The penetrating obsidian eyes of what is thought to be the world’s oldest statue greet visitors to the treasure trove of artifacts in the Urfa Museum.
Urfa provides a stunning array of archeological artifacts, significant both in the depth of its history and the density and variety of civilization represented. The Urfa Museum is devoted primarily to archaeology, although there are various sculptures from both Christian and Islamic periods, as well as a small ethnographic collection on the top floor.
As you enter the museum on the first floor, don’t miss the Balikligol statue, a two-meter tall human figure with black obsidian eyes. Discovered at Balikligol in 1993, the 13,500-year-old statue is what is thought to be the world’s oldest (predating even Gobekli Tepe). The statue’s age, and undeniably idol-like appearance, has led many to associate it with the idols of Nimrod (see Balikligol). Nearby on the same floor are the Nabonidus, Kultepe, and Mari cuneiform tablets from the Sin temple at Harran (see Harran Ulu Cami). The most imposing of them depicts the Babylonian king Nabonidus (556-539 BCE) worshipping the sun, moon, and Venus.
Both the small downstairs room and the second floor display archaeological finds from the Neolithic (10,000-5500 BCE), Chalcolithic (5500-3200 BCE) and Old Bronze (3100-1800 BCE) Ages. The impressive array of painted pottery, flint tools, stone idols, and burial objects were excavated from some of the region’s thousands of tels (settlement mounds). Among Urfa’s notable tels are the Harran Mound; Sultantepe (where the Epic of Gilgamesh tablets were discovered); and Nevali Cori (a now-submerged Neolithic settlement near Yuvacali). The next floor exhibits an impressive collection of statues from Gobekli Tepe, including a recently-discovered “totem pole.”
An ethnographic section on the third floor displays a selection of 19th and 20th century cultural items. These include examples of regional dress styles; traditional crafts once practiced in the Urfa Markets; ornately carved wooden doors (like that of the Rizvaniye Mosque); weaponry used in the Independence War; hand-written Qurans; a few Christian statues; as well as jewelry, glassware, carpets, and more.
Exit the museum by way of the garden, which showcases various sculptures. Highlights include columns and capitals from the Byzantine period, Seljuk and Ottoman inscriptions, and Syriac funerary stones like the ones found at Deyr Yakup and Sogmatar.
The museum, opened in 1969, is small and somewhat dingy, but the entire collection will soon be moved to a new building being constructed near the recently-discovered Urfa mosaics. This modern “Archaeo-museum” is designed to compete with, and perhaps outshine, the illustrious mosaic collections of neighboring Gaziantep.