The long-planned and contested Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River has
provided a great opportunity for archaeologists to explore an
unknown and unexplored part of Turkey, namely the Upper Tigris
area. Controversial aspects of the dam centered on the damage that
it is going to cause to the natural and cultural heritage of the area and
resettlement issues of the current population of the region. The
decision to construct the hydroelectric dam of Ilisu goes back to 1954.
The first real attempt to build the dam was made in the mid 1990’s
from which came an extensive program of archaeological survey and
salvage excavations. The first round of salvage excavations in the
Ilısu Dam area was combined with those of the Carchemish and
Birecik dams on the River Euphrates. During this first round, the Ilisu
and Carchemish salvage projects were managed together by the
Center for Research and Assessment of the Historical Environment
(TACDAM) at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara.
Because of strong public protests and organized efforts in Turkey and
abroad to stop the construction of the dam, particularly to save the
Mediaeval site of Hasankeyf, the international construction
consortium composed of British, German, Swiss, Austrian, Italian and
Swedish companies was dissolved in 2002 and the construction
plans were halted as a result. The stopping of the construction plans
also affected the finance of the salvage projects and the Turkish
projects that were all supported by the government had to stop as
The changing policy of the AKP government—from first declaring not
to build the dam to assertively promoting the completion of the dam
and its benefits to the people of the South East--even to the extent of
calling anyone who has expressed opinions against the Ilisu Dam a
traitor—resulted in the formation of a new consortium, this time
composed of Turkey, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The
construction started on August 5th 2006 with a big state ceremony for
laying the foundation by the prime minister and broadcast live. This
second consortium was also dissolved in July 2009, but the
construction continues through the credits given by Turkish banks.
Revival of the construction had an immediate effect on the
archaeological salvage works. The General Directorate of State
Water Works signed a protocol with the Ministry of Culture and
Tourism and started to re-finance the interrupted excavations and
invited new ones. The Ministry established a unit in the Department of
Cultural Heritage and Museums dealing with the bureaucracy, finance
and the coordination of the documentation, survey and excavation
works within the Ilisu Dam Reservoir area. The reservoir area has
been divided into three coordination zones (Diyarbakir, Batman-Siirt
and the area immediately around the Ilisu Dam Construction area)
and excavation and surveys carried out in these areas have been
done in cooperation either with Diyarbakir or Mardin Museums. In
fact, the excavation permits are given in the name of these museums
and the actual excavation directors are charged with the scientific
responsibility of the projects. Financial aspects of the projects have
been handled by the respective museums as well. The state finance
regulations that apply to the spending of any money within the state
now also apply to excavation finance, which creates a multi-layered
complicated bureaucracy! No cash is handled by directors and
payments are made directly to the bank accounts of the workmen or
to those of the shops or landlords or owners of vehicles etc. Also,
health and safety regulations have now arrived in northern
Mesopotamia and projects are obliged to purchase a safety service,
to make a risk assessment of the excavation work, and train the
workmen for a certain number of hours on first aid, various health
risks and their labour rights.
Against this background we commenced work at Gre Amer in the
summer of 2009.
Gre Amer Höyük is a site of approximately four hectares in area on the
east bank of the Garzan Çayı, a northern tributary of the Tigris. The site
lies within the boundaries of Işıkveren village (old name Dusadek), in the
Besiri district (ilce) of Batman province (il) containing the richest oil fields
of Turkey. By the standards of most Mesopotamian mounds the site is
small, but nevertheless it remains the largest ancient site in the Garzan
The confluence of the Garzan Çayı with the Tigris is a distance of 26km
downstream from Gre Amer Höyük; as the crow flies the site is just 18km
north of Hasankeyf. The site is positioned on the bank of the Gre Amer
stream, now a dry valley (wadi), a tributary of the Garzan Çayı, on top of
a natural hill and extends to the south-west above a natural rock terrace
above the river bank. The summit of the mound lies at 532m above sea
level (rising to just above 550m at the summit of the hill), with the river
terrace lying at a level of 519m. The site will be completely submerged
by the lake. The site has been examined previously in surface surveys
of the Ilisu Dam lake area carried out by Guillermo Algaze, Bradley
Parker, and Aslı Erim Özdoğan. Materials collected from the surface
and stratigraphic observations suggested that the site was occupied in
the first, second and third millennia BC.
In the course of the preliminary survey in 2008 a sherd with part of a
cuneiform sign was found on the mound. This was a fine red ware
resembling the Middle or Neo-Assyrian ceramics of the area, with the
sign inscribed before the piece was fired. Such inscriptions
sometimes indicate the volume of the vessel, or what was stored in it,
but sometimes also can imply an association with a special ceremony
or function. For example it is known from Middle and Late Assyrian
tablets that Assyrian officials entertained local notables to meals
(naptanu), and gave gifts of the drinking vessels from the dinner, and
some of these cups had inscriptions on them. The nearest similar
examples of such inscribed cups have been found in North Syria at
Tell Sabi Abyad, where one carinated bowl and two large jars bearing
cuneiform signs dating to the Middle Assyrian period are known.
Middle Assyrian Tell Sabi Abyad was a farming settlement
surrounded by a defensive wall. There is another example of this
‘official farm’, termed dunnu in Assyrian, at Giricano Höyük
excavated on the upper Tigris, near Bismil. This find demonstrated
the possibility before excavation that there was an official building at
the site, dating to the Middle and/or Neo Assyrian period.
Occupation has been identified on the summit of the hill (where it is very
eroded and poorly preserved), on the shoulder of the hill to the southwest, and over a wide area of the flat plain still further to the south-west,
extending possibly as far as the river cliff. The core of the site appears
to stretch from the shoulder of the hill some 100m through to a visible
terrace. Elsewhere test trenching so far has shown traces of occupation
but fewer structures in the peripheral areas of the site. The main part of
the site is now bisected by the cutting for a modern road. Sections at
the road cutting show that the depth of occupation is in the region of 4–
5m deep, although there are also signs that it may be deeper in places.
The stratigraphic sequence of the mound was best represented in the
road cutting, termed Operation 1. In this sector seven (10 x 10m)
trenches were excavated. Two burnt levels were visible in the
section with two further structural levels identified above the upper
burnt level. At the end of the first season we have provisionally dated
the levels as follows: The lower burnt level to the Middle-to-Late
Bronze Age; the upper burnt level to Late Bronze and Early Iron Age;
the two upper structural levels to Iron Age. The upper burnt level +2
was confirmed as the latest on the site, found only some 40cm
beneath the topsoil. The most likely interpretation of upper burnt
levels +2 and +1 emerged as store rooms and workshops. In these
places we found in situ storage pots, spindle whorls (indicating the
presence of textile production), and iron and bronze metal fragments.
In the road cutting, a section of some 22m of external (defensive?)
wall was exposed, standing at its highest to up to 3m. Within this
stone wall the ceramic materials found on floors and in fills were
predominantly the ware types known as Red-Brown Washed Ware.
Also from these fills a potsherd with a cylinder seal impression was
recovered. The seal design shows hunters bearing spears in a style
typical of the Mitanni period. At the base of the wall a substantial
fragment of a painted vessel painted with red elongated triangular
designs (Triangular Ware) was found. The dating of this material is
open to discussion, but this is probably one of the earliest examples
of this ceramic. Also from within the fills against the walls came
various obsidian objects, including arrow heads and other lithic tools,
ceramic zoomorphic figurines and numerous horn cores.
Trenches on the summit of the mound, and in the area
immediately to the south-west, were known as Operation 2. Here we
excavated three trenches: The natural conditions on the summit of
the mound were such that a combination of erosion, deep pit digging
and recent military operations had jeopardised survival. Walls and
other features that were exposed were not well-preserved.
Immediately below the summit, in a trench excavated on the southern
shoulder of the hill, walls were traced with burnt and ashy deposits
that probably relate to the upper burnt level. The ceramics from this
area had both a fine-walled quality and forms typical of Late Assyrian
types. One of the deep pits in the summit trenches yielded a
polychrome decorated glass vessel fragment of Mitannian type (Tell
al Rimah bottle).
The area on the river side of the road section was termed
Operation 3, and here an excavated trench revealed the stone walls
of a continuous building level related to the upper burnt level.
Between the road and river a flat area of river terrace was termed
Operation 4. Here five test trenches showed that the architectural
levels established on the mound did not continue over this area.
Ware types
1. Painted sherds
2. Triangular painted ware jugs, jars
3. Pseudo-Cuneiform
4. Incised, impressed, applied decoration
5. Ribbed Ware (Groovy ware) associated with Early Iron Age
Decorated, plain, classic
6. Lugged rims
7. Decorated Larger vessels
8. Assyrian and other Fine wares
9. Lower Burnt Level Middle/Late Bronze Washed and Coated
Wares /Red-Brown Wash Ware
Lower Burnt Level Dark-Rim orange Ware
Lower Burnt Level Combed decorated (inside) and
incised sherds
Our continuing targets for work at Gre Amer are to understand
the complete chronology of the site, to define the architecture and the
nature of the settlement in the second and first millennia BC, to reveal
the local components of the culture and its associations with the
cultural sphere of Mitanni, Assyria and with other neighbouring areas.
Carrying out such a salvage excavation gives a tremendous
opportunity to uncover original material, produce new information,
educate students, provide employment to locals etc, but leaves one
somehow with the uneasy feeling of complicity.