Tepe Marani

This site (35°12’39”N, 45°55’17”E), currently almost entirely flat due to extensive modern ploughing, is located in the Shahrizor Valley to the north-west of the modern town of Halabja and covers approximately 0,7 hectare. It was discovered during a pilot season at the neighbouring mound of Gurga Chiya in 2012 and targeted for excavation in the upcoming season. Abundant pottery dated to the Late Neolithic period, as well as chipped, polished and ground stone were scattered on the surface. The site represents a late Halaf occupation (Halaf-Ubaid transition phase in S. Campbell’s terminology (2007)), and its chronological position was confirmed by a series of AMS dates.

Thus far, two seasons of excavation have been carried out (2013 & 2014). Two small trenches were opened. Trench A lacks proper stratigraphy due to soil-forming processes (presence of calcic xeresol), however, architectural foundations were found. A curvilinear building in the earliest archaeological phase, later truncated by a rectangular structure, splitting the trench into two distinct areas, which might have formed internal rooms of a (now disintegrated) building. Subsequently, this area seems to have been used for dumping waste, and again re-occupied.

In trench B, the earliest archaeological phase to date, marked by a tauf or mudbrick wall, has not yet been excavated due to the termination of excavations. Above the wall, a rich midden deposit, ‘sealed’ by densely packed stones and pottery fragments, was uncovered. It indicates several dumping episodes, presumably formed over a short period of time, and has been interpreted as a potential bridging surface over a natural watercourse or a wadi, identified by the geological survey.

Rich pottery midden deposit in trench B, Tepe Marani (Photo: Shahrizor Prehistory Project).
Rich pottery midden deposit in trench B, Tepe Marani (Photo: Shahrizor Prehistory Project).

Gurga Chiya

This site (35°12’48”N, 45°55’16”E) is a small (approximately one hectare) 12-meter-high mound approximately 300m away from Tepe Marani. It was discovered during an extensive survey carried out by Dr. Simone Mühl (2013). The extent of the site was verified during the pilot season, when three trenches (A-C) were dug, and the presence of a Late Bronze Age occupation was established. In the 2013 season, the western part of the mound was targeted and two other trenches (E and F) were opened, uncovering deposits of Uruk and Late Chalcolithic (Ubaid) periods. In trench C, re-deposited Late Bronze Age material was found. Trench D produced very limited archaeological material.

In the 2014 season trenches E and F were reopened. A new trench G linking the two trenches was also opened. The earliest horizon excavated so far has been dated to the Ubaid period. It consists of two-phases of stone-paved roadway running E-W across trenches G and F and two structures. ‘The Southern House’ has a series of four rooms interconnected by doorways, constructed with pisé. In the northern corner of trench F part of another building was exposed. An infant burial was discovered between two phases of the roadway. Excavated structures were not rich in cultural material, suggesting continuous occupation, in which after every phase the site was levelled and rebuilt.

Ubaid layers were later levelled and the site was inhabited by an Uruk community. A large kiln filled with bevel-rimmed bowls, was discovered in trench G. Stone wall foundations from the same period were identified in trench F. Cultural attribution is based on both relative (pottery styles) and absolute (AMS dates) chronology.


Ubaid structures at Gurga Chiya (trenches E, G and F)
Ubaid structures at Gurga Chiya (trenches E, G and F) (Photo: Shahrizor Prehistory Project).

The area

Gurga Chiya and Tepe Marani are located in a part of the Shahrizor that might seem inauspicious for prehistoric research. It is here that the Tanjero River, having first followed a more constrained passage between the Pir-a Magrun and Beranan Dagh ranges, enters a wide plain fanning outwards towards the Zagros foothills. Accordingly the accumulation of alluvial deposits is likely to be most heavy in this eastern part of the plain, burying prehistoric sites below some metres of sediment. However, the uniformity of the present-day plain – with its rich, deep soils – is deceptive: a product of two or more millennia of stable soil formation, hastened by deforestation, intensive grazing, and extensive agriculture.

Deep geological cores drilled in the vicinity of Gurga Chiya indicate a complex mosaic of early and middle Holocene environments. Arable soils would have been much less evenly distributed and were most likely interspersed with grassland, woodland, areas of marsh, and riparian gallery forest. Especially significant, in terms of site preservation, is the emerging evidence for Pleistocene terraces overlooking perennial and seasonal watercourses. This suggests the former existence of an undulating land surface with markedly raised areas, where evidence for early human settlement has escaped the effects of sedimentation (Altaweel et al. 2012: 4-8). Gurga Chiya and Tepe Marani, and also nearby Bakr Awa, appear to be located on terraces of this kind.