Kneeling goat

British School of Archaeology in Iraq

(Gertrude Bell Memorial) Registered Charity No. 219948

Kneeling goat




Newsletter 10 - Nov. 2002


A Visit to Iraq

With the help of the Iraqi Interests section in London and the State Board in Baghdad I was able to make a short, but long overdue, visit to Iraq this August. Resisting the temptation to fly (from Damascus or Amman) I took a GMC which collected me at 5 am from the Council for British Research in the Levant institute in Amman, and deposited me at 3 pm the same day (actually 4 pm Baghdad time, though it being Thursday I didn't discover this until Saturday morning) at the Hammurabi Palace Hotel near the National Theatre in Nidhal Street (recommended - $35 a night, inclusive of laundry, photocopying and e-mail!). My first task on Saturday morning was to hand over to Dr Jabir Khalil, Chairman of the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage, a piece of Neolithic wall painting from Umm Dabaghiyah, which was loaned many years ago for conservation by Kathy Tubb at the Institute of Archaeology in London , and had been ready to go back for some time. I also passed to him a copy of the School's letter in Arabic to the President about the threat posed to Assur by the Mak'hul dam, in case the original sent in the post had not reached its destination. The news on this front is encouraging: later that morning I saw Dr Muayad Saeed Damerji at the Ministry of Culture (not far from the Museum close to the British Embassy compound), and he told me that the Deputy Secretary-General of UNESCO had visited earlier in August and a bid for assistance from UNESCO is actively being prepared, but also that the engineers' revised levels now indicate that water will not reach the main part of the site at Qal'at Sherqat, only the southern lower town being threatened by flooding at the maximum level. Engineers from the University of Mosul are also working on a possible coffer dam. Nevertheless, 61 other sites are scheduled to be flooded in early 2006, including Tell en-Nemel and Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta, and an invitation to foreign expeditions to participate in the rescue work is expected shortly.

The main purpose of my visit was to locate and read a few remaining texts from the 1953-56 excavation seasons at Nimrud, to go into Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud VI. My letter to Dr. Nawala al-Mutewelli had safely preceded me, by post, and both permission to see the texts and the tablets themselves were waiting for me. Some turned out to have seal impressions which needed recording, and Dr Donny George very kindly lent me a Nikon with close-up lens and located a copy-stand left with the Museum by Dr Erica Hunter, which may between them have compensated for my own photographic inexpertise. The other urgent task was to visit the site of Abu Salabikh, which I had last seen in 1989. Dr Jabir very generously offered me one of the State Board's new fourwheel drive Nissan station wagons with a driver, and guided by Semir from relations we drove down on Friday 30th. The six-lane motorway is completed all the way to Diwaniyah, which we reached in well under two hours; there we joined up with Thabit Gsad, the Inspector of Antiquities for Qadisiyyah Governorate, and made our way to Somer on the Shatt ad-Daghghara where the site guard was waiting for us. Bedr Abbas, the guard throughout our work since 1975, died suddenly in 1994, and his nephew, Salman Wasikh, has been appointed in his place by the State Board. He guided us through the bewildering maze of dirt tracks created by the superposition of the Scapaneus drainage system on the old pattern of branching canals, and we found the site looking exactly as it must have looked when Susan Pollock's team left in 1990. There is mercifully no sign of the illicit excavations which have plagued the sites along the 'third river' further to the east (see below). On the other hand the dig house has not fared so well. One of the rooms, that built in 1976, collapsed completely in 1998, and the guard and the Inspector have rescued the bagged material and stored it in 50 sacks in one of the newer rooms. These rooms were reportedly ransacked during the unrest in 1991, and any useful equipment is long since gone, but here too some stored bags of sherds, bones and samples have survived and all will need to be thoroughly rehabilitated in the future. The two newer rooms with baked brick walls and concrete floors have lasted well, but the roof of one is badly in need of replacement and Thabit Gsad undertook to see that the guard will do this before the autumn rains.

An unexpected part of my visit was a trip to Mosul, to continue collaboration with Dr Ali Yaseen al-Jebouri on the legal archives from the rooms above the queens' tombs in the North-West Palace at Nimrud. Most of the work had been done during his visit to Cambridge in March, but two intensive sessions with the tablets themselves, which are in Mosul, succeeded in resolving most of our outstanding problems. We snatched an hour to meet the Deputy Dean of the College of Arts, and to see the site of the Ashurbanipal Library project, and a maquette of the winning design. This was in the Assyriological section of the current library of the College of Arts, where the well thumbed condition of the State Archives of Assyria volumes bears witness to an active student body and intense demand for anything published after 1980. Although cuneiform texts have not recently come from Nineveh, Dr Ali's students are busy working on tablets from the Iraqi work at Assur, among others, and in Mosul they don't have access to a copy of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. Happily I managed to track down a box containing the (very expensive and in one instance out of print) volumes of the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia from Toronto, which had reached the UNDP offices in Baghdad through the kindness of M. Francis Dubois (and the generosity of Barbara Craig) and were awaiting further instructions; so the library will soon be much better equipped for historical inscriptions, and the next item on the shopping list is Vol. 3 of the Cambridge Ancient History (which is also not cheap!). (Ed. Note: Dr Crawford has donated a set to be sent off.) Petrol queues in Mosul were the only symptom I saw of precautions in the face of threats of invasion. Otherwise the country seems remarkably unaffected although the anxiety was always present. Ten years of economic ostracism has turned the country back to its own resources, and the most obvious sign of the sanctions is the condition of the average taxi: wonder that it works at all is gradually superseded by perplexity as to how it could ever have suffered so many dilapidations. In the (rather better) taxi on the return journey from Mosul discussions about the modalities of paying millions of dinars when the highest denomination is a ID 250 note (40,000 of them needed to make about $500) lasted for at least 200 km; an ID 10,000 note is eagerly expected any day now. Otherwise the principal subject of conversation seems to be computers, which are now widely present both in offices and private houses; there is a lively realization that to rejoin the international community computer expertise ranks at least as high as English in their priorities. Just as elsewhere it is the younger generation that is most switched on to IT, and computer studies have been incorporated in secondary school courses and some of the Assyriology Masters students I met in Mosul had just emerged from their computer exams.

The State Board continues with its fieldwork. Restoration work includes Islamic architecture in the old town of Eski Mosul and work goes on at Anbar (Ramadi). At Abu Sukhair near Nejef important glass ware is coming from a Pre-Islamic cemetery, and a site called Abu Antik between Nejef and Abu Sukhair has yielded interesting Old Babylonian plaques, and tablets which will shortly be published in Sumer 50 by Ahmed Kamil. Some of the best excavators of the 70s and 80s are still in the field. Zuhair Rajib is directing the University of Baghdad's work at Sippar, where they have recently recovered an archive of 720 late Old Babylonian tablets from a single room in a house, and Salah Salman Rumeiyidh is working at Tell Asmar. Burhan Shakir is directing the salvage programme at the Mak'hul dam, currently working at seven sites, while Ahmed Kamil is in charge of work at Tell al-Mughur, a Middle Assyrian site near some natural caves about 35 km south of Mosul. In the south, work is still concentrating on the tells along the third river which have suffered from robbing, most notably Umm al-Aqarib (Early Dynastic temple and palace, Haydar Abdul-Wahid), Jokha (Ur III and Old Babylonian Umma, Hamza Shahat), Tell Ibzeikh (Zabala, a statue of Warad-Sin, and a temple with a courtyard paved with inscribed Hammurabi bricks, Abdul-Mejid al- Hadithi), and Shmeit to the west which is entirely Early Dynastic.

No foreign colleagues were in evidence, not surprisingly in August, although in fact the weather was not at all unpleasant. However, Austrian (Borsippa), Italian (Seleucia) and German (Assur and Warka) teams were expected in September, and French (Grai Resh), Spanish (Tell Mahuz) and Japanese (Kish) projects are under way; I gather that Polish and Russian colleagues have expressed an interest in joining the Mak'hul salvage programme. All in all, political considerations aside, Iraq now seems to be a country where academic research can now be seriously contemplated, both in the museums and in the field. My reception from Iraqi colleagues was uniformly welcoming, and conversation revolves not round the problems of the past but the prospects for the future.

Nicholas Postgate
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The 2002 Season at Tell Brak

The 2002 season of study and excavation at Tell Brak took place from mid-March to mid-May under the overall direction of Professor David Oates, with Geoff Emberling and Helen McDonald as joint field directors. A preliminary report, covering all aspects of work during the previous 2001 and 2002 seasons, is in preparation for Iraq 65. As always we are grateful to the Department of Antiquities and Museums in Syria and to Dr Abdul Razak Mouaz, the Director General, and Dr. Michel Al-Maqdissi, Director of Excavations, for support and assistance.

The study part of the season took place in both the Deir ez-Zor Museum and on material stored at the site itself. A reorganization of the Brak material stored in the museum was undertaken and seals and sealings from Brak were drawn and photographed. At Brak itself sherds, chipped stone, botanical remains, micro-debris samples and faunal remains were studied.

Excavation was undertaken in four areas: Area TC, in which we continued investigation of a burned late Early Dynastic building (the so-called Brak Oval) as well as overlying levels of late or post-Akkadian date; Area TW, in which we removed baulks, continued excavation of the 'Gateway Building', and prepared for soundings into earlier 4th millennium levels; an exploration of an old Mallowan trench called WP; and a new trench on the southern slopes called UA. This latter trench was the second such exploration in our programme to investigate the Late Uruk period settlement in areas of the site other than TW.

In TC we continued to investigate the earlier phases of the 'Oval' and explored the area to the west of those parts of the Oval already uncovered. With regard to the first of these we removed all the floors and walls that were demonstrably built in the latest phase of the 'Oval' and defined four phases of 'Oval' construction as well as two phases that clearly predate the 'Oval' itself.

The first construction of the 'Oval' was the three rooms that comprise the bakery (rooms 1-3, Iraq 63, fig. 8). In the next phase a series of at least four rooms similar in size to the rooms of the bakery were built in a line extending to the northwest, these rooms were then cut down in the following phase in which the complex that included rooms 14-16 and 18 were built. In the same phase as the building of the latter rooms, the complex was extended to the west with the construction of rooms 4-5 and associated court to the north. Finally, in the last phase, storerooms (rooms 7, 8 and 11) were built in the two large courtyards, floors were raised with courses of mudbrick, and some walls were refaced with a half brick. Also during the final major renovation, deposits of sealings were cached within and next to many of the doorways in the complex. The first of such deposits had been found in the previous season in the doorway of Room 2, but it was only with these repeated discoveries that the deliberate nature of these deposits became clear. Over 120 sealings and sealing fragments were found in these sub-floor deposits.

Excavation to the west of TC began in the hope of clearing quickly down to the level of the 'cut-in building', a major building whose walls cut the 'Oval', that was built after the final fire that destroyed the Oval building. It was thought that we would then both have recovered the plan of this cut-in building and be in a position to evaluate whether the burned 'Oval' continued underneath it. The overlying levels in this area turned out to be of interest in their own right and a pisé building with additions in mudbrick was excavated. A fill from one of the rooms of this building had produced an Akkadian tablet and a fragment of a lexical text at the end of the 2001 season and a further tablet fragment was found this season. This ashy room fill as well as fill sealed by the uppermost floors of the building produced a quantity of post-Akkadian pottery and Late Akkadian style sealings. A series of micro-debris floor samples was taken from different parts of the floors of the pisé building to try to detect traces of activities carried out in different rooms.

In addition to the wealth of sealings from Area TC, other finds included a terracotta model house or tower and a small pot in the shape of a woman. The house model has rows of birds perching on roof beams protruding from the sides of the building and goat heads decorating the roof.

A rise in the middle of the mound that would have been among the highest parts of the site during the later 3rd millennium BC had been briefly dug by Mallowan as Area WP. This season, we removed much of the wash from the old trench and then dug a sounding within it, as well as a transverse trench some 20 metres in length. The wash layer in each area extended to a depth of four metres below the present mound surface, beneath which lay the remains of an ancient dump and finally in-situ architecture was reached at a depth of six metres. The sherd material included some post-Akkadian types as well as Akkadian material. It remains possible that this ancient dump was fill within the courtyard of a major public building that our excavations have not yet reached.

In Area TW our goal this season was to complete excavation of levels 14-20 across the entire trench - leaving the "Niched Building" of Level 18 in place - for the purpose of the final publication of these levels in Tell Brak vol. 3, as well as in preparation for excavation into still earlier fourth millennium levels in seasons to come. In removing a courtyard surface of TW Level 16, a complex of tripartite buildings all heavily burned, we found a cache of some 350 beads and two stamp amulets that had been wrapped in a reed mat or basket, buried under the floor, and never recovered. The majority of the beads were carnelian, but also included a number of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, rock crystal, and other stones. The silver beads are among the earliest beads of this material from northern Mesopotamia. Together, the cache gives an impressive testimony to the wealth of the inhabitants of this house as well as indicating the extensive trade networks of which they were a part. The two stamp amulets are similar to ones found in the Grey stratum of the Eye Temple by Mallowan, further proof that the early Eye Temple material is to be dated prior to the Late Uruk period.

A new sounding (Area UA) was begun on one of the tells southern slopes where a concentration of surface finds of Late Uruk date occurred. A large late Uruk pit containing sealings was excavated and upslope of the pit, the plan of a Late Uruk 'Mittelsaal' house was recovered, together demonstrating that Late Uruk occupation extended from the northern to the southern edges of the mound. The first season of a systematic settlement survey of the area around Brak is taking place this autumn.

Helen McDonald & Geoff Emberling
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Fourth Season of Fieldwork at Chagar Bazar

The BSAI team was in the field from 27 March through 22 April, for a short study season. The study season had four components: work on pottery from previous seasons, completion of documentation of small finds, continuation of scientific analyses, and a small surface scraping and architectural mapping project.

Ceramic Analysis

Documentation (notes, drawings) and analysis (finalization of the typology and detailed ware descriptions) was completed for the Post- Akkadian ceramics from Area D, in collaboration with M. Phillippe Quenet of the Belgian team and IFAPO (French Institute in Damascus). The co-authored manuscript (McMahon & Quenet) should be finalized by the end of November 2002, for publication early in 2003, as a chapter of the final publication of this excavation area. A small backlog of unsorted and unanalysed pottery from the early 2nd millennium BC areas excavated by the BSAI team in 2001 was also processed.

Object Documentation

Approximately 200 objects were digitally photographed, bringing us completely up-to-date with this aspect of the project; all objects from the previous three seasons of excavation in the BSAI areas have now been photographed. We have also initiated a programme of drawing objects digitally (in Adobe Illustrator), directly from the digital photograph, rather than using traditional inking or digitising from a scanned pencil drawing. This has proved to be an enormous saving in time and effort at the drawing stage and should save further time at the publication stage. In previous seasons, both pencil drawings and photographs of objects have been made, but the excellent results of the digitising during the study season means we will eradicate the pencil drawing stage completely in future. We will also be using this technique to illustrate objects from previous seasons, working from scanned slides taken during seasons when the digital camera had not yet been acquired.

Scientific Studies

One of this season's real successes was the collection of 14 soil blocks for micro-stratigraphic analysis and 14 linked bulk samples for chemical analysis. The collection and analysis is being carried out by Miranda Semple, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge; and the samples will be processed in the Geo-Archaeological laboratory in the Department of Archaeology at Cambridge. She was able to sample a variety of contexts in Area G, including the central street, an outdoor rubbish-dumping area, several courtyards, and roofed room deposits. The buildings in Area A unfortunately are so clean that they do not offer particularly good sampling opportunities, but we re-sampled the long rectangular vaulted building excavated in 1999, specifically targeting layers which seem to reveal the transition from its use as a domestic structure to use as a stable (we had taken some samples from this structure in 2000). The micromorphology programme at Chagar Bazar had to be put on hold in 2001, as there was an understandable moratorium on removing archaeological materials of any kind from Syria; we are happy to note that export of soil, carbon samples, and other material for scientific sampling is now allowed. We also processed the majority of the flotation samples taken in previous seasons; the botanical remains will go to Damascus for study.

Dr Keith Dobney (Durham University) joined us for the last two weeks of the season to begin analysis of the animal bones collected in previous seasons. He made an in-depth study of the assemblages from some 'priority' loci, to get a sense of the range of species and to assess the degree of preservation, and made a quick assessment of the remaining collection. There are not yet any definitive results, but we do appear to have plenty of pig bones with interesting aspects to their dentition (Dr Dobney is involved in a massive international diachronic study of pig assemblages, so we will be nicely contextualized). We hope especially to be able to answer the question of whether the distinctive differences in architecture between our Areas A and G are echoed by changes in diet and consumption by their inhabitants.

Mallowan Excavation Surface Scraping

Area G, excavated during 2000 and 2001, was located along the western edge of Mallowan's Area BD, near the centre of the northern mound. One of our aims at the start of excavation in 1999 was to clarify Mallowan's 'Phase I' (which incorporated all of the early 2nd millennium BC occupation). We hoped to reconstruct a more accurate picture of the changes which had surely taken place during the 2-3 centuries of 2nd millennium occupation, as well as to have a closer look at aspects such as the density of occupation and nature of the site during this time. In certain conditions (especially after recent rain, in early morning or late afternoon lighting conditions), standing walls are visible in Mallowan's Area BD, although it is clear that many walls which he cleared and planned were removed, as he excavated downward through the phases. During the 2000 and 2001 excavation seasons, we were able to define the edge of the Mallowan trench and to trace some walls from our area to connect with standing walls in his. However, the modern site plan and Mallowan's site plan are not easily merged; and Mallowan's plan of Area BD is somewhat schematic. His plan also presents a summary of the entire phase, rather than a picture of a single sub-phase. At the end of the 2001 season, we were able to make a tentative join between the plans of Areas G and BD, but the architectural connections we made could have corresponded to two different juxtapositions of the plans.

In 2002, we were able to do a small surface scraping in Mallowan's Area BD and identified, articulated, and planned twelve additional walls or parts of walls. These have been invaluable in allowing us to tighten down the relationship between Areas G and BD, and we are able to offer a near-final version of the merged plans. We are very grateful to the Tell Brak team for the short-term loan of a theodolite, to enable us to plan the Mallowan walls.

Augusta McMahon
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The British Archaeological Expedition to Kuwait - A Fourth Season at H3

The team was in the field for eight weeks from January to March 2002 and important new information was recovered. In Area A new chambers were added to the main complex of rooms and it is becoming apparent that the structure was frequently modified over a considerable time span. One of the latest additions to the structure was another well paved room adjoining the one uncovered in the third season. The function of these two chambers is still unknown.

To the west of the main area of excavation our Kuwaiti colleagues from the National Museum worked with us to uncover a new structure which, unfortunately, it is not possible to link stratigraphically to the main complex because of damage to the site. The new building is again built of local stone and the main chamber is sub-rectangular with a number of smaller chambers opening off it. It too was modified a number of times, but was never such an elaborate building as that in Area A. The pottery found in it is also of the Ubaid period which suggests that the structure is contemporary with the usage of the main excavated complex. It is of a size which allows us to suggest that it may have housed a single family.

Once again the finds were an interesting mixture of locally produced artefacts in the Arabian tradition and goods which appear to have originated in Mesopotamia. These include additional sherds of Ubaid pottery and a number of complete small vessels. We also found two of the mysterious 'Golf tees' which are known from a number of Ubaid period sites in south Mesopotamia including Ur and Ras al Amiya. A spherical macehead may also have been an import.

Several more bitumen slabs were found this year and they, and the boat model found in the third season, now await detailed study A carefully trimmed circular sherd of pottery was found in the new building which had an interesting design on it which looks like a representation of a sailing boat.

It is a great pleasure to acknowledge the assistance of a large number of institutions in making our work possible. The BAEK was set up in 1998 as the result of an initiative by the BSAI which has continued to support the project most generously since then. In Kuwait we are deeply indebted to the National Council for Culture Arts and Letters and to our colleagues at the National Museum. Kuwait Shell remain our most generous commercial sponsor and many other people helped in a variety of ways. There will not be a field season next spring, but we are now preparing the specialist reports for the final publication.

Harriet Crawford & Rob Carter
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Environmental Archaeology Database for Mesopotamia

Overall project description

The general objective of the project is to produce an updateable electronic database of detailed bioarchaeological evidence for all sites in Iraq where palaeoecological evidence has been recovered. The database is a flexible and easily accessible resource which those working in the field can both use and contribute to as and when more data become available.

The project was divided into two phases (see below) and funding for the first phase, which is reported on here, has been provided by the BSAI:

  • Phase 1 is an updateable electronic database, available via the Web, of environmental evidence from sites in Iraq.
  • Phase 2 will extend the scale and range of the database to cover other areas of the Near East and to provide a more detailed breakdown of samples and assemblages.

Phase 1. Production of a database of bioarchaeological remains, recovered from sites in Iraq for all periods

This is based on a review of published data and includes essential details of sites and their bioarchaeological assemblages recorded in a semi-quantitative manner (diversity and richness) by period, as well as a description of the recovery and recording systems used. The database has an interactive 'front-end' including a 'clickable' map showing basic data (e.g. species distributions).

The project has involved the following stages:

  1. Identification and location of relevant literature (inter library loans, etc.)
  2. Establishing database and data entry (over 40 sites with archaeobotanical remains and over 70 sites with archaeozoological remains)
  3. Acquiring standardised data with regard to sites and samples (geographic location, chronological periods covered etc.) from sources such as Hours et al (1994)
  4. Preparing material for the Web. The database is to be hosted by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) within the Department of Archaeology, University of York.

The last stage is currently underway with ADS. The next meeting with ADS in on October 22nd to agree the roll-out programme. The timetable of this will be given to BSAI when it is as soon as possible.

Background to project

Systematic recovery of environmental remains from archaeological sites in Mesopotamia has become common practice in recent years and considerable efforts have been made to analyse this material. Although many excavations have already produced high quality assemblages of biological remains, they have not always been fully studied or reported. Even when published reports are available, these provide data in very variable forms that are not always suitable for reworking, synthesis or use by non-specialists. With the development of new techniques to address basic archaeological questions, it is appropriate to review work that has been undertaken in the fields of environmental archaeology and palaeoeconomy in the region, to make these data available to a wider audience and to suggest research priorities for the future.

Existing data reviews of archaeozoology for the Near East include Uerpmann (1986), Hours et al (1994) and Anastasio (1995). They are limited, however, by their extent of recording (i.e. Hours et al and Anastasio loc. cit.) or by their specificity (e.g. Uerpmann loc. cit., with data relating only to the presence of wild ungulates). To date, the main synthetic archaeobotanical review of data for the Near East has dealt only with the major crop plants for a limited number of sites (Miller 1991). This author also maintains a bibliography of site reports on her web site but does not present any data. Although useful pieces of work, none of the reviews mentioned have been produced with alternative data manipulation or with a view to updating as new sites, assemblages and data become available in the future. Such a publication would lend itself perfectly to presentation in electronic format, where datasets can be queried in a wide range of forms and distribution maps created depending on the requirements of the user. For an example of such an interactive use of environmental data, see Tomlinson & Hall (1996).


Anastasio, S. (1995). The archaeology of upper Mesopotamia: An analytical bibliography for the pre-. classical periods. Subartu 1. Brepols
Hours, F., Aurenche, O., Cauvin, J., Cauvin, M. C., Copeland, L. and Sanlaville, P. (1994). Atlas des sites du proche orient (14,000-5700 BP).
Travaux de la maison de l'orient Mediterranéen No. 24.
Miller, N. (1991). The Near East. In Progress in Old World Palaeoethnobotany, Van Zeist, Wasylikowa & Behre (eds.). Balkema, Rotterdam pp. 133-61.
Tomlinson, P. And Hall A. H. (1996) A review of the archaeological evidence for food plants from the British Isles: an example of the use of the Archaeobotanical Computer Database (ABCD). Internet Archaeology 1 (
Uerpmann, H.P. 1987. The Ancient Distribution of Ungulate Mammals in the Middle East (Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients: Reihe A (Naturwissenschaften) No. 27). Wiesbaden: Dr.Ludwig Reichert Verlag.

Address for Correspondence

M. Charles
Department of Archaeology & Prehistory
University of Sheffield
Northgate House
West Street
Sheffield S1 4ER

Tel: (0114) 222 2923
Fax: (0114)272 2563

K. Dobney
Dept. of Archaeology
University of Durham
South Road,
Durham DH1 3LE

Tel: (01904) 433844/434475
Fax: (01904) 433850

Principal Institutional Sponsor(s) of the Project

Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN

Researchers: M. Charles & K. Dobney
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Ziyaret Tepe

The site of Ziyaret Tepe is situated on the Upper Tigris just outside of the modern village of Tepe and approximately 60 km South-East of Diyarbakir. Its status as a large mound overlooking the Tigris in an area where this river formed the northern border of the empire marks it out as a site of outstanding strategic importance. It was certainly one of the three border cities of Tushan, Sinabu and Tidu known to have been positioned along the Tigris in this area, though a final identification as to which of these three cannot yet be made. The site has a high mound with Late Neolithic/Early Chalcolithic, Middle Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian remains, and a lower town of approximately 32 ha. which is mainly Middle and Neo-Assyrian but also with some Roman and Islamic remains. Although richly deserving of attention, the reason for Ziyaret's rise to prominence in recent years is its threatened destruction by the lake due to be formed by the Ilusu Dam. Fortunately the construction of the dam has been delayed, but when it is finally built it will likely result in the total immersion of the lower town of Ziyaret, with waters lapping round the high mound. In response to this threat, an international project has been assembled under the overall direction of Dr. Tim Matney of the University of Akron, Ohio, with work in the lower town directed by myself and sponsored in part by the BSAI. Excavation commenced in 2000 and we have just completed our third season. In the last two years I have been working in an area in the western part of the city where a combination of the local topography and the results of magnetometry suggested a substantial structure. This proved to be correct, with excavation revealing the remains of an impressive Neo-Assyrian building, the most striking feature of which is its courtyard with a cobbled pavement of squares of black and white stones arranged in a chess board pattern. To date six rooms around the courtyard have been excavated of which the two most interesting would appear to be part of a magazine complex with pithoi up to 1.90 high. In the detritus surrounding these pithoi were found a small number of cuneiform tablets. These mostly relate to transactions of barley, and one of them mentions the governor, while another gives us the name of a limmu (yearly eponym) from shortly before the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. A further point of interest was the discovery of a number of clay tokens in a variety of shapes - square, star, sphere, cylinder among others - which we speculate may have served as accountancy aids. By the end of excavation last year we had formed the belief that the Area G building was a high status residence, belonging to either a senior official or a wealthy merchant; there was of course considerable overlap between these two categories. This remains a possibility, but equally the presence of magazines and records of barley debts, one of which mentions the governor, suggest the possibility that the complex was a tax collecting centre for the province.

John MacGinnis
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