Archaeological research in the Shahrizor Plain

The history of modern archaeological fieldwork in this area falls into two parts: survey and excavation by Iraqi archaeologists in the context of dam construction (1951-61), and work undertaken by the Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage over the past decade. International projects have been active for some years, including large-scale excavation on the high tell and ‘lower city’ of Bakr Awa (Miglus et al. 2011; 2013), where the known range of archaeological strata extends from the Uruk period to Islamic times. The earlier prehistory of the Shahrizor was known from surface survey and limited exposures at a handful of sites (summarised in Altaweel et al. 2012: 18; and see also Mühl 2013). In 1960 a large sounding at Bagum, north of Darband-i Khan, revealed floors and house foundations dated by associated pottery to the Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic periods (Hijjara 1997: 127-9). Further evidence of these phases derives from recent work by the Sulaimaniyah Directorate at the sites of Greza and Tanjero, north-west of Arbat, and new work by the University of Leiden (Dr. O. Nieuwenhuyse) has recently commenced at Bagum.

The potential for further research on the prehistory of the Shahrizor Plain has been greatly clarified by a regional survey undertaken since 2009 by Dr. Simone Mühl (2010; 2013), which laid foundations for current excavations at the Early Neolithic site of Bestansur (Nieuwenhuyse et al. 2012; and work now ongoing by the Central Zagros Archaeological Project, University of Reading). Mühl’s survey, which identified ceramics of the Chalcolithic period at Gurga Chiya, also provided the basis for the Shahrizor Prehistory Project – a collaboration of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, UCL-Qatar, and the Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage – which includes excavations there and at Tepe Marani.

SSP Research to date

To date, two phases of archaeological fieldwork have been undertaken at Gurga Chiya (GC) and Tepe Marani (TM). During a pilot season (4 – 9.5.12) the latter site was identified, test trenches were excavated at Gurga Chiya, and a DGPS survey of both sites was commenced by Dr. Andrew Bevan. A longer season (2 – 27.5.13) saw the establishment of two trenches on Tepe Marani (supervised by G. Brereton) and four trenches on and around Gurga Chiya (supervised by M. Shepperson). Their purpose was to identify the location of late prehistoric deposits and test for the possible extension of the mound below the modern alluvium. One test trench dug into the cultivation, approximately 50m to the west of the tell (GC-D), produced a small assemblage of chipped stone, as well as highly eroded fragments of coarse pottery and bone fragments at a depth of c. 2m, but no extension of the mound was detected in this direction.

On the mound itself, and on Tepe Marani, sampling strategies were implemented for the recovery of environmental remains and micro-artefacts. These included on-site dry sieving (to 5mm mesh), flotation, and fine sorting of heavy residues (down to 1mm). On-site conservation of archaeological materials was undertaken in the nearby village of Bakr Awa using locally sourced materials; and interviews were conducted with local residents concerning the recent history of the area. Preliminary results of this work are summarised below by broad chronological phases: Bronze Age, Chalcolithic, and Late Neolithic.