Whenever you see a replica artefact at an archeological site in Turkey, you can bet the original lies under the protective wings of the unmissable Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. For most visitors, its outstanding archeological collection is the high point of a visit to Ankara, documenting the peoples and cultures of Anatolia from the late Stone Age through to Classical times.

The museum is housed in a restored fifteenth-century bedesten, which fell out of use after a catastrophic fire in 1881. Its vast cache of artefacts is laid out in chronological order, clockwise from the entrance, with large stone reliefs dating from the Hittite and Phrygian periods in the central chamber. Most exhibits are clearly labelled in English.

From the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age

The museum’s first four sections move visitors through Turkey-time from the Old Stone Age to 2000 BC. The Paleolithic section features assorted bone fragments and primitive stone tools and weapons from a cave site at Karain, 30km northwest of Antalya, while objects found at Çatal Höyük, a settlement of New Stone Age mud-brick houses 52km north of Konya, have yielded significant evidence about the Neolithic period (7000–5500 BC). The importance of agriculture in this era may account for the abundant fertility-goddess figures – represented by baked-clay female forms of ample proportions – that reappear throughout the museum.

Most of the objects in the Bronze Age section (3000–2000 BC) come from Alacahöyük; among the most striking exhibits are the pieces of gold jewellery unearthed in the royal tombs. There then follows a small Assyrian Trading Colony section (1950–1750 BC), with the most notable exhibits being well-preserved cuneiform tablets that rank among Anatolia’s earliest written records.

The Hittite sections

The Hittites (1700–700 BC) left spectacular sites at Boğazkale and nearby Yazılıkaya, east of Ankara. Most of the objects here are from Boğazkale and Alacahöyük, with the most sophisticated example being a vase with a relief depicting a lively wedding procession. Stelae carved with hieroglyphs have proved a valuable source of information about the Old Hittite kingdom (1700–1450 BC).

There’s even more to see from the Hittite Empire (1450–1200 BC) itself – elaborate reliefs from Alacahöyük indicate the sophistication of Hittite culture during this time, and if you’re planning to visit Hattuşa, look out for the lion and sphinx figures from the city gates. The originals are here, replaced with replicas at the site itself.

Phrygian and Urartian sections

Most of the museum’s Phrygian objects (1200–700 BC) were recovered from the royal tumulus at Gordion, capital of Phrygian Anatolia after the fall of the Hittites. The timber-framed chamber at the heart of the tumulus has been re-created and objects from it are on display nearby. Most impressive are a wooden table of intricate design and skilfully wrought bronze vessels.

Modern knowledge of the Urartians largely derives from clay tablets listing military successes. On the evidence of such artefacts here, their culture was less sophisticated than that of the Phrygians, though the large bronze cauldron resting on a tripod with cloven bronze feet is austerely beautiful.

Ankara section

Downstairs, towards the exit, a section details finds from Ankara itself. While it can’t really compete with the bounty upstairs, the collections of Roman coins are of interest – as are the remains of Ankarapithecus, a 9.8-million-year-old ape named after the city of its discovery.

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