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SEASON 2016

Duration: August 20th - October 21st 2016
Region studied: Irbil Province (MAP)
Area studied: ca. 485 km2
Number of sites discovered: 71 settlements, 6 caves, 20 architectural features and cemeteries

Team: Prof. UAM Dr. Rafał Koliński, (IA UAM), Xenia Kolińska, MA ("Present & Past" Foundation), Dr. Dorota Ławecka, Dr. Dariusz Szeląg (IA UW), Joanna Mardas, MA, Daria Sawicka (IA UAM), Arthur Stefanski, MA (University of Toronto), Karolina Do Huu (Wrocław University), Andrzej Leligdowicz, MA, Dariusz Piasecki (photographer), as well as Rebwar Calal Aziz and Karwan Abdelrahman Muhammad Amin (Direction of Antiquities, Irbil) 

The objective of the 2016 season was the survey of the Daşt-ĩ Harĩr plain located along the eastern bank of the Great Zab, at the foot of the mountain range of the same name. In the medieval period, the plain was part of a trade route from Irbil to Roũndũz and beyond in the direction of Lake Urmia; this route was also most likely utilized in the Neo Assyrian period. The 2016 fieldwork was also intended to answer the question of whether the distribution of settlements along this route corresponds to its earlier usage.

This past season, similarly as in the 2015 season, involved reconnaissance activities with the goal of verifying preliminary identifications of the locations of archaeological sites, carried out on the basis of satellite imagery and information from the publication “Atlas of Archaeological Sites in Iraq”, as well as the gathering of geographical information required for the production of terrain maps. The archaeological sites discovered during reconnaissance were subsequently documented in the course of the entire field season.

Another activity was the surface survey of specific areas within the project concession (transects), largely carried out in the first part of the field season. This was expanded on as a result of the success of transects in the previous field season on the terraces along the west bank of the Great Zab. This intensive field survey covered around 42 km2 of terrain, in 13 zones along the Great Zab valley (4 transects), in the valleys associated with the Spilak pass (3 transects), in the northern part of the Harir plain (5 transects), and in the southern part of the Harir plain (2 transects).
 

COURSE OF THE SEASON

The season began with the documentation of the most spectacular site in the region, Gird-ĩ Tle (S 185), composed of a relatively tall hill with a diameter of around 80m and a height of 22m, with a lower city surrounding it with an area of over 25 ha. On the basis of sources from the Assyrian period, the site was initially identified as the ancient city of Hiptunu. Unfortunately, surface survey did not confirm this hypothesis. While some Assyrian ceramics were found, the quantity was fairly low, and therefore it is difficult to say with full certainty that the site was an important center in the Neo-Assyrian period. However, the site most certainly had such a role during the Parthian and Sassanian periods, when the lower city was at its maximum extent (ca. 30 ha). A relief carved into a cliff face at the Harir mountains near the town of Batas can be associated with this settlement. The relief depicts a ruler from the Parthian period from about the 2nd century AD, and is about 1.5km from the settlement. Surface survey in the vicinity of Gird-ĩ Tle revealed 5 additional sites, all belonging to the Parthian-Sassanian period, namely when Gird-ĩ Tle was at its maximum extent. Survey activities in this area were conducted from the 22nd to the 25th of August.

The following two weeks (August 27 - September 8) were devoted first of all to carrying out transects along the Great Zab, as well as in the northern part of the Harir plain. The survey along the Zab had an unexpected result: in four transects, only 5 settlements were found, chronologically similar to those in the vicinity of Gird-ĩ Tle, dating to the Parthian and Sassanian periods. Contrary to expectations, it turned out that the river bank was settled relatively late. The one exception to this is the site of Gird-ĩ Makrdan (S 037), located near the mouth of the Çem-ê Koṟe stream to the Zab, where prehistoric and Bronze Age occupation was discovered during the 2012 season.

A fairly different picture was uncovered by survey activities in the Çem-ĩ Darbandok valley, which forms the northern edge of the fertile Harir plain, where four settlements were discovered. Three of these belonged to the Parthian-Sassanian period (as with the majority of sites found up to that point); however, site S212 not only had Sassanian ceramics, but also ceramics from the Early Bronze Age and its later phases. However, the most interesting discovery at the site in question was a cache of flint artifacts, including 19 medium sized flint cores, debitage of the same light gray raw material, and a large number of more or less more regular flint flakes. It seems rather likely that a lithic workshop existed at this site. Unfortunately, it is difficult to date this lithic cache due to the surface provenance of the finds. It is most likely that these lithic artifacts date to the period of the earliest ceramics found at the site, that is the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000-2500 BC). It cannot be ruled out, however, that the workshop was active in the Late Bronze, or belongs to a period which was not represented in the ceramics collected from the surface.

The Islamic holiday of ‘Aid el-Fatha caused a hiatus of fieldwork from September 10-17.

Intensive survey of the northern and southern Harir plain continued from the 17th to the 29th of September. In the northern part, two subsequent valleys were studied, which had streams flowing into the main regional river, the Çem-ê Haraş. The valley of the Batas stream, along with five sites were found in the first week of the field season, proved to be intensively settled also in its lower course, where six past settlements were found. Similar to the area studied earlier, the most numerous sites belonged to the Parthian-Sassanian period, though two (S229 and S237) were found to have evidence of occupation in the Early Bronze Age, indicating a colonization of this area already by ca. 3000 BC. The lack of earlier settlement is nonetheless surprising.

Earlier settlement (Chalcolithic) was however identified in the southern part of the valley, at the sites of Gird-ĩ Qasmĩa (S191) and Gird-ĩ Şūm (S 207), both noted in the “Atlas of Archaeological Sites in Iraq”. The terrain south of the first site and surrounding the second were intensively surveyed, which revealed additional settlements. Just as in the other regions surveyed, most of the sites were from later periods: Seleucid (for instance S223), Parthian, and Sassanian, confirming that the Harir plain was indeed mostly settled at this time. This determination is quite historically significant, as many scholars of antiquity identify this region with the land of Habr(i)uri known from Assyrian texts. The almost total lack of Assyrian period settlement in this area brings doubt on this reconstruction.

Another site from the “Atlas” proved to be very interesting: Dĩr-a Birūş (S 200), a square ruin with a side length of about 70m, with round towers in its corners. This site is most likely the remain of a Christian monastery, which its name indicates (Dĩr - monastery) as well as its similarity to the plan of the monastery in Bazyan near Slemani, excavated by a French-Kurdish project. The location of the ruins corresponds to the monastery founded in 592 AD by Bishop Bar Šabta, a hypothesis proposed by Jean Mauric Fiey in his study of the historical geography of Christian Iraq. As the ceramics in the vicinity of the ruin correspond to the late Sassanian/Early Islamic period (6th-8th centuries AD), the identification of the documented ruins as the aforementioned monastery is very likely. 

The documentation of previously identified sites, as well as caves, structures, and other cultural heritage sites was exclusively carried out from October 1-11. Among these sites, four draw attention due to their unique ceramic assemblages.

Xaraba Qadĩana (S 250) is a site which has a settlement history reaching into the oldest ceramic culture in Mesopotamia – the Hassuna/Samarra period (6200-5500 BC). A rich assemblage of ceramics from this period, both decorated and utilitarian, can be attributed to the fact that the site has been cut through by a paved road. Chalcolithic and Hellenistic period pottery was also found on the surface of this site.

The site of S248 yielded a rich collection of Ubaid period ceramics - the only site this season with such an assemblage. The richness and variety of this ceramic assemblage suggests a long period of occupation at the site, differentiating it from other discovered sites belonging to this period. Similarly, as in the case of site S250, the earliest occupation layers are covered by late Chalcolithic and Sassanian occupation.

At the site of Ban-ĩ Mūtkan (S 218), an abundant collection of ceramics with incised decoration and a characteristic rim profile was found alongside Ninevite 5, Sassanian, and Islamic period pottery. This ceramic type could not be assigned to an existing early ceramic tradition. Most probably, this is a local ceramic tradition, though its place in the chronological sequence is currently very difficult to assess. The only indicator of its dating is its mineral temper, which suggests a dating to around the turn of the first millennium BC. While it is tempting to speculate, a more precise dating is impossible without excavation.

A similar problem can be found with a group of tableware ceramics, which we have called Harĩr Purple Painted Ware. Examples of this ceramic group were found at several sites (among these being sites studied in previous field seasons), but the most abundant and most representative collection comes from the site of Kaūl (S 253). At this site (just as at the majority where Harĩr Purple Painted Ware was found), Ninevite 5 ceramics were also present, which suggests that the production of Harĩr Purple Painted Ware falls within the Early Bronze Age (3000-2500 BC). As with the previously discussed local ceramic group, this hypothesis must be verified through excavation.
 

SUMMARY

Two months of fieldwork yielded an exceptionally rich dataset and information regarding the settlement of the Harir plain, as well as the valleys to its west and south.

In the course of the season, 71 settlements, 20 architectural features and cemeteries, as well as six caves were documented. This is only a portion of the cultural heritage sites which were identified during the field season. 8 sites as well as 20 caves await documentation. The ceramic material collected throughout the field season was not documented in its entirety due to the large number of sites discovered during transects.

Survey work, and intensive surface survey in particular enabled the identification and analysis of the historical settlement of the Harir plain. The development of settlement in this area was not particularly dynamic. The Neolithic and Chalcolithic are represented by singular settlements, located on the borders of the plains and indicating a very slow colonization of the lands lying to the south and west of the Harir plain. Only by the Early Bronze Age (the Ninevite 5 culture) does the number of settlements rise substantially (to seven); their distribution covers, for the first time, the entire Harir plain. From the middle of the 3rd to the end of the 2nd millennium BC there is a settlement crisis of sorts, which is reflected by a decrease in the number of settlements; those found were generally located on the borders of the Harir plain. The early Iron Age brought a slow development of settlement. However, the peak of settlement density occurs only by the Parthian – Sassanian - Early Islamic period. Unlike other regions of north Mesopotamia, we did not observe a distinct rise in the number of settlements during the Neo-Assyrian period. Furthermore, the ceramic assemblage of this period was only represented by a small number of fragments, typically belonging to bowls. As a result, one must question if the Neo-Assyrian period in this area can be connected to a local ceramic tradition, for instance the pottery decorated with incised geometric motifs from site S 218. The function of the route leading to the Spilak pass prior to the Assyrian period could not be explicitly confirmed. The only indication of the use of this route is the presence of the site of Gird-ĩ Flon on the edge of one of the valleys leading to the pass. Its size (ca. 8 ha) and limited accessibility to agricultural land suggests that this was not a typical rural settlement, but that it rather had a role as a stop along the trade route in the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanian periods.

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.... The field season planned for the fall of 2017 will consist of the documentation of the remaining settlements identified over the course of the current season. Survey will be conducted in the mountainous area around the cities of Şaqlaua and Salahaddin, as well as the plain on the northern bank of the seasonal Bastora Çaĩ stream. The 2017 field season in Kurdistan will complete the fieldwork of the project.

/translation: Arthur Stefanski/

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