Astronomical Interpretation of the Main Relief of the Yazılıkaya Chamber A

The Hittite Rock Sanctuary of Yazılıkaya is a large rock-cut sanctuary located about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) northeast of Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire. It is the largest known Hittite rock monument and is one of the most important ritual sites of the Late Bronze Age in Anatolia.

The sanctuary consists of two open-air chambers cut into the bedrock. The larger chamber (Chamber A) is decorated with reliefs of deities, including the Storm-god Teššub, the Sun-goddess Hebat, and the Weather-god Tarḫunna. The smaller chamber (Chamber B) is decorated with reliefs of the king and queen, as well as other figures.

The sanctuary is oriented so that the sun shines directly into Chamber A on the spring equinox. This suggests that the sanctuary was used to celebrate the arrival of the new year.

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In a very informative online lecture titled: “The Sun, the Moon and the Stars, as seen by Hittites and Luwians”, a geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger provided a very convincing astronomical reading of the the Chamber A relief.

In short, the deities in Chamber A of the Yazılıkaya sanctuary depict the 12 lunar months of the year, the 30 days in each lunar month, and the 19-year Metonic cycle, which is a period of time after which the solar and lunar calendars align.

However, when discussing the central relief, which depicts a group of the most important deities, he identifies them without a correlating astronomical interpretation. In this article, I will offer my own perspective on this matter.

Teshub – Orion & the Spring Equinox

Teshub (also spelled Teššub, Te, and Teya) was the Hurrian god of the storm, as well as the head of the Hurrian pantheon. He was one of the oldest Hurrian deities and is considered a “pan-Hurrian” god. He was depicted as a bearded man wearing a horned helmet and a long robe. He was often depicted holding a lightning bolt in his right hand and a thunderbolt in his left hand. He was responsible for securing the growth of vegetation by sending rain.

The main attributes of Teshub are the same as those of other storm gods, such as Adad, Baal, Zeus, Jupiter and Perun, to name a few. In astronomical terms, these deites usually represent the Orion constellation, which descends facing the Earth during the rainy months of the spring. The “raised arm” of the Orion constellation is often visible in the depictions of these deites, which sometimes have one arm raised, or they hold a an extended object, such as a bow, a mace, or a thunderbolt.

In this particular scene, Teshub stands on the shoulders of two deities, labeled as Namni and Hazzi, which usually come together, and which are considered to be mountain gods. However, in my opinion, they represent the Gemini constellation. Due to the phenomena known as Precession of the equinoxes, the spring equinox was in the Gemini constellation roughly between the 7th-5th millennia BC. Then, around 4,700-2,500 BC, it moved to Taurus. The consteallation of Taurus is usually connected with Orion, and that is why many of these storm gods have assosications with bulls (Zeus, Shiva, Baal…).

In other words, this image clearly depicts this continuity – the Orion constellation, as a marker of the spring equinox, stands on the shoulders of the Gemini – the previous marker of the spring equinoi.

Hebat – Virgo & the Summer Solstice

Hebat (also spelled Hepa or Hepatu) was the Hurrian queen of heaven, and a goddess of healing and fertility. She was the consort of the weather god Teshub and the mother of the storm god Sharruma. She was often depicted as a beautiful woman wearing a horned crown and a long robe. She was holding a lotus flower in her hand, which was a symbol of fertility and rebirth.

In my opinion, she represents the Virgo constelaltion, which is often depicted as a beautiful young woman, and related to rebirth and fertility. In the past, when the spring equinox took place in the constellations of Orion and Taurus, Leo was the marker of the summer solstice.

However, in those earlier days, when the spring equinox had taken place in the Gemini constellation, the summer solstice took place in Virgo. As a queen of heaven, she was not easilly replacable, so she was simply added on top of Leo, the next astronomical marker. This is not a unique representation. The Phrygian goddes Cybele, and Indian Durga were also associated with lions, for this same reason.

Allanzu and Kunzisalli – Aquila & the Autumn Equinox

Alanzu and Kunzišalli were two Hurrian deities who were associated with the moon. In this scene, they stand on a double-headed eagle. The double-headed eagle represents autumn equinox in the constellation of Aquila – the eagle. The duality of two heads relates to the equal length of day and night that takes place during the equinox. The Aquila constellation lies above the Scorpio constellation, and it used to mark the autumn equinox in the same period when the spring was in Taurus and summer was in Leo – 4,700-2,500 BC.

After 2,500 BC, this role will be assigned to Libra, the next marker, that also represents the balance of day and night during equinox.

However, identifying the Allanzu and Kunzisalli amongst the constellations is not an easy task, as there are no pairs of androgenous figures in this part of the sky. Perhaps, they were an ancient represenation of the Sagittarius, which had marked the autumn equinox before Aquila.

Sarruma – the Winter Solstice

Sarruma was a Hurrian god of mountains and war. He was the son of the weather god Teshub and the sun goddess Hebat. He was often depicted as a young man wearing a horned helmet and a long robe. He was holding a spear in his right hand and a shield in his left hand. In the scene above, he stands on an animal identified as a leopard.

The fact that Sarruma must have been a marker of the winter solstice should be quite obvious by now. He is also depicted as the smallest one in the group, perhaps relating to the idea of the shortest days of the year. However, identifying him with a specific constelation is not an easy task – but the region of the sky in question is without a doubt that of Aquarius and Pisces. It is interesting that Shiva, with his bull Nandi (Orion and Taurus), as well as Dyonisus/Bacchus (also Orion) was often depicted on a skin of a leopard. This is perhaps points to the same astronomical symbolism, now forgotten.

Final thoughts

As explained at the beginning of this article, the chamber A of the Yazılıkaya rock-sanctuary is filled with astronomical symbolism. It would be therfore unusual if the main relief of that chamber does not relate to the same idea.

In this article, I shared my own view of the possible astronomical correlations. If I am right, this is just another proof the immensly long continuity of astromonical knowledge, which had been handed over from one generation to another, and adapted whenever the stars changed their positions. The rock santuary of Yazılıkaya is officialy dated to the second millenia BC, but even the author of this lecture recognises the fact that this knowledge must have predated 3,000 BC.

As for the purpose of the chamber A, while I agree that it could have served as a calendar, it is also possible that it functioned as a kind of lecture hall. In this capacity, it may have been a sacred place where new initiates had the opportunity to acquire this ancient astronomical knowledge.

The lecture “The Sun, the Moon and the Stars, as seen by Hittites and Luwians” is available here.

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