Excavations at Gird-i Shamlu
A Late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Settlement in the Shahrizor Plain

The Project

The Shamlu Archaeological Mission (SAM) is part of the DFG Emmy Noether project "Flight - Migration - Interaction. Artefact related diversity in Ancient Near Eastern contexts of the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC" (German Research Foundation Project MU 3354/2-1).

Gird-i Shamlu (Gird – kurd.: mound) lies close to the Iraqi-Iranian border in the center of the Shahrizor Plain about 45 km southeast of Sulaymaniya. A stream of the same name passes the site at a small distance. 

Digital Elevation Model of Gird-i Shamlu with excavation areas

The mound’s settlement history reaches back as far as the middle of the 4th millennium BCE. Its major occupation phases are dated to the early and late 3rd millennium and the 2nd millennium BCE. Remains of the 1st millennium BCE are present, too. However, younger intrusions caused by a medieval and modern graveyard as well as military and looting activities during the late 1980s and early 1990s have destroyed large parts of the 1st millennium BCE levels. The archaeological material from the site mirrors its position on the border between the Mesopotamian lowlands and the Iranian highlands, as it shows similarities to finds from Mesopotamian, but also west- and northwest-Iranian sites.

Finds like wheel made pottery, but also burial contexts are very similar to 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE finds and contexts in the Hamrin valley or southern Mesopotamia. However, the project has produced evidence for a break with this tradition before the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE: The pottery sequence, but also other finds, such as lithic material, indicate significant changes in the material culture. From this point on the pottery is made by hand and decorated with distinctive incised decorations. Furthermore, the variety of produced pottery types (beakers, jars, bowls) is more restricted to similarly shaped deep bowls, which were produced in different sizes, ranging from miniature size to large storage vessels. This might indicate changes in consumption habits and probably also food preparation. Jars and plates are completely absent. Probably containers made of organic materials (e.g. wood or animal skin) were used instead.

Yet, these changes cannot be explained with regional developments, because predecessors in shape and decoration of this certain type of pottery have not been discovered at Gird-i Shamlu or elsewhere in the region. We can assume that Gird-i Shamlu and other, similar sites in the Shahrizor were inhabited by people, who are to be connected to the neighboring west Iranian Highlandome elements of Shamlu Ware find distant comparisons in artefacts from Kermanshah Province (Iran). However, the latter are younger and differ technologically from the Shamlu material. This shows that the developments or sudden changes that took place in the Shahrizor Plain during the first half of the 2nd Millennium BCE are still poorly understood and therefore merit in-depth investigations.

A further corpus of sources that needs to be taken into consideration are historical records. Mesopotamian and regional cuneiform sources from the 18th century BCE report that groups of people moved within and beyond the entire region and that this period was marked by political unrest. Letters addressed to a local ruler residing in Shusharra, the modern site Shemshara (located about 80 km east of Erbil), mention invaders coming from the western Zagros region and describe that these intruders caused local populations to flee as well. Conspicuously, the palace in Shusharra, where these letters were found by Danish and Iraqi archaeological missions, was destroyed by unknown aggressors. Following its destruction, the history of the region enters a ‘Dark Age’. Only fragments of information are accessible through Mesopotamian sources from the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE. The situation improved when the Assyrian Empire expanded into the region during the 1st millennium BCE and added it to its provincial system.