The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut nĂ©erlandais du Proche-Orient

Rania Plain: Survey

Sunset over Lake Dokan.

The Rania Plain Survey covers a 15 km radius around the site of Tell Shemshara, and proceeds as a cooperation between NINO and The University of Copenhagen. As such it is designed to explore the regional setting of the focal sites for the two teams, respectively Tell Shemshara and Bab-w-Kur, but also aims to assess and reinvestigate most of the sites within the original Dokan Dam Salvage Area. Prior to completion and closure of the Dokan Dam Iraqi archaeologists surveyed 40 ancient sites on the Rania Plain, and subsequently in 1956-60 excavated or sounded 10 selected sites, i.a. Basmusian, Deim, Qorashina, Kamarian, and Shemshara (first excavated by a Danish team 1957).

New investigations

Methodology includes remote sensing, selective detailed mapping, surface collection, and UAV photography. A special emphasis is on flood damage assessment for sites on the edges of Lake Dokan and only seasonally flooded. Soundings and second phase salvage excavation at selected sites are also planned.

The first phase of the new survey was conducted by the Danish team in autumn 2013. It covered the area around Bab-w-Kur, and was able to identify and document numerous minor and hitherto unknown sites within a fairly small area. Read more on the Bab w Kur Archaeological Project Facebook page.

A second phase was conducted by a team from NINO in October 2014. During a three week stay in Iraq the NINO team recorded some 30 archaeological sites, but the work was particularly focused on seasonally flooded sites near the artificial Lake Dokan. Autumn 2014 the water of the lake was unusually low, and this offered an opportunity to visit some sites otherwise rarely accessible. Four sites, fully documented (plotting, mapping, UAV photography, systematic sampling, resistivity survey) serve to illustrate the precarious heritage situation on the edges of Lake Dokan.


Araban, located on the east edge of Lake Dokan, is an extensive, but low site with surface sherds dating to the Late Uruk and early Ninevite 5 periods (late 4th - early 3rd Mill. BC), and some later occupation. It seems almost completely washed away by the water, leaving only sub-surface pits and fire-installations in situ.

Gird Mamand

Gird Mamand, located just 3 kms south of Shemshara, is also an extensive, but low site with surface material principally of Sassanian date (3rd-7th cent. AD). Near the east, lake-side, edge, however, walls of sun-dried bricks and stone foundations are visible on surface, washed clean by the lake. In situ portions of this site thus remain.

Bab-w-Kur South

Bab-w-Kur South, located some 5 kms southwest of Gird Mamand, is another low-contour site, with buildings of sun-dried bricks visible on surface, apparently the ruins of two large public-type complexes. The surface material seems to belong in the late 2nd Mill BC.

Gird Shaiwazan

While the above three sites are fading and turning into - not dust, but mud - our fourth example, Gird Shaiwazan, is a different story. Located at the far northwestern corner of Lake Dokan, this site has been protected by a capping of limestone blocks, constructed in a later period, no doubt in an effort to turn the hill into a fortified stronghold. Sections of the stones have in recent times been removed to construct small enclosures (for animals?) at the foot of the site, and the denuded sections of the slope show walls of sun-dried bricks and burnt pits on surface. The surface material collected from the slopes of this site include sherds of Hassuna, Uruk, and early Ninevite 5 date.

Like the site of Tell Shemshara the three former sites are rapidly eroding and require urgent 'second phase salvage', while the fourth - with some monitoring - seems likely to remain relatively intact, and in fact suggests a possible protective measure for other examples. Our project on the Rania Plain is designed very much to explore the extent of flood damage and potential remedies to it - also as these problems concern many other flood zones throughout the Middle East.