Roger Matthews

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Professor Roger Matthews & Dr Wendy Matthews spent their Easter at the early Neolithic site of Bestansur, Iraqi Kurdistan. The excavations at Bestansur are significant as it is such an early settlement, dating to about 7700/7600 BC. At nearly 9000 years old, this provides us with some fantastic evidence for the very first steps of the transition from hunting to farming in the Neolithic period in this region.

The discoveries this season include the careful excavation of a very special building (Building 5) made of lumps of clay with plastered walls & floor, which had an unusual number of human remains interred beneath it. The team have identified a large number of human remains, mostly disarticulated, and often from very small children.

As seen in the video linked to below, one of the theories is that the building may be a special building for the burial of dead people – some of the remains seem to be coming from quite far distances, which is why the bones are disarticulated. With some of the bodies the team also found small offerings, such as beads of clay or stone, including a bead of carnelian which would have had to be imported from Iran or Afghanistan.

 

About the Excavation

Figure 1. Map to show location of Bestansur and other relevant Neolithic sites of the region.

Map to show location of Bestansur and other relevant Neolithic sites of the region.

A University of Reading and Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate team recently conducted a sixth season of excavations at the Early Neolithic settlement site of Bestansur, Sulaimaniyah Province, Iraqi Kurdistan, between 26 March and 15 April 2016. The team comprised Roger Matthews, Wendy Matthews and Kamal Rasheed Raheem (Co-Directors), Kamal Rauf Aziz and Sami Jamil Hama Rashid (Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate), Amy Richardson (University of Oxford), Sam Walsh (UCLAN), Adam Stone and Tom Moore (University of Reading) and local excavators.  We are very grateful to Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Antiquities for all their support, in particular to the Director, Kamal Rasheed Raheem, the Director of the Museum, Hashim Hama, and our government representatives, Kamal Rauf Aziz and Sami Jamil Hama Rashid, who helped us in many ways and contributed greatly to the success of the season. We are grateful to them all for their hard work all season.

The excavations were financially supported by generous grants from the Gerald Averay Wainwright Fund of the University of Oxford and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq. We are very grateful to these bodies for their kind support.

 

Excavations at Bestansur, an Early Neolithic settlement

Dr Sam Walsh excavating human remains in Building 5.

Dr Sam Walsh excavating human remains in Building 5.

Excavations at Bestansur focused on expansion of Trench 10 to investigate a neighbourhood of Neolithic architecture on the lower eastern slopes of the mound, in an area of 18 x 14m.

This season’s excavations in Trench 10 aimed firstly to investigate and analyse of the human burials below the floors of Space 50 and the stratigraphic context of these, and secondly to define the extent of the building in which they were placed, Building 5, radiocarbon dated to c. 7700 BC.

We established that there are an exceptional number of human remains interred within Space 50. The excavations this season increased the number of individuals identified to more than 55 people, with more remains detected but left preserved in the ground for the next season. This number of individuals is higher than that found in many houses from other Neolithic sites of the Middle East, such as Tell Halula in Syria, for example, where 5-15 individuals were buried within single buildings. The high number within Building 5 at Bestansur is larger than expected for a single household and suggests that there were extensive and long-lived inter-relations between communities.

Four principal groups of human remains were investigated in the south and east of Space 50. All of these represent selective burial of particular skeletal parts,

Cluster of human skulls and other bones buried under room floor

Cluster of human skulls and other bones buried under room floor

predominantly of skulls, long bones and ribs. Two of these groups were of mixed age ranges. One group included red-pigmented material around clusters of bones and another group included traces of white mineral material on many bones and a skull as well as red pigment. A third group comprised predominantly juveniles and infants. The fourth assemblage was represented scattered remains of human bone and beads in the fill below the floors. One unusual bead of carnelian, imported from Iran or Afghanistan, was also found (Fig. 7).

As the walls of Space 50 slope inwards, c. 10 cm of deposits have been left against the base and lower sections of the walls. These microstratigraphic sequences were carefully cleaned with an artist’s palette knife, photographed and drawn at 1:5 and 1:10 to investigate the history of the construction and use of Building 5 and the complex burial sequence throughout the foundation, occupation and infill of the Building.

Carnelian bead from burial deposits under room floor

Carnelian bead from burial deposits under room floor

The north of Building 5, the western narrow rooms and the northwest corner of Space 50 and adjacent buildings were defined by extending trench 10 to the northwest.

We will continue excavation of this extraordinary deposit and building in spring 2017 and beyond.

Recording of human remains was conducted in the field and the laboratory by osteoarchaeologist Dr Sam Walsh (Fig. 4). We are very grateful to the Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate for permission to export human bones and teeth for analysis to study diet, health and mobility. We will be carrying out a full programme of analysis of this very special assemblage of human remains from the Early Neolithic period.

 

You can watch an interview with Roger on Rudaw TV here

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By: Ben Camp, Nick Harper, Alex Pope, Debs Young (MA students, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading)

 

Day 1

After a night at the British Institute at Ankara the first place we visited was the Anatolian Civilisations Museum in Ankara. It is housed in a fantastic Ottoman building dating to the 15th century AD. Called a Han, it housed shops and accommodation for travellers, located in the old citadel. The artefacts throughout the museum were astounding and we would throughly recommend it to anyone travelling to Ankara.

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Next we travelled with our bus and driver Selim Bey to Gordion, a site that has hosted such historic figures as Midas and Alexander the Great. We were greeted with the traditional British archaeological weather – rain and strong winds. First we went to Tumulus MM, stupefying for the size of the mound itself (53m high) and the size of the juniper logs covering the burial chamber, dated to 740 BC. Then we went to the mound of Gordion. We saw the Early Phrygian citadel and the Middle Phrygian gate. It was amazing to see how much was still standing.

 

Day 2

A long drive to Çatalhöyük, but it was worth every mile. Walking up the slope of the höyük (archaeological mound) in the sunshine towards the shelter only increased the sense of excitement and anticipation. Actually entering the shelter and standing in front of the 7000 BC village laid out before us was unbelievable. It is difficult to express in words quite what the site is like and know that this was a place that people chose to live in for generation after generation.

IMG_2577Following the track across the mound with the pottery broken and discarded beneath our feet, we then entered the South Shelter and were left stunned at the panoramic vista of the many levels which dropped in front of us. We highly recommend a visit to Çatalhöyük, and to one of our group especially it was a much dreamt of visit.

We then drove the short distance to Boncuklu, a site even earlier than Çatalhöyük and which could prove in the future to be just as important. After an informative tour of the site, the guard invited us all for chay (tea), but which actually turned out to be a three course lunch eaten cross-legged on the floor of his family home. Wonderful food in the company of very welcoming and friendly people just added to an already fabulous day.

Acemhöyük was the last stop of the day, and after another long drive in torrential rain, we arrived just before the sun set and climbed precariously up the slippery mud slope clad in waterproofs, much to the amusement of the local villagers, to whom we no doubt looked like the archetypical English archaeologists! The heavily burnt site was too muddy to explore in detail but we were able to determine the extent and rich colours of the walls, brought to life by the wet conditions, especially when the setting sun shone its rays on the burnt Middle Bronze Age palaces, dated to 1650 BC.

A late night arrival at the hotel was greeted with enthusiasm by all after a long but wonderful day.

 

Day 3

The drive to Kültepe-Kaneš was not particularly long, and whilst the mound is visible from a distance, the karum, possibly the most important element of the site, is not. The site principally dates to the late third and early second millennia BC, including the Old Assyrian trading period, with the two most important levels of the lower town dating to this period. Recent excavations and survey have revealed that the well-preserved ruins extend even further into the beautiful countryside than previously expected. The lower town produced some 23,500 cuneiform texts of clay baked in the great conflagration that consumed the entire lower town in the middle of this period. The mound is also important, with recent discoveries of a massive administrative building dating to 2400 BC.

After Kültepe-Kaneš we then proceeded to Alişarhöyük, climbing the mound and inspecting the early twentieth century excavation trenches. Our final site for the third day was Alacahöyük, where both the museum and reconstructed tombs were amazing. The reliefs and sphinx gate were beautiful examples of Hittite art and after exploring the Hittite palace we had tea at a local café before proceeding to our lovely hotel at Hattusa, famous capital of the Hittites.

 

Day 4

We started the day by exploring the religious sanctuary of Yazılıkaya. The site is famous for its rock reliefs and it is easy to see why. The rock carvings were extremely impressive and the entire site had an atmosphere which indicated why the Hittite chose this place as a religious sanctuary.

We then travelled the short distance to the Hittite capital Hattusa. We spent the next six hours walking and exploring this massive site in the hot sun, looking at the many temples, royal buildings and gates which are scattered across the ancient city. Walking really gave us a great idea of what this ancient capital might have been like at the height of its power and it was a brilliant experience which we would thoroughly recommend. As we walked from one end of the city to the other we climbed 300m in height! After a lovely meal at Mehmet’s glorious Kale Otel we made the long drive back to Ankara in the dusk.

 

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Day 5

In Ankara airport again, and it is with great sadness that we call time on the adventure. It has been the trip of a lifetime and the memories will last forever. Thanks to our driver Selim Bey and the British Institute in Ankara for facilitating the trip (particularly Selim Bey, who drove a crazy number of miles!). But special thanks must go to Professor Roger Matthews, who was the best host and guide we could have had. He really made the trip come alive. Until next time…

 

 

Special thanks to SAGES PGT fund and Reading International Office for their financial contributions to enable this field trip to happen, and to all our friends at BIAA.

 

For more photos from the trip, check out the album here.

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The CZAP team on location

The CZAP team on location

Staff and students from the University of Reading, as part of the Central Zagros Archaeological Project (CZAP), have returned from a successful six-week field season at Bestansur, in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.  The site lies close to a perennial spring and comprises extensive Early Neolithic occupation and later Neo-Assyrian and Sasanian levels, which form much of the 7.5m high central mound.

Excavations in 2012 established that Early Neolithic deposits were preserved across a 100-by-50 metre area, including pisé walls, areas of food preparation, flint-knapping, and a double-burial of a man and woman buried head-to-toe.

The 15m section cut into the north of the mound.

The 15m section cut into the north of the mound.

This season, CZAP excavated five trenches, including cutting a 15-metre section into the north of the mound. This work has yielded the first glimpses into the core of the Neolithic settlement with fine plaster surfaces, layers of dung and ochre, comparable with Neolithic sites across the region, such as Çatalhöyük.

Extensive post-excavation analysis is now under way examining issues of plant and animal domestication, resource usage and cultural networks across the Fertile Crescent.

Further details can be found on:

Read about the project leaders

Read a report from the Archaeology 3D project on their collaboration with CZAP 

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