Archaeology affected by the Ilısu Dam in Turkey

A. Tuba Ökse with contributions by Ahmet Görmüş, Erkan Atay & Sibel Torpil

Figure 1
Figure 1. Archaeological sites surveyed in 2008.
Click to enlarge.

The Ilısu Dam, scheduled to be built on the Tigris river valley, will form a lake affecting the provinces of Diyarbakır, Siirt, Mardin and Şırnak of south-eastern Turkey (Figure 1). The area to be flooded covers c. 37 000ha and will cover a great number of archaeological sites including the famous medieval town of Hasankeyf. However, despite the dam being planned in the 1950s, first extensive field surveys were not made until the 1980s (Algaze et al 1991). In the 1990s field surveys were conducted by a number of different teams, and targeted at certain historical periods or areas: to the north up to the valley of the İnli Çayı, and to the south as far as the Cizre-Silopi Plain (Kozbe 2007). As a result c. 500 archaeological sites were located, but these surveys omitted parts of the affected region, including the actual place where the dam is to be constructed. Salvage excavations were subsequently conducted at 20 sites (Hasankeyf, Aşağı Salat, Boztepe, Giricano, Gre Dimse, Hakemi Use, Hirbemerdon, Kavuşan Höyük, Kenantepe, Körtik Tepe, Müslüman Tepe, Salat Cami Yanı, Salat Tepe, Talavaş Tepe, Türbe Höyük, Üçtepe, Ziyarettepe, Yenice Yanı, Sumaki Höyük, Başur Höyük.

The area where the dam will be constructed, around the village of Ilısu, was surveyed for the first time in February 2008, by order of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey. The research area included the dam construction area and the zones supplying soil for the fill — in all a 1300ha portion of the 1600ha to be expropriated for the construction. The area included the narrow region where the derivation tunnels will be built — and it is the results of investigative survey here, and the alert they sound, that is the subject of this brief report.

The area was intensively scanned in transects 5-10m apart and our findings reveal the high archaeological potential of the region (Ökse et al. in press) (Figures 2 and 3).The earliest habitation is presented by a settlement area signalled by stone implements and debris belonging to the pre-Pottery Neolithic. Dating to the seventh millennium BC, the objects were being produced on the site from local flint and from eastern Anatolian obsidian. There were seven sites of the earliest Pottery Neolithic (dated to the sixth millennium BC). The assemblage contains Proto-Hassunan and Early Hassunan pieces similar to those at Tell Koshak Shamali and Umm Dabagiyah, as well as the Dark Faced Burnished Ware and the Orange Fine Ware. The Chalcolithic period was located and assessed at five sites. The assemblages are mostly of the Chaff-Faced Ware; two sherds might represent Late Ubaid Painted Ware.

Figure 2
Figure 2. View of the research area from the east (Photograph by Servet Karaman).
Click to enlarge.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Small finds.
Click to enlarge.

No assemblages belonging to the Early Bronze Age have been detected so far. Middle Bronze Age artefacts are found in five large-scale settlements dating to the first half of the second millennium BC. The assemblages are composed by the characteristic Red Brown Wash Ware of the Upper Tigris region as well as the Khabur Painted Ware and the Monochrome Simple Ware resembling the Northern Mesopotamian culture. The Middle Assyrian Period is not attested within the surveyed region.

Figure 4
Figure 4. The village of Ilısu from the east.
Click to enlarge.

The Early Iron Age is represented by distinctive hand-made wares of eastern and south-eastern Anatolia, found at four sites. One decorated sherd is similar to that found in Büyükardıç. Six settlements with sherds dating to the Late Assyrian period demonstrate a section of the Kassiyari mountain routes revealed in the Assyrian sources. One sherd of the Eastern Terrasigillata Type A demonstrates the continued importance of the region in the Hellenistic period; two large sites are dated to the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Nine settlements were used during the Late Roman-Early Byzantine, Late Parthian-Early Sassanid and Islamic periods, featuring three cemeteries, stone houses in the village of Saruhan, two bath-houses and three windmills (Figure 4).

Most of these settlements are situated in the area where the construction of the dam is planned to take place. Ideally, the dam should be redesigned to allow preservation of the sites in situ, or an opportunity provided to excavate and study them. These results stress that work aimed at evaluating the archeological potential of the region affected by the Ilısu Dam and hydroelectrical power plant project in general, has so far been limited. Field surveys are required over the four new roadways scheduled to replace the old roads, the three bridges to be flooded, the areas scheduled for soil extraction, and the areas planned for resettlement. In short, further archaeological research is an urgent necessity at the area to be drowned by the Ilısu Dam.


  • ALGAZE, G., M.A. EVINS, M.L. INGRAHAM, L. MARFOE & K.A. YENER. 1990. The Tigris-Euphrates Archaeological Reconnaissance Project: A preliminary report of the 1989-1990 seasons. Anatolica 17: 175-240.
  • KOZBE, G. 2007. Şırnak İli Cizre-Silopi Ovası Yüzey Araştırması, 2005, 24. Araştırma Sonuçları Toplantısı 1: 307-26.
  • ÖKSE, A.T., A. GÖRMÜŞ, E. ATAY, Y. MULUK, M. EROĞLU, S. TORPIL, A.A. BAYRAKTAR, Y. TAN, N. BALKAN-ATLI, L. ASTRUC & N. KAYACAN. In press. Ilısu Barajı Sahası Yüzey Araştırmasında Belirlenen Arkeolojik Alanlar/Archaeological Sites Recovered During a Survey at the Construction Area of the Ilısu Dam. TÜBA-AR.


* Author for correspondence.

  • A. Tuba Ökse*
    Kocaeli University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Archaeology, Umuttepe TR-41380 İzmit/Kocaeli, Turkey (email:
  • A. Görmüş Mustafa
    Kemal University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Archaeology, Tayfur Sökmen Campus, TR-41380 Antakya/Hatay, Turkey (email:
  • E. Atay
    Ankara, Turkey (email:
  • S. Torpil
    İzmir, Turkey (email:

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