(AGI) Rome, May 16 - Years of painstaking work by Italian archaeologists in Turkey led to the discovery of a royal audience hall, the first evidence of a secular State in the Near East dating back to the 4th millenium BC. Marcella Frangipane, an archaeologist from Rome's La Sapienza University and the director of the Arslantepe-Malatya mission in eastern Turkey, discussed the mission with AGI. She recounted how the 30 some people that make up the Italian-led team, including specialists from European and American institutes and Turkish colleagues such as the deputy director of the excavations, dug through the various layers in the 30 meter-high mound, dubbed the 'lions' hill', which contains "a sequence of settlements running from the 5th millenium BC to the Byzantine period". The team uncovered "a large monumental brick complex from the 4th millenium BC in an exceptional state of preservation". Ms Frangipane stated, "Due to a fire, the ensuing collapses filled the rooms with soil, sealing off what was within, including walls that are at least 2 metres high, complete with white coating and even paintings in some portions." The area has been studied by the Italian team for years, and had already led to other discoveries such as "two small temples, a complex of storehouses full of vases, and a representative building with metal weapons and a great monumental door". Ms Frangipane explained how the team came across its latest discovery: "Following a hallway that went towards the centre of the hill, we found a surprise: a huge court in front of an imposing building with walls almost 2 metres thick. Not a temple, but a palace with a long narrow room and at its centre a podium, with burnt juniper wood on top and small platforms arranged in rows in front." Ms Frangipane, the only Italian woman to be part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, was cautious but aware of the significance of the discovery. The find is corroborated by structures with "strong similarities" in Mesopotamia, though built at a later time, and the opinions of other scholars. "This was where the king granted the public an audience. That wood was a throne and the platform on which it stood, thanks to a planned perspective, could be seen from the palace entrance, walking through the hallway," she stated. "I no longer have any doubts, it's the first example ever of a palace in the Near East; it demonstrates an extremely important secularisation process and indicates a direct form of power that the public received without religious mediation." The exceptional discovery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List and will be presented on Thursday, May 19 at La Sapienza in the presence of Turkish Ambassador Aydin Adnan Sezgin. The Italian mission's work, however, is far from over. It has already laid out the guidelines for its next excavation campaigns. (AGI). .