Empires and resources: Central anatolian obsidian at Urkesh (Tell Mozan, Syria) during the akkadian period

Ellery Frahm, Joshua M. Feinberg

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19 Scopus citations


Almost all of the obsidian used to craft stone tools in the Near East from the Palaeolithic onward originated from volcanoes in two geographic regions: Central Anatolia and Eastern Anatolia. Five decades of obsidian sourcing has led to the view that Central Anatolian obsidians largely followed the Mediterranean coast and rarely reached farther east than the Middle Euphrates, whereas Eastern Anatolian sources almost exclusively supplied sites east of the Euphrates. This paper discusses the identification of Central Anatolian obsidian artefacts at the Bronze-Age site of Tell Mozan (Urkesh) in northeastern Syria. Most of the obsidians at Tell Mozan (97%) came from the Eastern Anatolian sources, as expected from established distribution models. Artefacts of Central Anatolian obsidian, however, were excavated from one wellconstrained context: the deposits on a palace courtyard that date to the height of the Akkadian empire's influence at this third-millennium Hurrian religious and political centre. In particular, the obsidian came from the Kömürcü source of Göllü Daǧ. Potential explanations for this exotic obsidian are discussed. This obsidian might have "piggybacked" on the distribution of Central Anatolian metals or arrived at this city as royal gifts or prestige items. Other discussed mechanisms include Akkadian-linked changes in either territoriality involving pastoral nomads responsible for the arrival of Eastern Anatolian obsidians or identity construction of elites based on involvement in Central Anatolian economic and political networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1122-1135
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati are the directors of the Urkesh excavations under the auspices of the International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies, and James Walker conducted a stratigraphic analysis of Unit A9 ( Walker, 2003 ). Thermo Fisher Scientific is thanked for the loan of the pXRF analyser, and EMPA was conducted at the University of Minnesota. The magnetic analyses were conducted at the Institute for Rock Magnetism, and we are grateful for the research assistance of Charissa Johnson (supported by the University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and a Sigma Xi award) and Amy Hillis (supported by the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates program). Most of the Anatolian geological specimens were collected by George “Rip” Rapp, University of Minnesota and the late Tuncay Ercan, Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration of Turkey. Additional Göllü Dağ specimens were collected by John Whittaker and Kathryn Kamp of Grinnell College. This research was supported by the Department of Archaeology of the University of Sheffield , the Departments of Earth Sciences and Anthropology of the University of Minnesota , and Marie Curie Network FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN : New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies (NARNIA). Two anonymous reviewers provided comments that refined and clarified our arguments and analyses.


  • Akkadian empire
  • Bronze Age
  • Exchange networks
  • Geochemical obsidian sourcing
  • Khabur Triangle
  • Magnetic obsidian sourcing
  • Northern Mesopotamia
  • Tell Mozan
  • Urkesh


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