Amid war and refugee crisis, visiting Kurdish officials: We must protect our historical sites. High-ranking officials from the autonomous Kurdish province of Dohuk have signed an agreement with Professor Peter Pfälzner of Tübingen University's Institute of Ancient and Near Eastern Studies, aimed at researching and preserving Dohuk's ancient sites. Pfälzner, an archaeologist who has worked in Syria and Iraq for many years, signed the declaration with Dohuk governor, Farhad Saleem Atrushi, and the Director of the region's Departments of Antiquities, Dr. Hasan Qasim in Tübingen on February 5.
Under the agreement, Pfälzner and his project team -- part of the DFG-backed collaborative research center ResourceCultures -- plan to expand on surveys taken over an area of 4400 square kilometers in 2013 and 2014, which were aimed at discovering ancient and historical settlements. The archaeologists used drone-mounted cameras to make 3D models of the landscape and have already located 92 relevant sites. Many of the settlements can be dated by finds such as pottery shards.
Cooperation between the archaeologists and the local authorities will enable important sites to be protected. The Bronze Age settlement of Bassetki became famous due to objects such as a bronze statue of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin found during excavations in the 1970s. Pfälzner's latest survey of the area revealed an extensive lower city at the site -- and the Kurdish authorities have agreed to suspend expansion there of the main road from Baghdad to Istanbul and to change part of the route to allow archaeological work to be carried out. Going ahead with the road-building would have destroyed this part of the ancient site.
Despite the explosive political situation in nearby regions, Governor Atrushi stressed that Dohuk is one of the safest provinces in Iraq. It is located between two mountain ranges and is protected by Peshmerga troops. The United Nations estimates the region now hosts more than half a million refugees from the campaigns of the IS terrorist movement. Governor Atrushi underlined that it was important to protect the region's history despite the tremendous political and humanitarian challenges: "We must send a signal that normal life continues. That includes protecting our historical sites. And we will not approve new building applications without a green light from the Department of Antiquities."
"This agreement gives us the opportunity to survey a region which has largely been a blank space on the archaeological map," says Pfälzner. "Finding a lower city at Bassetki raised new questions. Until now, we didn't know why the statue of an important ruler like Naram-Sin was found here on the periphery of his empire. We think now that this settlement may have been a major administrative center."
In their 2013 survey, the archaeologists discovered that rock carvings at Mila Mergi showing the Assyrian king Tiglat-Pileser III had been badly damaged -- probably by modern treasure hunters -- and collected the fragments. A doctoral student in the ResourceCultures collaborative research center is now reconstructing and translating the tablets of cuneiform writing, which represent a valuable source of information. They describe the conquest of the land of Ulluba by the Assyrians, listing 20 captured cities. To date, it was believed the expansion of the Assyrian empire was driven by the need for raw materials; now the ResourceCultures researchers will examine whether cultural and religious resources -- such as the control of holy places -- could have played a role.
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