Iraq Scheme



More about the Iraq Scheme

Scheme introduction 
Training in the UK 
Training in Iraq: Tello - Ancient Girsu 


Iraq Scheme Team

Director: Jonathan Tubb
Deputy Director: St John Simpson
Executive Project Support: Angela Grimshaw
Project Manager: Megan Bristow
Project Coordinator: Ruth Stone
Lead Archaeologist: John MacGinnis
Lead Archaeologist: Sebastien Rey

The Darband-i Rania Archaeological Project

The Darband-i Rania pass from the northeast: the site of Qalatga Darband is the triangular spit of land beyond the bridge on the right

The Darband-i Rania Archaeological Project is the northern of the two field projects conducted by the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme for the onsite training of its participants.

Fieldwork commenced in the autumn of 2016 and is expected to continue until 2020. The aim of the work in the Darband-i Rania is to explore the ancient fortifications at a strategic point controlling a major route from northern Mesopotamia to Iran, with a focus on occupations of the first millennium BC.

On-site Training of Iraq Scheme participants

The initial focus of the project has been at the site of Qalatga Darband, located 10km south-east of Rania in Sulaimaniya province in Iraqi Kurdistan. Qalatga Darband is a large open site with an area of approximately 60 hectares situated on a natural terrace overlooking the Lower Zab River on its northern bank. It stands at the north-eastern corner of Lake Dokan, the reservoir formed by the Dokan Dam after it was constructed between 1954 and 1959, in a strategic location commanding the Darband-i Rania pass which links the Rania plain to the west with the Peshdar plain to the east. On its western flank the site was protected by a large fortification with stone footings which ran from the river to the mountain to the north.

The site of Qalatga Darband initially came to the attention of archaeologists following the identification of apparently ancient remains in declassified imagery from the 1960s Corona spy satellite programme. Of particular interest is a large square building which may have been a fort. A ground inspection at the site revealed the presence of a large number of carved limestone blocks, together with weights and bases of a type associated with wine or oil presses. It was therefore clear that remains of considerable importance lay buried at the site.

The defensive wall of the Assyrian fort at Usu Aska

Our fieldwork at Qalatga Darband started with topographic mapping of the site and a survey of surface pottery, analysis of which indicates that the site was primarily occupied in the early Parthian period (1st century BC - 1st century AD). This has been followed up by excavation in multiple areas. Ground-truthing of the square building in the Corona image, combined with analysis of crop marks recorded through aerial survey, has confirmed the presence of a large fortified building in the northern part of the site. In other areas, two different buildings have yielded evidence for the adoption of elements from the Greco-Roman architectural tradition, including the use of fired clay roof tiles. Excavation of a large mound at the southern end of the site is uncovering remains of a monumental building which, based on the presence of the smashed remains of statues, would appear to be a temple for the worship of classical deities.

Iraq Scheme participants excavating a grave

In conjunction with the work at Qalatga Darband, the project aims to deepen the understanding of the historic sequence of activity in the pass by conducting smaller investigations at two further sites: The first of these is at Murad Rasu, a multi-period (Late Chalcolithic through to Late Islamic) site on the southern side of the Lower Zab. The second is Usu Aska, a small fort tentatively dated to the Assyrian period, just a kilometre to the east of Qalatga Darband, which evidently functioned as a control point in the pass itself. Together these investigations will enable us to reconstruct the spatial and temporal dynamics of the landscape of control of this strategic location through the whole span of the first millennium BC.

Finally, the project will aim to highlight the importance of these sites, to devise ways of presenting them to visitors, and to produce educational materials for local schools.

Contributors: Nawzad Abdullatif Abdulkarim, Mustafa Ahmad, Fidaa Almehho, Stefano Bertoldi, Ricardo Cabral, Jan Cibera, Amanda Dusting, Alberto Giannese, Tina Greenfield, Sami Jamil Hamarashid, Qasim Rasheed Hameed, Guy Hazell, Awaz Jihad Heda, Achilles Iasonos, Ramazan Qadir Ismael, Hemin Kawes, Osama Mohammed Khorsheed, Ewout Koek, David Kertai, Mohammed Jasim Abed Hasso, John MacGinnis, Bahzad Mohammed, Andy Miller, Kate Morton, Dilshad Abdulmutalib Mustafa, Halkawt Qadir Omer, Virág Pabeschitz, Lucas Proctor, Zaid Ghazi Saadallah, Christoph Schmidhuber, Mary Shepperson, Necmi Yaṣar, Craig Williams and Kovan Ehsan Yaseen. We are deeply grateful to Mala Awat, General Director of Antiquities of Kurdistan, Kemal Raheem Rashid, Head of the Directorate of Antiquities of Sulaimaniya, and Barzan Baiz Ismail, Head of the Directorate of Antiquities of Raparin, for their help and support.

Site level training in Darband-i Rania