A New Temple Uncovered!

Results of our 2021 campaign

Now that some time has passed after the end of our field campaign, and after we have returned to our offices in Germany, we had the time to begin analysing and interpreting our results and establishing the context of our findings. We had been already suspecting to have discovered something rather special this year while we were still in the field, but after having conducted some research, we are pretty confident now that we found the remains of a monumental temple of the Roman period!

The excavated areas of the temple, with half of the semi-circular apse exposed.

Before excavation work began, there was little to indicate the existence of a large ancient building at this spot. There were no traces of antique architecture recognizable on the gently sloping, vine-covered field. Even before the campaign started, however, a geophysical survey – which makes subterranean structures visible – had provided indications of a large building complex hidden below the surface. Because of its scale and its location close to what we identified as the civic centre of Doliche we were quite confident to be dealing with some sort of public structure. Excavations have confirmed our suspicions. The building is a temple from the Roman period.

The structure itself is of monumental size. The temple is orientated on an east-west axis and has a width of about 35 meters. On the west side, its interior concludes with an apse, a semi-circular space, which is about twelve metres wide. The laterally adjacent areas have not yet been fully examined, but we assume that small side-rooms are attached to them which would have been accessed from the apse. Due to its location on a slope with a slight gradient, a massive amount of soil has accumulated on top of the structure. This helped to preserve parts of it. Although many parts of the structure have been destroyed and looted over time, the size of the temple is still very much evident. In addition to remains of walls and the features of the building, we found a large array of architectural ornaments in the fill layers. Apart from pieces of capitals, we found finely decorated pieces of the entablature, which will facilitate the dating of the building. As of now, we sadly don’t know which deity was worshipped here. Finding out who was venerated will be an important question going forward.

Our complete Team of the 2021 campaign within the semi-circular apse!

Even though we have only uncovered small parts of the building, it has become clear that this is a major discovery. The temple differs from the usual temple buildings in the eastern Mediterranean through the unconventional design of its interior, with a large apse. It is not alone in this, however. There are parallels in Palmyra and in southern Syria. This makes the temple of Doliche even more interesting to us, as it promises to deliver more information on the development of temple architecture in ancient Syria in the future. It also confirms that Doliche with its multiple religious sites was an important religious centre where the religious developments of the ancient Near East can be studied particularly well: in the past, the Münster team already uncovered the Iron Age sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus outside the town, a subterranean sanctuary of the god Mithras and a large early Christian basilica dating from the 4th century CE.

We are of course extremely excited about this discovery and can’t wait to resume our work in Doliche during our 2022 campaign. The preparations are already in full swing as we speak! Until then, we will keep you updated. And to close this off, I wanted to encourage you our readers to make use of our contact form here in order to give us feedback or tell us what you really want to know about Doliche, our project and archaeology in general!

Written by: Michael Blömer & Fynn Riepe

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