It has been established that the oldest burial
ceremony dates back to 150.000-60.000 years when the
Neanderthal-type man lived. The Neanderthal man, discovering the
use of tools and controlling fires, started to bury the dead,
which was proven during an excavation in 1960 at the Zagros
Mountains in Northern Iraq. The analysis of the earth at these
excavations revealed that the dead body was painted with dyes
obtained from soil and decorated with hundreds of flowers. This
discovery shed light the oldest burial ceremony in the history of
The concept of reincarnation existed in every community and
the idea of immortality became more prominent as time went by with
variations in ceremonies. People were anxious to create proper
spots to accommodate their kins who departed for the immortal
Various items and valuable gifts were left at the grave of
the deceased for use in the other world.
The architecture of the tombs also varied depending on the
different standards of living and while some were plain, the
others assumed the appearance of splendour. The most influential
samples of tombs reflecting the economical or political potency of
the deceased are the Pyramids in Egypt.
The tradition of burying the dead in a house-type tomb
started in Anatolia during 3 thousand B.C. and continued until the
end of the Roman Empire. Tombs shaped like cubes and rooms,
sarcophagi, tumulus, mausoleums and rock tombs are the best
samples to the different cultures in Anatolia.
The rock tombs are special features in the Anatolian
tradition of burials. Rock tombs from various Anatolian
civilizations existing in 1.000 B.C. are in abundance. The most
significant rock tombs are located in the Lycian area in the
region called Caria and Pamphylia during the Antique Period
(presently the area between Antalya and the Dalaman River).
The rock tombs in this region, which is geographically one of
the most beautiful areas in Anatolia, are in complete harmony
with nature. This is what makes Lycia unique.
The Lycian sarcophagi were discovered for the first
time by travellers and researchers coming to this region towards
the end of the 18th century and since then they have been the
center of attraction for many local and foreign scientists and the
subject for various studies.
Based on monumental ruins left behind, it is ascertained
that the Lycians had an introverted life-style on their
mountaineous land and were fiercely devoted to their freedom.
Thus, the Lycians always had a special place among the various
Anatolian nations. Their native language is still undeciphered.
For a long time the Lycians resisted against the domination by
others, being the last Anatolian province to join the Romans.
The Lycian people established their cities either along
the shore or in the Xanthos Valley because the region was fraught
with geographic irregularities and covered with forests. It is
estimated that the population during the Antique Period was not
more than 200.000 people.
The quality of stonemasonry of the regional people, as
evidenced by the traces of their civilization, is noteworthy. It
is especially significant in the construction of tombs.
Most of the Lycian tombs date back to the period prior
to the rule of Alexander the Great (4th century B.C.) The Lycian
rock tombs, almost resembling temples are carved on the slopes of
the mountains, not within easy reach. The geological construction
of the region consists mainly of soft limestone which facilitated
working on the rocks. This must be the reason why nowhere else in
Anatolia there is such a abundance of rock tombs as in the Lycian
The rock tombs are generally built with two
Ionian-style columns, an arc and a pediment. The interior carved
into the block behind the section with columns opens up to the
funeral chamber by a monumental door. Inside the funeral chamber
there are plain stone couches where the deceased is laid out and
the gifts are left. The number of couches vary based on the size
of the funeral chamber.
On some of the rock tombs the exterior is decorated with
reliefs depicting the specific features of the deceased and the
main events of the period. The symposium scenes relating to the
funeral feast are frequently included in the reliefs.
In the reliefs of the tombs the mythological figures
and heroes are also depicted. On many Lycian rock tombs there are
illustrations of Bellerophon and Chimeira (Bellerophon killing the
three-headed, flame-throwing dragon Chimaira, assisted by his
Some graves are carved so close together that from a
distance they look like pidgeon holes on the slope of the
mountain. In some regions there are over 2000 rock tombs.
The Lycian tombs from the Antique period reflect the wealth of the
period. This is evidenced by the abundance and variety of valuable
gifts left at the tombs. However, these valuable items left at the
tombs whetted the appetite of grave-diggers. Therefore,
prophecies exist on many Lycian tombs. These scriptures include
emphatical warnings against destruction of the tombs, prohibiting
their utilization for other purposes, and also a prophecy that any
person entering the tomb would be punished by the gods.