The discovery of a basalt stele in Turkey's Gaziantep Province excited the archaeology community in the early 2000s. At first glance, the stele may appear ordinary. But the inscription is extraordinary!
In the 8th century BC, an wealthy and powerful man named Kuttamuwa lived in the Gaziantep region. He commissioned a stele (stone monument) while he was still alive, giving specific instructions to mourners to celebrate his life following his death with funerary feasts "for my soul that is in this stele."
During those days, bringing food offerings to the tombs of the dead was a common practice. So why is this ordinary inscription extraordinary? This is the first written evidence that the people of the region held the soul apart from the body and one of the earliest records of its kind in the world!
At the time, Hittite royalty were cremated upon death. By contrast, it was believed in contemporary Semitic cultures that the soul stayed with the bones of the deceased and thus made cremation unthinkable. The idea of a separate soul was seen only in Egypt, according to experts. However, there is no evidence of an Egyptian influence in the region, which makes this discovery even more interesting.
The human soul is the subject of many works of art, literature, even religion and philosophy. It has fascinated many, but its origins are even more fascinating. Why did Kuttamuwa believe that he had a soul? How did he define his soul? What made him believe that his soul would transfer to the stele after his death?
While we don’t know the answers to these questions yet, you can visit this intriguing artifact at the Gaziantep Archaeology Museum to search for the answers yourself. Until then, here is the full inscription from the stele for you to ponder:
“I am KTMW, servant of Panamuwa, who commissioned for myself (this) stele while still living. I placed it in my eternal chamber and established a feast (at) this chamber: a bull for Hadad Qarpatalli, a ram for NGD/R ṢWD/RN, a ram for Šamš, a ram for Hadad of the Vineyards, a ram for Kubaba, and a ram for my “soul” (NBŠ) that (will be) in this stele. Henceforth, whoever of my sons or of the sons of anybody (else) should come into possession of this chamber, let him take from the best (produce) of this vineyard (as) a (presentation)-offering year by year. He is also to perform the slaughter (prescribed above) in (proximity to) my “soul” and is to apportion for me a leg-cut.”