Holocence Channel Formation, Landscape Change and Settlement in the Shahrizor, NE Iraq

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

This year we conducted geophysical survey and excavated several trenches for sediment samples in Suleymaniyah province. The excavated trenches were in the region of the Peshdar Plain, located north of Suleymaniyah city, while the geophysical resistivity work was conducted on sites in the Shahrizor plain. The intent was to 1) delineate ancient topography in the region to better understand paleochannels and identify such channels and 2) recover sedimentary and phytolith samples for determining environmental indicators.




Both the goals of the project were successfully accomplished. Our excavations exposed natural sediments, which we sampled. These sediments were located along near archaeological sites, giving us background as to the environmental context of these sites. In addition, the sediments had organic materials. We have since dated them and obtained some good results, with one layer dated to the late 7th century BC. This layer is contemporary with nearby archaeological sites and may reflect nearby destruction associated with the sacking of Neo-Assyrian sites. Our geophysical work (Figure 1) revealed a number of paleochannels in the region of the Shahrizor using electric resistivity tomography. These channels and paleo-topography help explain the reasoning behind the settlement of sites in the region. We can determine that several sites were, in fact, built on top of Pleistocene terraces, helping to make these sites more evident as they have not been buried by subsequent erosion along the valley.  Clear paleochannels were found in the regions of Kunara and Yazin Tepe, two major sites in the region. Both sites’ paleochannels suggest why they had distinctive advantages in settlement, as surrounding waterways in the wetter part of the Holocene would have likely been convenient for settlement and resources.  Furthermore, the paleochannel near Kunara suggests modification by human activity in the past, which we interpret that it may have been a canalized river or channel during the 3rd-2nd millennium BC (i.e., contemporary with the site of Kunara; Figure 2). However, we cannot easily date this channel; therefore, this is still speculative based on the surrounding archaeology.


Overall, we have obtained more data that has helped us to reconstruct the paleolandscape in the region of Suleymaniyah as we begin to understand the region’s past. We now can better understand the landscape during the wetter phases of the Holocene, while also begin to understand how settlements were configured and reasoning behind the settlement of given sites and locations. 


Dr Mark Altaweel, UCL