Abstract: The Rowanduz Archaeological Program in Iraqi Kurdistan

The Rowanduz Archaeological Program (RAP)  seeks to revitalize archaeology in Iraqi Kurdistan through the implementation of a long-term, integrative program of multidisciplinary archaeological research projects and cultural heritage management initiatives. The area represents one of the most compelling and unknown corners of the Near East — over a century of warfare and political strife have prevented most archaeological research. In 2013, the Department of Antiquities of the Kurdistan Regional Government granted RAP a five-year permit to conduct archaeological surveys and excavations in the Soran District of northeastern Erbil Province. The surrounding mountain ranges of the western Zagros have been renowned for millennia for their scenic wonders and strategically prized as a natural stronghold controlling the mountain routes afforded by the erosional forces of the Greater Zab and its tributaries, especially the immense Rowanduz Gorge and the passes at Kel-i Shin and Gawra Shinka. The high valleys provide summer pastures for herders and tracts of arable land that supported prosperous highland settlements as early as the Pre-pottery Neolithic. Remote sanctuaries, grotto shrines, and monumental rock inscriptions and stele dedicated to ancient storm and mountain deities stand testament to the primordial powers attributed to the awe inspiring landscape and the vitality of the rivers that emanated from the highlands to water the neighboring arid Mesopotamian plain and intermontane basins of Iranian Kurdistan. The Zagros also inspired fear, standing as a byword for the forces of chaos and the haunts of wild beasts, mythical creatures, bandits, and marauders. Previously scholars knew little about this region in antiquity save for its hidden potential gleaned from historical sources, travelers’ accounts, or the occasional archaeological reconnaissance. Cuneiform texts spanning the Early Bronze Age to the early Iron Age suggest the Soran District formed the territorial core of the Hurro-Urartian kingdom of Musasir/Ardini, doubly famed as home to the trans-regional cult center of the Hurrian storm-god Haldi and for the sacking of this temple and its treasury by the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II in 714 BC during his renowned Eighth Campaign. Archaeological reconnaissance and excavations have revealed evidence for human occupation over the longue durée with clear evidence of the region’s prosperity in the later Bronze and early Iron Age. RAP promises to shed much new light on this Zagrosian buffer state, whatever its ancient name(s), as well as its vacillating relations vis-à-vis its hegemonic neighbors Assyria and Urartu and their complex and shifting networks of vassals and allies.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):


Hamilton, A.H. 1958. The Road Through Kurdistan. New edition. (London: Faber & Faber Limited).

Radner, H. 2012. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Musasir, Kumme and Subria — The Buffer States between Assyria and Urartu. In S. Kroll, C. Gruber, U. Hellwag, M. Roaf & P. Zimansky (ed.) Biainili-Urartu. (Leuven: Peeters), pp. 243–264.

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