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Modern Iraqi Kurdistan is perhaps one of the least known areas in the region of greater Mesopotamia, if not the entire Middle East, as it has been inaccessible to research for over 40 years (from 1974 to 2005). Only since the formation of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, followed by the rapid improvement in security conditions and the stabilization of the internal political situation in the region has recent archaeological work become possible. Since 2005, limited archaeological work has been conducted in Irbil itself (the sites of Qalat Erbil, Ain Qawa and Qalinj Aga), Sulaymaniyah region (the site of Bakr Awa), as well as archaeological survey in the highland valleys around Irbil city (Kopanias and MacGinnis 2016). The UGZAR project is concentrated within the borders of ancient Assyria, and belongs to a group of four archaeological survey projects in the northern part of Kurdistan. These four projects – EHAS (Eastern Habur Archaeologicla Survey, led by Dr. Peter Pfalzner of Tubingen University), LoNAP (Land of Nineveh Arcaheological Project, led by Dr. Daniele Morandi Bonacossi of Udine University), and EPAS (Erbil Plain Archaeological Survey, led by Dr. Jason Ur of Harvard University), as well as the UGZAR project (MAP 2) – cooperate with each other in terms of field survey methodology and the dating of artifacts, in order to obtain a coherent picture of the development of settlement in the entire northern area of the studied region, as well as to allow for efficient comparison of results between the projects.

The realization of the project will be especially valuable towards our knowledge of the history of northern Mesopotamia. Kurdistan lies within the region of the fertile crescent, which consists of fertile plains and broad valleys separated by hill ranges. It was here, over 10,000 years ago, where the domestication of plants and animals occurred (exemplified by the sites of Shanidar Cave, Jarmo, Mlefa’at [i.e. Braidwood and Howe 1960]) (FIG. 1), which enabled the transition from hunting and gathering to food production (the Neolithic revolution) and sedentery life. This was the first step along the road towards the creation of urban civilization in southern Mesopotamia approximately at end of the 4th millennium BC,of which our modern world is a direct descendent. 

From the end of the third millennium BC, the area of modern day Kurdistan was mentioned in cuneiform texts. The deciphering of ancient written sources made it possible to find place names of cities situated in modern Kurdistan, against which the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (such as Hamazi, Simanum, and Simurrum) campaigned, as well as Qabr, which was captured by Samsi-Addu, king of Assyria in the 18th century BC (Eidem 1985). In the first millennium BC, the territory of Kurdistan became part of the Assyrian state. We are aware of at least two important settlements which existed within the Assyrian state: Arbela (modern day Irbil, which has not been studied archaeologically due to uninterrupted settlement into the present day), as well as Kilizu (modern Qasr Semamok, studied by H.A. Layard in 1848 [Layard 1853]. By G. Furlani in 1933 [Furlani 1934], and by a current French archaeological expedition from Lyon University). It is also known that water from rivers and streams in this region was diverted by canals and aqueducts built by successive rulers of the Assyrian Empire to the great capitals of Assyria: Nimrud, Dur-Sharrukin, and Nineveh (FIG. 2) (Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935; Bagg 1999) (FIG. 3)

Due to very few excavation projects from the 19th and 20th centuries, perhaps the most important source of information regarding the archaeology of this region are the 1970’s Iraqi publications “Archaeological Sites in Iraq”, a catalogue of the locations of sites registered in the directory of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq released in 1970, and, six years later, the “Atlas of Archaeological Sites of Iraq” (Salman 1976), which contains maps showing the distribution of these sites. On the maps showing the area where the UGZAR project will take place, the names and approximate locations of about 120 settlements are given, though there is no information about their size or the period of settlement. It is possible that this data is stored in the archives of the local offices of the Antiquities Ministry of Kurdistan.


The project will be completed in three stages:

The first stage will consist of the identification of sites visible in satellite imagery. The black and white satellite images taken in the course of the CORONA spy missions in 1967 and 1968 will be used (Day, Lodgson and Batell 1998). This imagery is now declassified, and available in the public domain (see CORONA Atlas of the Near East, University of Arkansas). This imagery is of very high value for archaeologists, due to a resolution of 2m, which is perfectly satisfactory in term of archaeological work, as sites are typically measured in hectares or even in tens of hectares. Another important reason for using this satellite imagery is that the CORONA missions were conducted during a time when this part of the Middle East was much less populated, and less intensively cultivated than in the present (Kouchoukos 2002; Ur 2003). In this imagery, even small sites are visible which may have since disappeared from the surface in the last few decades due to ploughing or from being covered by building projects.

The second stage consists of the completion of a list of sites based on materials available from the archives of regional offices of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the provinces of Irbil and Duhok in Kurdistan. Unfortunately, the documents used to compile the maps in the “Atlas of Archaeological Sites in Iraq” is most likely stored in the Baghdad office of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, if they were not destroyed in 2003. 

Verification of data obtained during the implemention of these two stages will take place in the third stage of the project. During six two-month field seasons (September-October 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017), archaeological survey will attempt to cover all of the identified archaeological sites. In the 2012 season, work was carried out in the southeastern part of the work permit area, within the province of Irbil. In the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons, the area of Duhok province was studied, specifically its western, eastern, and southern areas. In 2016, the project team returned to Irbil province, and worked in the northern part of this area. The last field season, planned for 2018, will over the southeastern part of the work permit area. 

During these field seasons, documentation work was conducted along the following parameters: the location of each site is precisely determined using GPS measurements, plans are created, and the site is documented with photography. Surface collection of ceramics will take place, which forms the basis for chronological determinations regarding the history of the settlement and allows for the assessment of the size of the site in various historical periods. Pottery and small finds from the surface of the sites will be documented during the field seasons. In between seasons, documented material will undergo analysis, and plans will be created to show the distribution of materials at the sites; additionally, regional maps will visualize the density of settlement in different historical periods. These materials will be published on a regular basis on the project website.

Particular attention is given towards documenting damage and predicting threats to monuments, artifacts, and archaeological sites. 


The result of the project will be the first complete catalogue of archaeological sites located in the area of the plains to the east and west of the Great Zab river, and with a corresponding set of maps showing the distribution of settlement in successive historical periods.

This catalogue, containing information about the size of sites and their periods of occupation, will take into account the intensity of settlement nd will develop an outline of the history of settlement in this area. An important element of the final results of the study will compare data from the results of the other regional archaeological survey projects in the immediate vicinity of the Polish UGZAR project.

This project will allow for the improvement of our knowledge of settlement and demographic trends in northern Mesopotamia, from prehistory to the Middle Ages. The published catalogue of sites and artifacts will form the starting point for further archaeological research in the region, and will help fill the gaps in archaeological maps of northern Mesopotamia. Future excavations will find a wealth of data in the final publications, and will be able to use this information for the selection of potential sites for study. Finally, information about the damage to archaeological sites, as well as potential threats will allow for better policy and planning regarding the protection of the cultural heritage of Kurdistan.

The project will be completed by a five volume book publication, which is expected by the end of 2018. This will include an Atlas containing the maps created in the course of the project and three volumes of a catalogue of finds, which will include the locations of settlements, architectural sites, and caves in geographical order, as well as a volume discussing in detail the history and dynamics of settlement in northern Kurdistan.


Bagg, A. (2000), Assyrische Wasserbauten, Mainz (Baghdader Forschungen 24)
Braidwood, R., Howe, B. (1960), Prehistoric Investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan, Chicago 1960.
Day, D., Lodgson, J., Batell B. (1998), Eye in the sky: the story of CORONA spy satellites, Washington 1998. 
Eidem, J. (1985), News from the eastern front: evidence from Tell Shemsharra, Iraq 47, 1985, pp.83-107. 
Furlani, G. (1934), Gli scavi italiani in Assiria (Campagna del 1933), Giornale della Società Asiatica Italiana, N.S. 2, pp. 265-76
Jacobsen, T., Lloyd, S. (1935), Sennaherib's Aqueduct at Jerwan, [Oriental Institute Publications no. 34], Chicago.
Kopanias, K., and  MacGinnis, J. (eds.)(2016), The Archaeology of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Adjacent Regions, Oxford.
Kouchoukos, N. (2002), Satellite Images and Near Eastern Landscapes, Near Eastern Archaeology 64, pp. 80-91.
Layard, H. A. (1853), Discoveries in the Ruins of Niniveh and Babylon, London. 
Salman, A. (1976), Atlas of the archaeological Sites of Iraq, Baghdad.
Ur, J. (2003) , CORONA Satellite Photography and Ancient Road Networks: A Northern Mesopotamian Case Study, Antiquity 77, pp. 102-115.