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The second fields season of the UGZAR - "Settlement history of the Iraqi Kurdistan" project has started on September 23rd. 

This year field program will focus on the westernmost part of the work permit area, close to region surveyed since 2012 by the Land of Niniveh Regional Project team (University of Udine, Italy). It is expected that activities in this area will allow for comparisons between both areas and, in consequence, for a better understanding of the settlement trends within this part of the Iraqi Kurdistan (MAP).

The field team, led by Professor Rafał Koliński (Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University), is composed of: Dr. Dorota Ławecka (deputy director, Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw), Ms. Joanna Mardas, Ms. Agata Smilgin, Mr. Mikołaj Kostyrko (all Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University), Mrs. Xenia Kolińska (Past and Present Foundation), Mr. Jakub Brochocki (Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw), and Mr. Pieter Swart (Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen). The Department of Antiquities of the Dohuk province of  the Iraqi Kurdistan is represented by Mr. Hiwa Shimal Ahmad, the Director of its Aqrah Office, and Mr. Omar Hussein Sharif.

The first two weeks of the season (August 26th – September 8th) were devoted to surveying a hilly area along the Akre Mountains, between the city of Akre and the western limit of the work permit (MAP 1).

Two lower ridges of hills running parallel to the main chain of Akre Mountains, which is reaching over 1 750 m asl in height form a series of well screened valleys at the foot of high mountains. Due to presence of numerous springs they have an oasis-like appearance (Fig. 6,12). and are bustling with orchards and gardens crossed by narrow streams. Most of those, however, runs dry before reaching the Navkur plain where their beds are full of water only in winter and in spring (Fig. 5).

The valleys accommodated numerous modern villages, but were of course settled by men already in the past. Over an area of less than 100 sq. km 14 archaeological sites were identified, the earliest of them founded in the early IInd millennium BC the latest ones abandoned only a few centuries ago. Among them are small fortresses build on top of mountains (Fig. 7) (the highest located, Şuş Kale, is at the level of 1100 m asl), monasteries (Fig. 3, 8), synagogues (Fig. 9, 10). In the area covered by the study more than twenty caves are located, but nearly all of them are presently used as animal pens (Fig. 11), what made search for any remnants of early human presence impossible.

A visit to village of Gunduk, a site renowned for its three rock-relief panels sculptured in the mid- IIIrd millennium BC, probably the oldest monuments of this kind in the entire Mesopotamia. They were cut on the western wall of a deep rock-shelter (or shallow cave) opening in the mountain slope over the village (Fig. 4). A recent publication of Julian Reade and Julia Anderson (Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 103, 2013, 68-122) describes in details the history of research on the monument and its destruction by treasure hunters, who have damaged two decorative panels with explosives less than 20 years ago. The project team has discovered on the slope two small fragments of the entirely destroyed panel. Analysis of the recovered fragment allows for a new reconstruction of the destroyed scene, which was studied before only on the base of photographs shot from a distance. The successful recovery of fragments of the destroyed relief allows for an assumption, that more fragments could have been retrieved from the area below the cave, once a thorough search would be conducted. This is, however, a task for other time, and probably for other team. We are moving into direction of Navkur plain.

After two weeks of fieldwork in the mountain valleys around Akre (Fig. 14) and west of the city the team moved to the area of a rolling plain (Fig. 16) stretching from the foothills of the mountains to Rovĩa Dolu in the south. The survey covered roughly triangular territory, marked out by the Akre – Bakurman road in the north (Fig. 15), Akre – Rovĩa road in the southeast and the limit of the work permit in the west. Work in the area lasted approximately a week (from September 10th till 15th).

The results of the fieldwork in this zone were somewhat unexpected. Nearly all identified archaeological sites were located in the western part of the area, which is close to the Khazir river, flowing southwards only a few kilometers outside the work permit area. The northern, the central and the eastern part of the area, cut by several deep valleys of seasonal streams, revealed no archeological sites. This state of the matter is difficult to explain. It is probable that these seasonal streams were filled with water for a period too short to allow for the establishment of permanent settlement. Therefore, the area might have been used for herding sheep and goats, activities that left very little archaeological traces.

The identified sites represent mainly prehistoric and early historic settlements. Many of the sites are flat and difficult to discern in the landscape, but there are some proper tells as well, for instance Grdĩ Bedrike (S052)(Fig. 17), 12 m high and c. 1 ha in area, settled from the early Neolithic (Hassuna culture) till the Middle Ages. Worth mentioning is the site of Xrabe Kngr (S060)(Fig. 18) dating to the Sasanian and the Early Islamic period, covering an area of 16.6 ha, thus constituting one of the largest sites identified during the 2013 season. Dispersed earlier sherds suggest the presence of an earlier occupation at the site, but very restricted in extent.

Most peculiar was the discovery of the site Grdĩ Keleke 4 (S058). The team was invited to one of the houses in Kuşke village to inspect a pottery piece decorated with animal representations that was supposedly kept there. Indeed, a large storage jar fragment decorated with Sasanian stamp impressions was shown to us. The owner of the house, when inquired on the find-spot of the sherd, grabbed at a shovel and started to dig between a privy and an animal pen (Fig. 19). In an instant numerous sherds were excavated, but they only revealed painted decorations typical for the Ubaid period, a date corroborated by a presence of a small stone axe (Fig. 20), and no Sasanian material. The surface within and outside the household, as well as the slope below the house, yielded no archaeological finds at all. 

The richest part of the area surveyed in 2013 was investigated between September 16th and October 10th. The landscape there is nearly flat, with seasonal streams shallowly incised into the alluvial plain. Only Rovĩa Dolu (Fig. 21) in the west, a tributary of the Khazir River, and Qūrebek Dolu (Fig. 25) in the east, pouring into the Greater Zab, are meandering at the bottom of wider and deeper incised valleys. The work was carried out in a triangular area outlined by a tarmac road Rovĩa – Çeme in the northeast, road Daratu – Bardaraş in the south, and the limit of the work permit in the west. Due to a huge number of encountered sites only a substantial part of the  area was surveyed; in fact, no work was done in Sector G1. 

The area between Rovĩa and Daratu represents a typical North Mesopotamian landscape with numerous settlement mounds spread over the countryside; from the top of a mound, several more are usually visible. Settlements are located along the streams, primarily along Qūrebek Dolu, which was probably a perennial stream in the antiquity (and presently water can be found in some of its sections even in October!) (Fig. 22). The settlements form several clusters of sites, sometimes less than 100 m apart. Some of these sites are flat, and in order to identify them it was necessary to make transects c. 200 m wide on both banks of the Qūrebek Dolu valley.  Numerous tells are composed of a high mound, usually dating either to the Prehistoric period or to the Bronze Age, or both, and a lower city area, often of the Iron Age period (Fig. 26). The average site is about 4 ha in area, but there are some bigger examples, for instance Gorrestan Pelesan (S097)(Fig. 23), whose lower city covers 12 ha. The largest site identified, Xrabe Kileşin (S074), is substantially bigger than any other in this area, and measures over 30 ha. The maximum extent of this site falls to the late 3rd Millennium BC, with traces of later settlement present only in the southern part of the site, along the wadi. The central part of the settlement, which is slightly elevated is entirely covered by a modern village (Fig. 24).

The UGZAR team has fallen upon many traces of illicit digging at archaeological sites while working along the Qūrebek Dolu. In fact, most of the high hills have trenches cutting their steep sides. The trenches are usually more than 10 m wide, and reach from the top to the bottom of the hill; some of them are clearly a few years old (Fig. 23), while others show fresh traces of digging (Fig. 27). On the last day of our fieldwork, the team caught a peasant from the Daratu village red-handed, as he was digging at Grdĩ Aşĩ Geūre (S089) for clay he needed to plaster some structures in his household (Fig. 28). When questioned, he admitted that he knew that what he was doing was wrong, but the need for making repairs was stronger than the fear of penalty, as the sites are not monitored and only rarely visited by employees of the Kurdistan Directorate of Antiquities. All in all, there is a need for a much stronger commitment of the authorities to the protection of archaeological sites in the area. Otherwise they will be irrecoverably destroyed within several decades.


The 2013 field season comprised 7 weeks of field survey and additional 2 weeks devoted to documentation of the collected surface finds. During this period 62 archaeological sites were identified and fully documented in an area located in the governorate of Duhok, in the western part of the work permit area. The work was carried out in three different environmental zones: mountain valleys at the southern slopes of the Şaxĩ Akre mountains, a rolling plain south of the mountain range, and an alluvial plain of Rovĩa Dolu and Qurabak Dolu. It became apparent that settlements developed differently in each of these regions. The mountain valleys yielded evidence of the settlement of the historic period, mainly of the Iron Age. However, the lack of evidence of an earlier occupation is surprising, especially given the favorable environmental conditions of the area that should have attracted prehistoric population groups as well. The rolling plain, while sparsely settled, but manifesting a concentration of sites in the western part of the area, yielded numerous prehistoric and Bronze Age sites, yet very few later settlements. Finally, the alluvium was intensively settled from prehistory to the present. The types of sites evidenced are more diverse in comparison to the previous season, including a rock relief, monastery, mausoleum, as well as castles, among others.

During the season nearly 3300 artifacts were collected on the surface of 54 archaeological sites (the average of 61 artifacts per site). All the material was documented either by drawing, or by photography, or both. Of this total number of artifacts, 1769 sherds were studied in full (including technological description), out of which 684 sherds were qualified to the types discerned in the “Working Pottery Typology 2013” and used to date the settlements. The remaining sherds will be studied during the 2014 field season.

Maps showing the distribution of the sites and Site Cards of the 2013 season will be published on this website in January 2014.


Site distribution maps 2013
Photo gallery

UGZAR Project Team Responsibilities (2013)