Since 2015, a team of researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) has been carrying out an ambitious international archaeological research project in the historic region of Northern Mesopotamia, currently known as Iraqi Kurdistan. This area, which has been closed to international archaeological research due to complex geopolitical situations, has recently opened, allowing the study of its rich heritage.

During recent campaigns, researchers have worked at several key sites: two located in the mountainous Zagros region and one in the Tigris River plain. This project is distinguished by its cross-disciplinary and diachronic approach, as each investigated archaeological site corresponds to a specific period and a crucial moment of historical change.

Firstly, in the Gali Chan caves, situated in the rugged landscape of the Zagros mountains, temporary camps of the last hunter-gatherers dating back to around 9000 BC have been identified. The remains found indicate a nomadic lifestyle, with spaces dedicated to hunting and flint tool preparation, just before the adoption of agriculture and livestock farming.

Ceramic fragments uncovered
Ceramic fragments uncovered. Credit: Roger Benet / UAB

Additionally, in the same mountainous Zagros region, the project has been excavating the site of Banahilk, a village of farmers and herders from the Halaf period (approximately 6000-5500 BC). This settlement, the easternmost known of its era, has revealed several rectangular houses and earth architecture, along with various household utensils.

Exogenous materials, such as obsidian pendants and stone vessels, indicate connections with distribution networks in Anatolia and Iran. The study of agricultural and livestock evidence demonstrates the complexity of peasant life and the rise of private property.

In the Tigris River plain, in northern Mesopotamia, the Gird Laskhir site has been excavated. This settlement, covering about 4 hectares and 14 meters in height, is considered small compared to ancient large cities, but it is significant for having been continuously occupied during the Chalcolithic and early and middle Bronze Age periods (c. 3500-2000/1900 BC).

One of the excavated sites
One of the excavated sites. Credit: Roger Benet / UAB

The found dwellings show advanced architectural techniques, with complex multi-cellular constructions including spaces for cooking, preparation, and food consumption. Analyses reveal an abundant consumption of cereals and legumes, as well as the exploitation of domestic animals, especially sheep and cattle.

In the 2023 and 2024 campaigns, burials with extremely rich furniture have been discovered in Laskhir, evidencing the city’s participation in product exchange networks with regions to the south, east, and west. The exchanged goods included jewelry and semi-precious stones, as well as construction materials. Among the most notable findings is a monumental tomb with an exceptional concentration of 20 ceramic vessels and other luxury objects.

Last Saturday, May 25, the fieldwork carried out between April and May 2024 concluded. Now, researchers will focus on laboratory analyses to deepen their historical knowledge of one of the most dynamic regions during prehistory and the early antiquity.

Another of the sites investigated
Another of the sites investigated. Credit: Roger Benet / UAB

This UAB archaeological project, unique in this region of the world, is developed in collaboration with local institutions at both research and academic levels.

Coordinated by Professor Miquel Molist and Professor Anna Bach from the UAB Department of Prehistory, the project includes the participation of researchers from the Mediterranean and Near Eastern Archaeological Research Group (GRAMPO), the University of Oxford, and Salahaddin University in Erbil.

Additionally, it receives support from the National Archaeological Museum of Erbil, the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia, and funding from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, and the Palarq Foundation.

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