia Semeraro, Andrea Monaco, Simona Moscadelli, Çağlar Özal, Burhan Ulaş and Ebru Şahingöz, students. Dr. Ayhan Saltık, was the governmental inspector. The following experts were guest visitors of the Mission: Hijlke Buitenhuis, archaeozoologist, Ivan Pavlu, archaeologist, and William Brice, member of the former British archaeological Mission at Mersin-Yumuktepe in 1947.
Field strategies focused on controlling stratigraphical and topographical elements in view of the publication of the first campaigns of excavation, which were carried out with the direction of Prof. Dr. Veli Sevin between 1993 and 1999. The excavations were therefore extended to several chronologial contexts stratified on the mound, from the Byzantine, to the Hittite and the prehistoric ages. Besides the excavation, an accurate revision of lithic and pottery typologies was made, and a systematic study of animal bones from the different periods was carried out. Meanwhile, soil samples and botanical macroremains collected with soil washing and sieving are now under examination in the laboratories of the University of Lecce.
The North-Western Area and the Prehistoric Levels
With the exception of the earliest settlement phases, all the neolithic levels discovered so far in the north-western area were re-analysed with new sondages. The settlement of what is now defined as the Final Neolithic phase at Yumuktepe revealed particularly interesting new information. In this area, the upper Neolithic layers lay just below the surface and were badly damaged by modern operations, as well as, before them, by the intensive Chalcolithic terracing. The fragmentary remains of walls and floors so far brought to light could therefore hardly be combined in an organic architectural plan. In addition, in the spaces between the houses, stone-paved silo bases were frequently found, which broke the stratigraphic continuity of the levels. In the new 5x15 m wide trench on the eastern side of the previous exposure, the archiectural structure and building phases of the partially excavated big stone wall were finally brought to light. This appears to be an impressive terrace wall, built with a careful preparation consisting in a foundations trench filled up with a special clayey red soil. The wide, flat areas delimited by the wall were cyclically paved with flat small stones. The contour of the wall defines the contour and slope of the mound at that time, giving a different preserved mud brick structure containing two communicating rooms and an external oven was discovered in this area. The absence of stone foundations makes a neat separation between this architecture and the previous neolithic one, while the pottery shows almost the same characteristics as the final neolithic phase. A later terracing was discovered also in this area, with a Byzantine stone building being deeply cut into the Halaf layers.
The Southern Area and the Hittite Levels
Works in the step trench dug on the southern slope of the tell continued this year. The trench was intended to be a small stratigraphic sondage to check whether the southern half of the tell was an adjoining stratification of more recent formation, as was recently proposed. As expected, the cultural stratigraphy so far brought to light did not correspond to the stratigraphy known from the northern part. The excavation started in the last campaign at an elevation of 13 m. This corresponded to the elevation of the end of the Halaf layers in the northern part, but revealed a sequence of Middle and Late Bronze Age levels, approximately 2000 years later. As in the northern area, a terraced layout of the settlements was discovered also in this area. This reveals that the whole surface of the mound, including the slopes all around its contour, was inhabited. It is also probable that the buildings on the top and those on the slopes had different functions and social status. The Bronze age terrace structures discovered this year included small mud brick dwellings, courtyards and store areas, as in the north-western area. In the following, Late Bronze Age, on the contrary, the whole settlement appeared to have been modified with the construction of big mud brick walls and probably the earth filling up of the elevation drop.
The Top of the Tell: From Prehistory to the Medieval Age
a) the Iron Age levels. Investigations on the Iron age levels were resumed in the last campaign. These had been hit in the past campaigns right below the Byzantine levels. Their structures, however, had probably been destroyed by the later installations. In the new trenches, these levels were again found to be heavily disturbed by the foundations dug for the medieval fortification wall. The potsherds collected were, as usual, of the highest quality of manufacture and decoration.
b) the Byzantine levels.
As to the Byzantine levels, investigations regarded this year the final occupation phase, which included a settlement on the top of the mound, and several terrace buildings on the slopes. This phase was dated to the XII-XIII centuries and contained a monumental building and a huge fortification wall which surrounded the settlement. The wall appears now to be preserved, although without the outer facing of carefully squared stone blocks, all around the top of the tell. Its foundations were established in a trench which was deeply dug into the previous levels. The upper part of the wall is not preserved but one can imagine that it constituted an impressive stone fortress. At least three different building phases of the big church were identified, with stratified stone paved and plastered floors and probably with changes in the architectural layout. Although the area investigated this year had been heavily disturbed by modern works (electric poles and water pipes), a number of still preserved human burials were found right below the present surface. The skeletons lay in an extended position, on the back, arms crossed on the chest, all oriented in the same way, with the head to the west. Some of them were simply buried in pits, some others in a still preserved wooden sarcophagus. Since both sexes and all age classes were represented by the dead, including juveniles and children, it is clear that this was not a cemetery reserved to the priests of the church, but was rather extended to a population which was living in the surroundings after the abandonment of the site.