The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut néerlandais du Proche-Orient

Qala'at Halwanji

Qala’at Halwanji is a 5 ha large fortress of the Middle Bronze Age (18th-17th cent. BC) in northern Syria. A series of sondages have revealed extremely well preserved architectural remains, all heavily burnt in a destructive fire in antiquity.

Sondage 19: close-up of sealing QH.09-1.

First identified as an archaeological site in 2007, Qala'at Halwanji is located on the south bank of the Sajour River ca. 15 km west of the Euphrates junction at Aushariye. The site lies on a limestone cliff, and appears as a roughly square, fortified enclosure with wide ramparts, on two sides broken by gullies which may represent ancient gates. The main level represents two brief Middle Bronze Age II occupations both destroyed by fire. 

A Danish-Syrian team conducted brief preliminary investigations at Qala’at Halwanji in 2008 and 2009. This work was generously sponsored by the Augustinus Foundation (Copenhagen) and the Danish Cultural Institute in Damascus. Eidem was Danish co-director and was assisted from the Syrian side by Mr. A. Nasser (2008) and Mr. M. Fakhru (2009).

The work included surveying and mapping of the site, a systematic surface collection, and a series of small sondages. The general picture emerging from these sondages is that of a site partly heavily eroded, partly with excellent preservation. In the trenches on high ground near the edges of the site was found a nearly 6 meter wide wall, no doubt the main fortification wall. Inside this are small rooms with domestic installations, apparently terraced down the inner slope of the site. Provisionally these rooms are interpreted as the “barracks” for the garrison of the fortress. In the southwest corner of the site are ruins of a main building of the ancient settlement, and which we therefore interpret – also provisionally – as the “Governor’s Palace”, and the administrative center for the fortress. Sondages in this area show massive walls preserved up to 3 meters high, and with clear traces of two successive phases of occupation, both destroyed by fire. Inventories of complete ceramic vessels and other objects are present in both phases, and among finds in the older phase are burnt clay sealings made with some of the finest cylinder seals known from the Syrian Middle Bronze Age. Design and style of these seals point to a workshop in Northwest Syria, in the region of ancient Jamhad, and their high quality confirm the official nature of the building.

An identification of the site with ancient Dur-Shamshi-Adad, a fortress established by Shamshi-Adad I on the west bank of the Euphrates ca. 1786 BC, and lost to Jamhad ca. 1779 BC, is possible, but Qala'at Halwanji seems in any case to represent imposition by an international power.

New extensive excavations, as a Dutch-Syrian cooperation, organised by NINO, and sponsored by NWO, were scheduled to begin in 2011, but were postponed and have since been temporarily cancelled due to the tragic political situation in Syria.

Most of the photos in the gallery below were taken by Henrik Brahe.