Tell Shemshara
Tell Shemshara is an archaeological site
Archaeological site
An archaeological site is a place in which evidence of past activity is preserved , and which has been, or may be, investigated using the discipline of archaeology and represents a part of the archaeological record.Beyond this, the definition and geographical extent of a 'site' can vary widely,...

 located along the Little Zab
Little Zab
The Little Zab , , ) originates in Iran and joins the Tigris in Iraq. The river is approximately long and drains an area of c. . The river is fed by rainfall and snowmelt, resulting in a peak discharge in spring and low water in summer and early fall...

 in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, northeastern Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

. The site was excavated between 1957 and 1959 by Danish
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 and Iraqi archaeologists and is now inundated by Lake Dukan
Lake Dukan
Lake Dukan is the largest lake in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is located close to the city of Ranya, and is a reservoir on the Little Zab created by the construction of the Dukan Dam. The Dukan Dam was built between 1954 and 1959 as a multi-purpose dam to provide water storage, irrigation and...

. The excavations showed that the site was occupied, although not continuously, from the Hassuna
Hassuna or Tell Hassuna is an ancient Mesopotamian site situated in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq west of the Tigris river, south of Mosul and about 35 km southwest of Nineveh.-History:...

 period (early sixth millennium BCE) until the 14th century CE. A small archive recovered from the Middle Bronze Age layers (early second millennium BCE) revealed that, at least in that period, the site was called Shusharra and was the capital of a small, semi-independent polity called māt Utêm or "land of the gatekeeper" ruled by a man called Kuwari.

History of research

The site was first recorded in 1955 during an archaeological survey
Archaeological field survey
Archaeological field survey is the method by which archaeologists search for archaeological sites and collect information about the location, distribution and organization of past human cultures across a large area...

 of the Ranya Plain, which was to be flooded by the reservoir
A reservoir , artificial lake or dam is used to store water.Reservoirs may be created in river valleys by the construction of a dam or may be built by excavation in the ground or by conventional construction techniques such as brickwork or cast concrete.The term reservoir may also be used to...

 of the planned Dukan Dam
Dukan Dam
The Dukan Dam is a multi-purpose concrete arch dam in As Sulaymaniyah Governorate, Iraq. It impounds the Little Zab, thereby creating Lake Dukan. The Dukan Dam was built between 1954 and 1959 whereas its power station became fully operational in 1979...

. In 1957, a Danish team of archaeologists started a rescue excavation
Rescue archaeology
Rescue archaeology, sometimes called "preventive" or "salvage" archaeology, is archaeological survey and excavation carried out in areas threatened by, or revealed by, construction or other development...

 because the site would be flooded by Lake Dukan once the Dukan Dam would be finished. The Danish excavation was directed by Professors Harold Ingholt, who also excavated the citadel mound of Hama
Hama is a city on the banks of the Orontes River in west-central Syria north of Damascus. It is the provincial capital of the Hama Governorate. Hama is the fourth-largest city in Syria—behind Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs—with a population of 696,863...

, and Jørgen Læssøe. It was funded by the Carlsberg Foundation
Carlsberg Foundation
Carlsberg Foundation was founded by J. C. Jacobsen in 1876 and owns 30,3% of the shares in Carlsberg Group and has 74,2% of the voting power.The purpose of the foundation is to run and fund Carlsberg Laboratory, the museum at Frederiksborg Palace, to fund scientific research, run the Ny Carlsberg...

 and the Danish Government Foundation for the Promotion of Research. The excavations were continued in 1958 and 1959 by Iraqi archaeologists of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) under the direction of Abd al-Qadir at-Tekrîti. The excavations have revealed that the site was occupied at least from the Hassuna period onward and the latest occupation phase dates to the 12th–14th centuries CE. The objects found during the Danish excavation were divided between the National Museum of Iraq
National Museum of Iraq
The National Museum of Iraq is a museum located in Baghdad, Iraq. It contains precious relics from Mesopotamian civilization.-Foundation:...

 and the National Museum of Denmark
National Museum of Denmark
The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen is Denmark’s largest museum of cultural history, comprising the histories of Danish and foreign cultures, alike. The museum's main domicile is located a short distance from Strøget at the center of Copenhagen. It contains exhibits from around the world,...

. So far, the prehistoric material of the Hassuna layers and the majority of the archives from the second millennium BCE have been published.

The site and its environment

Tell Shemshara sits along the Little Zab, a tributary of the Tigris
The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq.-Geography:...

. Its strategic location in the northeastern corner of the Ranya Plain in the Zagros Mountains
Zagros Mountains
The Zagros Mountains are the largest mountain range in Iran and Iraq. With a total length of 1,500 km , from northwestern Iran, and roughly correlating with Iran's western border, the Zagros range spans the whole length of the western and southwestern Iranian plateau and ends at the Strait of...

 gave Shemshara control over travelling routes in all directions, particularly toward the north and east. Shemshara is a tell
A tell or tel, is a type of archaeological mound created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries. A classic tell looks like a low, truncated cone with a flat top and sloping sides.-Archaeology:A tell is a hill created by different civilizations living and...

, or settlement mound, that can be divided in two parts; a high main mound and an elongated lower mound. The main mound is 60 metres (196.9 ft) in diameter and 19 metres (62.3 ft) high, whereas the lower town is 270 metres (885.8 ft) long and 6 metres (19.7 ft) high. Shemshara is now partially submerged under Lake Dukan.

Occupation history

The excavations at the main mound revealed 16 occupation layers, ranging in date from the Hassuna period (early sixth millennium BCE) to the 14th century AD. Layers 16–9 dated to the Hassuna period. This occupation was characterized by rows of stones that are interpreted by the excavators as foundations for mudbrick walls, a pebble floor and a clay basin in the final occupation layer. Pottery, which has only been found in abundance in layers 13–9, shows stylistic links with that of Hassuna and Tell es-Sawwan
Tell es Sawwan
Tell es-Sawwan was a city in ancient Mesopotamia 110 kilometers north of Baghdad, and south of Samarra.-History:The site is a primarily Ubaid, Hassuna, and Samarran culture occupation with some later Babylonian graves...

. Obsidian
Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock.It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth...

 was the preferred material for stone tool
Stone tool
A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric, particularly Stone Age cultures that have become extinct...

s, with flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 making up only 15 percent of the total assemblage. Whereas the flint was procured locally, the obsidian was obtained from two sources in eastern Turkey – one as yet unidentified, the other one being the volcanic Nemrut Dağ more than 300 kilometres (186.4 mi) away from Shemshara. A unique piece in this assemblage is a dagger of over 35.5 centimetres (14 in) in length, broken in four pieces due to a fire. Other artefacts that have been found at the site include stone bowls, bracelets and quern-stone
Quern-stones are stone tools for hand grinding a wide variety of materials. They were used in pairs. The lower, stationary, stone is called a quern, whilst the upper, mobile, stone is called a handstone...

s and small objects made of bone. Whereas the main mound seems to have been abandoned after the Hassuna occupation, scarce archaeological material from the Uruk
Uruk period
The Uruk period existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid period and succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period. Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was...

 (fourth millennium BCE) and Jemdet Nasr
Jemdet Nasr period
The Jemdet Nasr period is an archaeological culture in southern Mesopotamia that is generally dated to 3100–2900 BCE. It is named after the type-site Jemdet Nasr, where the assemblage typical for this period was first recognized. Its geographical distribution is limited to south–central Iraq...

 periods (early third millennium BCE) has been found on the lower town.

Both the main mound and the lower extension were re-occupied during the Middle Bronze Age (early second millennium BCE). Layers 8–4 on the main mound can be assigned to this period. The excavations found a number of graves with bronze weapons on the main mound, as well as a mudbrick
A mudbrick is a firefree brick, made of a mixture of clay, mud, sand, and water mixed with a binding material such as rice husks or straw. They use a stiff mixture and let them dry in the sun for 25 days....

 platform. In the lower town, a small part of a palace was excavated, and in three of its rooms a small archive of clay tablet
Clay tablet
In the Ancient Near East, clay tablets were used as a writing medium, especially for writing in cuneiform, throughout the Bronze Age and well into the Iron Age....

s was found. The palace was destroyed by fire, and through analysis of the archive it has been proposed that this happened in year 30 of the reign of Shamshi-Adad I
Shamshi-Adad I
Shamshi-Adad I Shamshi-Adad I Shamshi-Adad I (fl. late 18th century BC (short chronology) was an Assyrian king. He rose to prominence when he carved out an empire encompassing much of Mesopotamia, Syria and Asia Minor...

 in the first quarter of the 18th century BCE.

The archive consisted of 146 clay tablets or fragments thereof, of which a small part dealt with the administration of the town, whereas the majority consisted of letters written to a certain Kuwari. Some fragments were part of the clay envelopes in which these letters were sent. The texts were written in Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

. These texts revealed that during this period the site was called Shusharra, that it was the capital of a polity called māt Utêm or "land of the gatekeeper" and that it was ruled by a man named Kuwari. Chronologically, the archive can be divided in two parts, one covering the period during which Shemshara was the capital of a small semi-independent kingdom, and one covering the period after Kuwari became a vassal of Shamshi-Adad, who at that time had already conquered Mari
Mari, Syria
Mari was an ancient Sumerian and Amorite city, located 11 kilometers north-west of the modern town of Abu Kamal on the western bank of Euphrates river, some 120 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, Syria...

 and Shubat-Enlil
Tell Leilan
Tell Leilan is an archaeological site situated near the Wadi Jarrah in the Khabur River basin in Al-Hasakah Governorate, northeastern Syria. The site has been occupied since the 5th millennium BC. During the late third millennium, the site was known as Shekhna...

 and was now campaigning in the Zagros Mountains. Together, these two periods do not last longer than 3 years. The letters in the Shemshara archive show that during this period, Kuwari had to deal with Turukkean refugees coming from the east and fleeing a war with Guteans; events which are also mentioned in the much larger archives found in Mari on the Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

n Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

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