The NINO archeological project on the Rania Plain

By Jesper Eidem (Director, NINO)

In September-October 2012 The Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO) initiated a new archaeological project in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, focussed on the Rania Plain in Sulaimanyia Province. In a first instance the aim was to conduct new investigations at the site of Tell Shemshara, briefly excavated by Danish and Iraqi archaeologists in 1957-59. The site was subsequently inundated when the Dokan Dam was completed and was until recently inaccessible most of the year. The previous excavations retrieved important prehistoric evidence from the Hassuna period, and in a Level V palace two archives of cuneiform tablets from the early 18th cent. BC (published in J. Eidem, The Shemshara Archives 2. The Administrative Texts. Copenhagen 1992, and J. Eidem and J. Læssøe, The Shemshara Archives 1. The Letters. Copenhagen 2001).

During the first brief season in 2012 the NINO team prepared a new topographic map of the Shemshara hills, and conducted a series of exploratory soundings in 3 of the 4 constituent hills of the site. The most important results were obtained on the main hill, where soundings exposed walls of substantial buildings in 3 levels (VI-VIII) below the 18th cent. palace (now mostly washed away!). The still limited range of ceramics and other artefacts retrieved precludes precise dates for these levels, but they clearly belong to the first centuries of the 2nd Mill. BC, and it would seem that Shemshara, through much of this period, functioned as a small political and administrative center. In one sounding a complete cuneiform tablet was found between two storage jars in the corner of a Level VIII room. The tablet carries no date and is a list of bread issued to various officials, soldiers, and other individuals. It confirms the official nature of the building- and that more tablets may be expected in these levels.

In coming seasons we plan to extend excavations at Shemshara, and to explore its hinterland. Our project in the Rania Plain proceeds with permission and warm support from the Sulaimaniya and Erbil Directorates of Antiquities and Heritage.