Washington, Nov 18 : An Iron Age chiseled stone slab has been discovered by archaeologists in southeastern Turkey - a finding that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.
Reseachers at the University of Chicago will describe the discovery, a testimony created by an Iron Age official that includes an incised image of the man, on Nov. 22-23 at conferences of biblical and Middle Eastern archaeological scholars in Boston.
The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced "Zin-jeer-lee"), the site of the ancient city of Sam'al.
Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.
The stele is the first of its kind to be found intact in its original location, enabling scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century B.C.
At the time, vast empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, and cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians became part of a vibrant mix.
The man featured on the stele was probably cremated, a practice that Jewish and other cultures shun because of a belief in the unity of body and soul. According to the inscription, the soul of the deceased resided in the stele.
"The stele is in almost pristine condition. It is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus provides an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture," said David Schloen, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute and Director of the University's Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli.
Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology.
Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele's 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on "Paleographical Studies in the Near East."