February 2006


Mining history in Anatolia (Part 1)

By A. Akcil

Ancient Nairi bronze figurine, early Iron Age (Lafayette, 2003)


People inhabited the earth for hundreds of thousands of years before they began to use metals. In ancient civilizations, people only used metals that were available to them without mining or chemical treatment, such as pieces of native gold, silver, and copper, and rare pieces of meteoric iron (which can be easily identified by the nickel content). However, they were too small in quantity to be of any cultural consequence (Habashi, 2001).

Because of its geographical location, Anatolia has been the birthplace of many great civilizations. It has also been a prominent centre of commerce because of its land connections to three continents and the sea surrounding it on three sides.

Anatolians have been making ceramics for about 8,000 years (Unal, 2003). The country is one of the world’s better locations to look for mineral deposits, lying at the junction of the African, Eurasian, and Arabian plates. This has resulted in a geologically active environment, making it possible for magma and hot fluids to rise from the mantle forming mineral deposits, which in Anatolia, almost completely cover the spectrum of ages (Paleozoic to Tertiary) and types (porphyries, skarns, veins, and disseminated and massive sulphides). This, plus the fact that it is an ancient centre of civilization, led to the first bronze (copper-tin alloy) to be compounded in 2900 BC, the first iron to be refined by the Hittites in 1500 BC, and the Croesus (600 BC) Kingdom of Lydia to be established in Anatolia. Of course, the ancients were only able to find the richest and most obvious deposits.

There are at least 150 archeological excavations going on in Anatolia each year. Throughout history, Anatolian kingdoms were among the first pioneers of metal mining (copper, lead, and iron ore) and metallurgy. The first signs of the existence of gold in Anatolia had been discovered following the archaeological excavations in Çorum’s Alacahöyük region where gift items and jewelry made of gold had been found (2500 BC). The first coins, probably minted by the Lydians of western Anatolia around 650 BC, were made of gold and silver alloy (named ‘electrum’ by the ancient Greeks). The first true gold coins struck were those of King Croesus of Lydia (560 to 546 BC).

Anatolian Mining Activities

Remains of flint stone and some ores, in Karain Cave and Beldibi Cavern in the Antalya region, prove that people who lived in the Palaeolithic and Middle Stone ages around 10,000 BC had been engaged in some sort of mining activities. The oldest known settlement is in Çatalhöyük (7500 BC). Clay mining and pottery production took place in 7000 BC in the Çatalhöyük region.

The first copper mining activities (around 6000 BC) had been carried out by people living in the Ergani region (Wagner and Oztunali, 2000; Wagner et al., 2002, 2003; Pernicka et al., 2003). Later, during the Hittites era, mining had developed further, and the Iron Age had begun. Copper mining in Anatolia and minting of gold coins, along with rich mines found in Manisa by the Lydians (Fig. 1), started in 7000 BC. Anatolian mining activities reached a peak during the Roman period. The Romans made significant advancements in the exploring and operating of mines, and made great progress in treating ores of lead, copper, iron, silver, and boron as well as the use of structural building stones. Marble-decorated monumental cities that Anatolia had inherited from the Romans had been examples of ancient Anatolian civilizations. During the Seljuks era, treating raw ceramic materials significantly advanced, and artwork in ceramic ware and mosaics reached its peak.

The Urartians (860 to 580 BC)

In eastern Anatolia, the Urartu Kingdom was related to the Hurrians and the Hittites in origin. From the inscriptions discovered, the first Urartu ruler was Aramu (860 to 840 BC), followed by Sardur I (840 to 830 BC). During the reigns of Sardur I and his successor Ishpuinis, the capital of Urartu, Van, steadily became larger and more prosperous. The art of metalwork was certainly highly advanced. The Urartians created a great metal industry, but were constantly at war with the Assyrians. This was a region subject to violent earthquakes that possessed enormous deposits of iron ores, copper, and silver. In the hands of their craftsmen, metals were transformed into weapons, tools, jewelry, and artefacts.

The Urartians carried many of the Hittites’ customs. Their art of metalwork was highly advanced and their artifacts were exported to Phrygian and Tuscany. The excavations of the ancient Urartian site of Garmir-Ploor included carved ivory, stone, ceramics, metal figurines, pottery, and a wide variety of bronze domestic tools, utensils, daggers, swords, helmets, arrows, quivers, and shields, as well as vases, bracelets, earrings, and medallions in gold, and varied sets of other jewelry (Fig. 3). In 714 BC, the Urarturian king, Rusa, was defeated by the Assyrian king, Sargon the Second, and had to pay a very heavy ransom composed of one ton of gold, five tons of silver, and thousands of objects.

The Lydians and Sardis (700 to 300 BC)

The Lydians are related to Karians in the south and to Mysias and Phrygs in the north. As a result of the gold mine in Sardis (Manisa), which had been operated from the beginning of the 7th century BC, the Lydians suddenly prospered. Herodot claims that coining was a Lydian invention.

The ancient city of Sardis lay along a highway that stretched from the Persian city of Susa, following a parallel course to the Tigris River, passing through Cappadocia. The Lydian Kingdom made Sardis its capital as early as 700 BC. The first king of the Mermnad Dynasty was Gyges (687 to 652 BC), who was credited with the invention of the first coined money.

In excavations in the early 1980s, crucibles and a few gold objects proved to modern archaeologists the existence of the gold-refining process in the 6th century BC (Yener et al., 1994).

The excavators found the parting furnaces and cupellation hearths associated with gold refining and silver recovery (Fig. 4). Some Lydian gold jewelry includes a nugget pendant from the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara and a number of Lydian coins in the British Museum (Yener et al., 1994; Andrew and Craddock, 2000). Lydian coins were chronologically followed by the coins of the early Hellenistic cities and states. Hellenistic coins usually have floral and animal figures with occasional thematic works and symbols (Fig. 5). The coins also bear the pictures and figures of the geographical regions, people, gods, and rulers.


The name Bergama, a district of Izmir located 25 kilometres further away from the Agean Sea, comes from its ancient name ‘Pergamon.’ The foundation date is not known, however, the city walls were built in 7 BC. In 547 BC, Pergamon was in the hands of the Persians who invaded Anatolia and settled there. The city was taken by Alexander the Great in 334 BC, and then by King Philaetairos after Alexander’s death. Following Lysimakhos’ death, Philaetoiros founded a new autonomous civilization and Pergamon continued to be the cultural centre of the kingdom. Various monuments such as an acropolis and a theatre were erected in the city, which came under Roman rule. The city boasted a glorious library, a population of 120,000, and parshomen paper that was produced from the leather that the city takes its name from. Just after 1341, Pergamon was taken over by the Ottomans.

The nearby Ovacik gold mine was partly discovered due to diligent archaeological research for the Roman Empire. Today, the town of Bergama is also famous for its cotton, carpets, and gold production (Akcil, 2002; Akcil and Koldas, 2004).


The author would like to thank Fathi Habashi and Salim Ayduz for their contributions and collaborations. The author also thanks Uluc Gencer for photographing the Ottoman cannons.


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WILDWINDS COMMUNICATIONS, 2005. http://www.wildwinds.com

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