The site was settled from the Chalcolithic period in the fourth millennium BC until the Phrygian period in the first millennium BC. During the Early and Middle Bronze Age in the third millennium BC Alişar developed into a walled town. Eventually it became the most significant city in the region. Like Kanesh (Kültepe) to the south it was a center for trade attracting merchants from Assyria at the beginning of the second millennium BC. The city was then destroyed, and this may have been the conquest by the semi-legendary Hittite king Anitta. He is told to have conquered the city of Kussara which can be idenitified with Alişar Hüyük. The Hittites later made Hattusa to the north their capital. By the Hittite empire period 1400-1200 BC Alişar was nothing but a small provincial town probably known as Ankuwa. Like most Hittite settlements it was burnt and destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the twelfth century BC. The Phrygians later occupied the site. In the vicinity of Alişar laid a large Phrygian Iron Age city at Kerkenes.
The site was first excavated 1927–1932 by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, headed by Hans Henning von der Osten. Artefacts from the site were brought to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Excavations restarted in 1992 by Turkish archaeologists through the TAY project.
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