ASOR 2012

ASOR Annual Meeting 2012
New Directions in Iraqi Archaeology 


Session Abstract: In the past two years, archaeological fieldwork has been reinitiated throughout Iraq. Foreign survey and excavation projects are particularly numerous in the provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan in the north and projects are also underway now on the southern plains as well. This session, sponsored by ASOR’s Committee on Mesopotamian Civilization, presents the results of new American, European, and Iraqi field projects.

A71: Mesopotamian Civilization: New Directions in Iraqi Archaeology I
Carrie Hritz (The Pennsylvania State University), Presiding



Introduction Carrie Hritz (Pennsylvania State University)


Elizabeth Stone (Stony Brook University) and Paul Zimansky (Stony Brook University), “Archaeological Investigation of Tell Sakhariya, Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq, 2011-2012” 

Tell Sakhariya is a 5 ha. site located 6 kilometers east of Ur. It was chosen for investigation to explore the relationship between a small satellite site and its neighboring city. Prior to excavation we knew that the surface of the site was dominated by late Kassite ceramics, but we had also recovered an inscribed clay nail datable to Rim-Sin year 15. Over a four-week field season in December 2011 and January 2012 we conducted a surface survey, an unsuccessful magnetic gradiometry survey and excavated four 10x5 meter trenches, one 10x3 meter trench and three 5x5 meter test squares.

The discovery of more inscribed cones and stamped bricks testify to royal building activity in the late third and early second millennia B.C.E., but in our excavation areas this seems only to have been manifested as a thick, hard clay level. Above this we excavated a horizon that would seem to date to the time of the "Sealand “Dynasty”, associated with ceramics which bridge the gap between the early Old Babylonian and Late Kassite known from urban sites in the south. This was largely devoid of architecture and characterized by pits and hearths. The late Kassite occupation was only manifested in the upper salt layer and on the surface, and should be associated with a large, square public building and some private houses visible in high resolution satellite imagery. Several burials penetrated beneath the traces of private houses into lower levels.


Demetrios James Brellas (Boston University), “A Comparison of Faunal Economies between Urban and Pastoral Sites in Ancient Mesopotamia”

What little zooarchaeological data we have from ancient Mesopotamia come almost exclusively from large urban centers. We know that the faunal economies at these sites were extraordinarily complex. Very little, however, is known of the faunal economies of less permanent sites or those occupied by transhumant groups. Recent analysis of faunal material from two second millennium sites, Mashkan-shapir and Tell Sakhariyah, offers the unique opportunity to compare the faunal economy of a large urban center with that of a site occupied by transient groups. Tell Sakhariyah, a recently excavated site in the vicinity of Ur, has produced a wealth of faunal data associated with transhumant occupation of the site in the second millennium. Analysis of faunal material from these sites shows many differences in species distribution and husbandry practices. This paper will discuss these differences and their implications in an attempt to better understand these vastly different socioeconomic systems.


Abdulameer al-Hamdani (Stony Brook University), “Survey, Documentation, and Excavation of Archaeological Sites in Southern Mesopotamian Marshes” 


The Marshland is located in southern Iraq. Its size is 6000 Sq. mile, and divided in three parts: Hammar Marsh, Central Marshes, and Huwaiza Marsh. The Survey: After the recent war of 2003, my team and I have started a project of surveying and documenting the archaeological sites in the marshes, Adding new 250 sites to the archaeological atlas of Iraq. The Majority of these sites were located along beds of two ancient rivers. The salvage Excavations: The Iraqi Government has offered to the State Board of Antiquities amount of $ 4 million, to conduct salvage excavations. Five sites have been selected to be excavated, and he project has been started last June for 5 years. The paper will present both surveys and salvage excavations of archaeological sites in the Iraqi Marshlands.


Jennifer Pournelle (University of South Carolina), “The Sealands Archaeology and Environment Program: First Report on the Archaeological Landscapes of the Basrah Governorate” 

The presentation will discuss results of a new interdisciplinary research program that the University of South Carolina, in collaboration with the University of Basrah and the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, will begin in 2012 in the area located south of the Euphrates River and along the Shatt al Arab to the Arab-Persian Gulf (Governorate of Basra). The collaborative Sealands Archaeology and Environment Program will conduct archaeological, geoarchaeological, and paleoenvironmental research in order to understand how cities of southern Iraq sustained themselves through deep time. The results of this work will guide projects to restore environmental services to Iraq's present-day southern cities, promote resilient environmental management strategies, and support sustainable lifeways for the future. The program takes its name from the marsh realm between Sumer and Elam, known during the second millennium BCE as “The Sealands” or “Mat Tamti,” which encompassed much of the area of the now-dry Hammar marshes. Based on inscriptions from the site, Georges Roux suggested that Tell Abu Salabikh, formerly at the center of Lake Hammar, was seat of the historical figure Marduk-apla-iddina II (biblical Merodach-Baladan), and center city of The Sealands. Always a place of refuge and sustenance at the heart of the great Mesopotamian marshlands, the highly productive life ways of Basra governorate remain virtually unexplored by archaeologists. This paper will report results of our first season of work.


Zaid Ibraheem (The Pennsylvania State University), “New Analysis of looting at Archaeological Sites in Mesopotamia”


Archaeological sites in Iraq have suffered the consequences of unstable political conditions. Inconsistent law enforcement has allowed antiquities looters to vandalize southern Mesopotamian sites. This resulted in differential rates of damage among the country’s cultural heritage. By focusing on Girsu (modern-day Telloh) and its hinterland, I used Digital Globe imagery to asses known cases of looting within an area of 300km². Results show that despite mass disturbance between the years 2003-2006, various zones within looted sites remain undisturbed. If properly explored, these areas may yet reveal important information regarding the history of Mesopotamia.


Carrie Hritz (The Pennsylvania State University), “Cities of the Sealands: Form and Function in marshland agricultural communities”


The delta of southern Iraq is an area that has faced little formal or systematic archaeological investigation. Yet, ancient texts, ethnographic data, historic reliefs from the irrigated plains to the north describe the presence of long-term and economically significant settlements in this area. Using a combination of remote sensing datasets and targeted ground visits in 2010 and 2012, it was possible to identify tell sites and map their settlement landscape. Using two case study sites and comparing them to the spatial footprint of settlements on the alluvial plains, I compare differences in spatial organization between contemporary sites in the marshes and those on the alluvial plains.

A81: Mesopotamian Civilization: New Directions in Iraqi Archaeology II
Jason Ur (Harvard University), Presiding



Introduction Jason Ur (Harvard University)


Roger Matthews (University of Reading) and Wendy Matthews (University of Reading), “The Central Zagros Archaeological Project: Current Research into the Neolithic of Iraq and Iran”
This paper will present the latest results from an ongoing programme of research into the Neolithic of the Central Zagros region of Iraq and Iran. Research issues include the earliest sedentarisation of human communities, the herding and domestication of animals (goat and sheep in particular), the exploitation of a range of wood and plant resources for fuel, food and shelter, and the engagement of early villagers with the material and symbolic worlds around them. Excavations at several sites in Iran and Iraq provide new evidence relating to these issues while also refining the chronology of change.


Maria Grazia Masetti-Rouault (École pratique des hautes études, Sorbonne, Paris), “Rethinking Assyrian Identity: New Archaeological Projects in Iraqi Kurdistan”


Assyrian history has always been told as a narrative of the successful formation of an empire. With the very first discoveries in the 19th century, historians quickly identified certain markers of Assyrian culture and society: a natural trend toward expansion, conquest, and exploitation of an always enlarging list of peoples and lands. These markers supposedly distinguished Assyrians from the rest of their contemporary world. Assyrian identity has been defined by their willingness to build an empire and their clever ability to adapt all social structures towards this end. Offering as it does easy and self-evident explanations of the evolution of the Assyrian state until its collapse, this story has never been sufficiently questioned.

New archaeological projects in Northern Iraq, such as the French project in Qasr Shemamok, have begun to open the possibility to study the formation (and the crisis) of Assyrian society anew. Stepping away from history and landscape as described by the Assyrian power itself, these new projects use archaeological methods to produce a reconstruction of ancient reality that takes into account the evolution of the geographical, cultural, and economic environment. They will try to determine the conditions, process, and political choices by which a society that originally shared the culture and economy of its neighbors eventually became “Assyria.”


Olivier Rouault (Lyon 2 University), “Recent Excavations in Qasr Shemamok (Iraqi Kurdistan)”

In Spring 2011, new excavations were begun at Qasr Shemamok by a French archaeological team under the direction of Olivier Rouault and Maria Grazia Masetti-Rouault. The site, most probably ancient Kilizu, is situated approxinately 28 km southwest of Erbil. The site of the excavation was purposely chosen so to avoid the areas where A.H. Layard made soundings in 19th century and G. Furlani excavated in 1932, though neither left clear indications of the locations of their work. The French mission opened a step trench on the southern side of the main tell that produced archaeological and epigraphic evidence for important Neo- and Middle-Assyrian levels. A geomagnetic survey of the site and a study of the surrounding areas were also performed during a second mission in Fall 2011, revealing heavy occupation of all the surrounding area over the "longue durée".

Marco Iamoni (University of Udine), “The Land of Nineveh Regional Project (LoNRP) of the University Of Udine in Northern Iraq. A preliminary overview of the pre and protohistoric periods in the Eastern Upper Tigris region” 

The Italian mission of the University of Udine started in summer 2012 a detailed archaeological investigation –the LoNRP project– of the Eastern Upper Tigris area (i.e. Dohuk province) based on a regional survey together with test trenches excavated in key sites. The paper presents a preliminary overview of the pre and protohistoric periods (Pre Halaf-Chacolithic phases) as revealed by this first archaeological season of the LoNRP project. In particular, it discusses and gives a preliminary interpretation of the main traits of the material (in particular ceramic) culture and the settlement pattern that emerged from the regional survey.

Cinzia Pappi (Brown University), “Archaeological Research at Tell Satu Qala, Iraq” 

Tell Satu Qala is situated along the Little Zab in Iraqi Kurdistan. The site was examined in 2008, when an inscribed mudbrick came to light that identified it as ancient Idu, a provincial capital of the Assyrian Empire that was already known from other texts. In 2010 and 2011, a team from the universities of Leiden, Leipzig, and Erbil carried out small-scale excavations resulting in the recognition of archaeological material ranging in date from the fourth to the first millennium BC. During these excavations, numerous inscribed mudbricks were found, from which the names of seven local kings could be reconstructed. Furthermore, the find of a wall peg with the partly preserved name of Assurnasirpal II indicates that at time, Idu was firmly part of the Assyrian Empire. This paper will present the results of the first two seasons.

Daniele Morandi Bonacossi (University of Udine), “Archaeology in the Land behind Nineveh. Settlement and Land Use in the Northern Region of Iraqi Kurdistan between the Bronze and Iron Ages. A Preliminary Overview” 

The presentation will discuss the first results of a new interdisciplinary research project that the University of Udine, in collaboration with the Directorate General of Antiquities of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, is due to begin in the summer of 2012 in the area located between the upper reaches of the Tigris, the River Khazir and the Jebel Maqlub (Governorate of Dohuk). The project of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Assyria aims to reconstruct the formation and transformation of the cultural and natural landscapes of this very important region of northern Mesopotamia located in the hinterland of Nineveh and to provide for their management and protection in innovative ways. The research is based on a regional geoarchaeological survey together with the excavation of an archaeological site to be defined and trial trenches at selected pre- and protohistoric sites. A further goal of the project is the topographic and geoarchaeological reconstruction of the imposing and still little-known hydraulic system built between the eighth and seventh centuries BC by the Assyrian king Sennacherib to bring water to Nineveh and, probably, to irrigate and cultivate intensively the surrounding countryside, thus ensuring the subsistence of a capital city which by that time had become a megacity of 750 ha and minimizing the risks associated with dry-farming..