The lifelike lions were created by the Hittites, whose empire included the foothills of Turkey at a time when the Asiatic lion roamed the region.
Created between 1400 and 1200 B.C., they may have been part of a monument marking a sacred water spring, researchers said.
"The lions are prowling forward, their heads slightly lowered; the tops of their heads are barely higher than the napes," Geoffrey Summers of the Middle East Technical University wrote with co-researcher Erol Ozen in the American Journal of Archaeology.
The two lion sculptures have stylistic differences and were almost certainly made by different sculptors, they said.
"The sculptors certainly knew what lions looked like," Summers told LiveScience.
Archaeological and ancient historical records show the Asiatic lion, now extinct in Turkey, was still common in the area and well known to the Hittites, he said.