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SEASON 2015 

Duration: August 1st – October 15th 2015
Region studied: Duhok province (MAP)
Area studied: ca. 295 km2 
Number of sites discovered: 46 settlements and 90 caves

Team: Prof. UAM Dr. Rafal Kolinski (UAM), Dr. Dorota Lawecka, Dr. Dariusz Szelag, Joanna Mardas, MA, Filip Waldoch (UAM), Michalina Dzwoniarek-Konieczna, MA (UAM), Xenia Kolinska, MA (“Present & Past” Foundation), Arthur Stefanski, MA (University of Toronto), Karolina Do Huu (Wroclaw University), Maciej Czarnecki, MA, Jerzy Wierzbicki and Dariusz Piasecki (photographers), as well as Sarkaft Amr Taladzin and Atheel Abdalla Ibrahim (Office of Antiquities, Akre)

The objective of the 2015 field season was the completion of  work in the region of Duhok province, particularly in the southern part of the work area, forming a triangle delineated by the Great Zab valley, the Eski Kelek – Bardaraş highway, and the edge of the Zilka Bardaraş heights.


The team worked in a smaller squad of 5 members (RK, XK, JM, MDK, and JW) in the first two weeks (August 3-14). The objective of these two weeks was the initiation and completion of architectural objects located in the mountain valleys of the Şaxi Akre, identified during the 2014 season. In the course of 10 days of work, the Mar Axxa church in Şermen, the monastery in Şuş, the monastery of Mar Audişio in Gunduk, the Çemetery in Gunduk, the church in Xrdis, the church of the Holy Mother in Xerpe, the cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the church of Mar Georgios in Akre, as well as the monastery of Mar Girgis in Qalati were documented and measured with a Total Station. Additional photographic and film documentation was conducted, and samples of building materials were taken (stone and mortar), which will be taken to Poland for chemical analysis.

The team worked in its full capacity from August 15th (and Jerzy Wierzbicki was replaced by our project photographer Dariusz Piasecki). Two main objectives were undertaken from August 15-28: the survey of caves within the project work area, and the location and registration of archaeological sites within its southern part. Simultaneously, geological and geomorphological survey was conducted by Michalina Dzwoniarek-Konieczna in the work area.

An unexpected finding was revealed by this last activity: an archaeological occupation layer was found in the section of one of the pits excavated for the construction of a well, covered by a thick alluvial deposit and which had no corresponding surface materials. Its presence and the material discovered (from the Neo-Assyrian period) suggests that the area of the survey has been affected not only by erosion, but also by sedimentation.

Girdi Xazine (S141) proved to be another interesting site. This site is located on the top of a height in the arid zone of the Şaxi Zilka Bardaraş, and was settled only in the Mitanni Period (mid 2nd millennium BC). Looting pits discovered at the sites show that despite its exposed position, an occupational layer is present at least 2 meters below the ground, with preserved stone foundations. It is, however, impossible to determine the purpose of settlement in such a remote area without archaeological excavation.

The first two weeks of the cave survey activities produced 19 cave sites, located between the western border of the work permit area up to and including Akre town. Already after such a short period of survey, it was evident that the number of caves would far exceed the number expected based on past literature. It was also made evident that the majority of caves are used by shepherds as shelters for their flocks of cattle and sheep. Therefore, it was not possible to observe cultural layers in the caves, and only scarce findings were made from the slope below the cave entrance; these were typically from the late Islamic period and later. 

The following two weeks of fieldwork (August 29-September 10) brought about a number of interesting findings.

The first of these was the identification and documentation of site S146. Located on a cliff about 75m above the western bank of the
Great Zab river, the assemblage of this site was representative of southern Mesopotamian late Uruk culture. This is the only site of its kind on the western bank of the river; furthermore, it is in relation to site S002 directly on the opposite bank, which was documented in 2012. Without a doubt, these sites functioned as a pair. It is possible that S002 was a settlement, and S146 an outpost controlling the Zab valley. It was also discovered that S002 no longer exists. A gravel deposit appeared in its vicinity in 2013; excavations up to 10m below the surface destroyed over 90% of the site. On September 1st, a rescue expedition to the site managed to collect additional ceramic material from waste dumps around the gravel pit, as well as recovering two complete bevelled rim bowls from an exposed section of the remaining part of the site.

Transects started on September 6th signalled a new and very promising activity for the project; these were  conducted on the second terrace on the west bank of the Great Zab river, between the townships of Dalare and Xancirok Nue. 17 previously unknown settlements were discovered along a 10km stretch of the valley, which examined a roughly 200m wide strip of the terrace (earlier, interviews enabled the discovery and registration of only two sites).

At the same time, work on the cave survey continued in the valleys east of Akre. This portion of the mountains proved to be very useful in understanding cave formation processes – anywhere from 7 to 14 caves were registered in each of these valleys. In the course of two weeks, an additional 30 caves were added to our inventory.

The period from September 12th to the 24th was used to document the sites identified in the course of the Dalare-Xancirok transect. An additional transect was conducted in the Çeme Girdapan valley, a stream flowing from the Zilka Bardaraş plain in the direct of the Khazir river. 6 sites were identified along a 5km strip of the valley to the south of Goma Zard village, which suggests that the presently dry Çeme Girdapan stream flowed with water in ancient times. In summary, it is possible to say on the basis of these four sites (S141, S145, S178 and S142, which was located just outside of the work permit area) that this area was inhabited throughout a period of five thousand years up to the present.

Progress was made on the inventory of cave sites. A very impressive number of caves was found in the valleys of Cuna village – a total of 21 cave sites! An additional 23 documented caves finally brought about the expectations of the cave survey: chalcolithic ceramics from cave C066, as well as a silver coin from the Parthian period (a drachma from the reign of Osroes/Khusro II, 190 AD) from cave C069, and also a relatively rich collection of lithic artifacts found around the entrance to cave C048.

The last two weeks of fieldwork (September 26th to October 8th) were spent on another transect in the Greater Zab valley, in the area of the towns of Xaruk and Kele. In the course of these transects, three sites were found in the area of Xaruk and two at Kele; these were documented immediately after their identification.

The intensive survey of caves continued, along the eastern part of the Şaxi Akre. Luckily, the number of caves in this area of the mountains was lower than in the central part – nonetheless, 91 caves were registered by the end of the season. Archaeological materials were only recovered rather sporadically from these caves, similar to the western area of the survey of the region. 

The final days of the season were used to document architectural sites. Previously, watermills which used rainfall runoff from fields (grist mills) were not documented. This type of construction is known from Iran as early as the Sasanian period (2nd to 7th centuries AD). The documented grist mills were not quite this ancient; in some instances, local inhabitants in some villages recalled that these grist mills were still in use in the 1970’s.


The 2015 field season was the final season of archaeological survey in the work permit area in Duhok province. Thus, much of this season was planned in such a way to complete the field documentation of archaeological sites, their findings, as well as architectural sites in this area. In relation to this, lithic material was finally documented, which had been accumulated from sites registered in the 2012-2015 seasons. In total, 147 sites, 40 architectural sites, and 91 caves and rock shelters were identified in Duhok province. 

In the following year, archaeological survey is planned in Irbil province, especially in the area of the Dasht-I Xarir, a fertile plain located along the southern slopes of the mountain range of the same name. 


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