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Factoids of Assyrian presence in Anatolia: towards a historiography of archaeological interpretation at Kültepe-Kaneš

Published: 15 June 2021

Abstract: This article offers a historiographical examination of how 20th-century ideas of assimilation and cultural purity have shaped our understanding of Bronze Age Anatolia, focusing on the canonical narrative of Assyrian presence at the site of Kültepe-Kaneš. According to this narrative, Old Assyrian merchants who lived and conducted business at Kaneš from the early 20th to the late 18th century BC left no trace in the archaeological record except for cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, assimilating to local culture to such a degree that Kültepe’s archaeological record is entirely of Anatolian character. The accuracy of this view has met increasing circumspection in recent years. What remains to be articulated is why it remained unchallenged for so long, from its initial formulation in 1948 until the late 2000s, during which time it was widely repeated and reiterated. It is proposed here that the persistence and longevity of what is essentially a misconstrued notion of foreign (in)visibility in Kültepe’s material record can be explained by treating it as a ‘factoid’. The article first historicises the factoid’s formulation and subsequent development. This is followed by a critical evaluation of the evidentiary bases of the factoid to show how disciplinary tendencies to privilege certain categories of evidence over others have created artificial gaps in the data. Ultimately, the article seeks to highlight the epistemological implications of how one of the key sites of Bronze Age Anatolia came to represent a perceived rather than an observed case of indigenous cultural purity.
Keywords: narrative / 20th / century / factoid / Kültepe / Assyrian / Kaneš / archaeological / Anatolia / Age

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