Pilot excavation in Iraqi Kurdistan
The Netherlands organisation for Scientific Research NWO has granted a subsidy to prof. dr Wilfred H. van Soldt (Humanities, LIAS) and dr Diederik J.W. Meijer (Archaeology, Near East) to conduct a pilot excavation in Iraqi Kurdistan.
During an archaeological surface survey in 2008 prof. dr Wilfred H. van Soldt and dr Diederik J.W. Meijer found a site which yielded a cuneiform inscription identifying it as the town of Idu, dated to the 12th century BC. The site is situated on the Little Zab, a tributary of the Tigris, close to the present Iraqi-Persian border.
On April 25 2010 a team from Leiden and Leipzig universities set out for Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, to begin archaeological investigations of the site of Satu Qala. After almost two weeks of preparations both in Erbil and in Taqtaq (the closest larger village) and Satu Qala, the team found quarters in a very comfortable house which was graciously put at our disposal by the Mudir Nahiye. A contract detailing the rights and duties of all parties in the undertaking was signed in Erbil on May 17.
Actual excavations began on Thursday May 6 with 9 workers, which number increased to fourteen over the next three days. The villagers of Satu Qala insisted on a rotation system whereby as many as possible from different families get a chance to earn money. They work hard and well, albeit that all are untrained in archaeological work and need supervision. The third participant in the Satu Qala project is Salaheddin University in Erbil, and they sent a number of students and assistants every day to help us in the excavations as well as to learn how we excavated.
The habitation on the top of the tell presently prevents digging in some places that seem interesting archaeologically, and modern water mains and other disturbances somewhat impair the archaeological contexts. As a consequence, the first week of excavation was spent almost exclusively in clearing away modern disturbed soil. In this, old remains such as stamped mud brick fragments and glazed tiles were found, all from the palace of a king Abbizeri and that of his son Ba’ilanu as is clear from their cuneiform inscriptions; these fragments had apparently been dug up and thrown away again by sub-recent construction work on the site. Especially in square 1010/690 a number of such fragments came to light, suggesting he presence of their original source close by.
In this square as well as in neighboring 1010/680 a number of rather flimsy burials were encountered oriented in different directions, but all in flexed position. Hardly any grave gifts were found, suggesting that these burials did not belong to the Neo-Assyrian or the Middle Assyrian periods but date to later times. One lay on its back with arms crossed over the chest.
Thus, although the archaeological contexts which we had hoped for proved elusive for the time being, this short pilot season can be called a great success. First and foremost because of the good relations that have been established with the officials in Erbil and Taqtaq, which bodes well for the future. Yet also archaeologically the season can be called a success: it is clear from the various find spots of the bricks with stamped inscriptions, as well as the ones with glazed representations on them, that much of the present rather flat summit of the mound must be occupied by the palace of the Middle Assyrian kings. Both on the west, east and also on the southern slopes did these finds appear, and villagers speak of similar finds when they dig in and around their houses, installing water mains etc. – some of them showed us fragments similar to those found in the excavations.
Another result of this short campaign is that the habitation of Satu Qala/Idu proved to be much larger in area than was originally thought. At least until about 300m around the tell on the northern, eastern and western sides we found shards and mud bricks, which indicate that Idu was a town of importance, a city with a citadel. It will have to be left to later seasons to establish the exact perimeter, but GPS readings have been taken, and the find spots of this season are thus easily found back