Within the individual archaeological areas both internal and external to the park, a series of areas have been identified where specific operations are planned for tutelage of the landscape, conservation (the Khinis and Maltai cliffs and rock reliefs – Annex 4), archaeological investigations, geological and/or hydrogeological studies (Annex 3), analysis of slope stability (Annex 2), and cleaning and removal of vegetation, as well as reforestation to shield and protect the natural and archaeological landscape.
The description of the preservation state of the monumental complex consisting of Sennacherib’s hydraulic system is restricted to the part that lies within the region defined by the “Land of Nineveh, Training for the Enhancement of Northern Iraqi Kurdistan’s Cultural Heritage” project and affected by the “Archaeological Environmental Park” project, which constitutes the management plan of the present World Heritage Tentative List proposal.
This work was conducted by the University of Udine in a number of survey campaigns that led to the identification of long stretches of the original canal that exhibit different states of deterioration, which are assessed below on a case-by-case basis.
In general, it may be said that the main causes of deterioration of the huge, complex irrigation system derive from historical changes that have influenced the reuse or maintenance of the various disused structures. From these, sometimes built of blocks of stone or dug directly into the bedrock, the original components or sculptural elements have often been removed and reused. Moreover, the rock reliefs and inscriptions especially, besides being subjected for centuries to natural deterioration caused by atmospheric agents, have suffered from acts of vandalism carried out for no evident reason, although clearly related to a widespread unawareness of the significance of these remains.
With regard to processes of material and environmental deterioration caused by the country’s development, the principal danger concerns loss of the natural landscape due to the construction of modern buildings within sight of the main archaeological sites such as Khinis and Jerwan, and the development of uncontrolled commercial and mining activities, and buildings erected without permission.
The Khinis archaeological area is the only one that has a proper entrance with a gate, and a guard. An unpleasant barbed-wire fence, visible to visitors, runs along the west side above the cliff decorated with rock reliefs and inscriptions, while just after the entrance gate there is a small building for visitor reception and the home of the custodian.
The fence is absent on the east side, since (at least in theory) the presence of the River Gomel blocks access to the cliff. In practice however, from the left side of the river it is extremely easy to cross the riverbed and reach the precious collapsed Monolith decorated with lamassu. Some take part in diving competitions or even drive their cars into the shallower water in order to wash them (Pl. 4.a.1.1). Children often climb the Great Relief and especially the Rider Relief, entering the late antique tombs or hermitages dug into it.
Overall, the Khinis site suffers from a general state of neglect due to the presence of uncut vegetation. Bushes and trees with rich foliage grow on the banks of the Gomel, the short section of canal still visible (protected by the tunnel), and also the long canal section that has been partially excavated and then abandoned, which runs alongside most of the rock face.
The lack of periodic cleaning and rubbish and dirt removal accentuates the impression of neglect given by this site that must originally have had a splendid natural setting.
A dangerous and intrusive form of deterioration caused by modern house building is also affecting the landscape of this isolated rock gorge. Residential construction consisting of small private villas is spreading on part of the hill, while an ugly reinforced concrete building, perhaps intended for catering, has been erected just a few tens of metres from the Great Relief, and will have to be demolished (Pl. 4.a.1.1).
The sense of abandonment is accentuated by the lack of more careful surveillance (which for a site of this size would have to be carefully planned), and by the absence of modest facilities for visitors (e.g. stone benches) and panels explaining the tourist itinerary that would also indicate the presence and control of the institutions responsible.
Lastly, an important cause for concern is the hillside, which may suffer from infiltration of water that could damage the rock reliefs or the possible presence of an unstable boulder on the slopes that might expose visitors to great danger (just near the south side of the quarry there is a huge limestone block with a large fissure). Geological and hydrogeological studies have been conducted to address these risks (Annexes 2 and 3).
The tunnel, located a few tens of metres from the entrance, and the part of the canal that passes through it is currently the most visually interesting part. The whole area gives a most striking picture of what the impressive irrigation structure must have been like. The eastern side, made of ashlar blocks, is still in a good state of preservation and there is a series of tiny steps that facilitated boarding boats or going down to perform cleaning operations. Finally, the presence of water, although cloudy and stagnant, makes the view more realistic.
It is not possible to approach the edge of the structure and view with adequate tranquillity the channel and the tunnel and its rock wall on the west side due to plant growth which is excessive in some points.
The Rider Panel
The series of hypothetical, but probable, reworkings undergone by this panel (Reade and Anderson 2013), together with weathering by atmospheric agents and vandalism over the centuries (the base of the relief is a little more than 2 m from the ground, and may therefore be reached easily) have resulted in notable deterioration (Annex 4). Most of the figures once represented are illegible. Part of the torso and muzzle of the horse and part of its legs may still be seen, while the figure of the rider has almost completely disappeared, apart from the presence of a long spear that crosses the panel horizontally. Lastly, a large opening on the north side, due to the presence of a late antique tomb or hermitage, has removed a good part of what remained of the original representation (Pl. 4.a.1.3).
The stretch of cliff that contains the Rider Panel and the Great Relief is flanked by a series of openings due to tombs carved into the rock in late antique times that deface not only the rock face, but also the large rock relief (Pl. 4.a.1.2).
The Great Relief
A hole caused by a late antique tomb dug into the rock has removed part of the left figure of Sennacherib and a second larger tomb or hermitage entrance has destroyed a large portion of the symmetrically-placed figure on the right. The large hole in the upper part of the panel has also completely eliminated the face of the goddess Mullissu, most of whose figure is affected by advanced erosion due to the type of limestone and stains caused by the flow of rainwater.
The entire panel is crossed by horizontal bands from which material has been lost due to the presence of sandstone layers particularly sensitive to weathering processes (Pl. 4.a.1.2).
The holes, five of various sizes, greatly limit the power of suggestion of this relief which – given its dimensions and location next to the Monolith, right at the start of the canal, must have been an imposing symbol of the king’s royal power and divine nature.
The damage is so extensive that restoration is not possible; conservation treatment must be followed by cleaning, consolidation and protection (Annex 4).
The small lion bases placed on the top of the rock relief are largely eroded, while the sculpture that might have originally stood on the central pedestal has disappeared.
At present the Monolith is broken into several pieces, some of which have probably fallen into the water, including two large blocks which are separated and lie more than a metre apart due to slippage. The sculpted parts are on the east and north faces. The southern part seems not to be worked and the eastern side lies face down. The Monolith has thus suffered considerable damage; in addition to the two large blocks still in situ, many fragments of the upper position and north face have disappeared (Annex 4).
There has also been vandalism, some of it very recent, involving the possibly intentional removal of the head of the lamassu that was visible on the north-eastern side of the block until at least 1978, when R.M. Boehmer visited the site and photographed the Monolith (Pl. 4.a.1.4; Boehmer 1997, Taff. 35:2 and 36:1).
But the worst damage has been suffered by the archaeological site as a whole, that luckily is currently without any particularly imposing architectural structure. An intervention of landscape restoration that will be carefully evaluated in the future involves the recovery of the various components of the Monolith, their reassembly and fixing, the possible integration of missing parts then its relocation in an upright position (Pl. 2.d.1.4).
The quarry, located at the top of the ramp used for the downslope transport of stone blocks as these were gradually extracted, is now an area occupied by low vegetation and a few large blocks of limestone that have fallen from the back wall. Exactly in its southern corner, there currently stands a huge limestone slab that is largely detached from the wall and constitutes a considerable danger for both tourists and the reliefs themselves (Annex 2).
The area needs to be properly cleaned, cleared of the numerous bushes that grow there, and made safe by fixing or breaking up any limestone blocks that are coming loose. Once made accessible for visitors, it constitutes an exceptional vantage point from which to appreciate the natural landscape of the gorge, the River Gomel, and the start of the canal.
Niches and inscriptions
The sculpted niches differ greatly with respect to their states of preservation. The sovereign’s figure, where present, is largely incomplete and particularly eroded by exfoliation phenomena and weathering. The three niches with the Bavian inscription have many missing areas, but as a whole the various parts left allow the text to be completely reconstructed (Table 2.d.1.6).
Almost all the niches are located in the upper part of the rock face and are therefore out of the reach of direct vandalism, although – due to events in recent years – some show signs of firearm damage.
The state of preservation of this large structure is under threat and problematic. The aqueduct’s original shape appears to have been considerably compromised on the south face of the west section. Here, following a collapse of the structure due to water pressure, subsidence of the underlying geological substratum or seismic events, the face was completely rebuilt in the post-Assyrian period. This is shown by a number of features including the evident detachment of the masonry wall from the original structure; the repair was conducted using limestone blocks set in courses that step inwards with increased height (as in a buttress, for example). The uppermost series of blocks – perhaps recycled from another building – bear cuneiform writing, with respect to which they were assembled in an absolutely random manner (Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935; Fales and Del Fabbro 2014).
The aqueduct is now divided into two large sections due to a considerable loss of construction material in the central part. From here, where the arches under which flowed the stream from the wadi were located, most of the squared blocks were taken to be reused in the Yazidi village existing in 1930s (drawn by Jacobsen and Lloyd and later abandoned) or elsewhere. Some inscribed ashlars are presently located in a private museum in Duhok. The original flooring may be seen only on some small areas in the eastern and western sectors; the edge on each side of the canal, which served to contain the water pressure, has completely disappeared. Finally, a dangerous vegetation consisting of plants, shrubs and bushes, not only spoils the building’s appearance, but also threatens to destroy its solidity due to uncontrolled growth within the various cracks present between the blocks (Pl. 4.a.2).
Widespread dampness and the presence of pools of water has caused the growth of moss and lichen found on many of the blocks that are less exposed to direct sunlight. This phenomenon has been detected on some internal blocks exposed by the collapse of the external parts. In particular, the blocks bearing inscriptions are practically illegible due to the accumulation on them of organic material over the centuries.
The various building components are scattered about randomly; the prevailing sensation is that of general abandonment and indeed of the almost total absence of periodic maintenance and conservation work.
Maltai is located south-west of the town of Duhok and about 450 m to the left of the Rubar Duhok river. The rock reliefs are carved on an almost vertical natural scarp running east-west along a steep slope at about 200 m above Duhok. A series of four panels was carved on the natural limestone wall, each about 6 m wide and 2 m high; the first three are closer together and the fourth located several tens of metres away.
All the panels have been noticeably damaged by weathering and vandalism consisting of graffiti, application of oil paint, and removal of parts of the reliefs. In one of the rock reliefs there is a large gap caused by a tomb or monk’s hermitage dug in the late antique period, while a large portion depicting the royal figure has been removed from the first panel.
In 2018, a further case of serious destruction of part of the first rock relief occurred, motivated by the erroneous but widespread belief that there are hidden treasures behind the rock sculptures.
Deterioration caused by atmospheric agents and the presence of rainwater and damp has resulted in the growth of mosses and lichens and formation of dripping stains (Pl. 4.a.3).
In the zone of influence of the four panels, residual karst and microkarst forms were detected, some probably intercommunicating, as well as ancient travertine deposits. Since they are located immediately underneath the base of the panels, about thirty centimetres below, these deposits do not have significant influence on the rock reliefs’ state of preservation (Annex 3).
This location is very isolated and difficult to reach by means of an impervious path, has need of systems for the monitoring of deterioration processes and an adequate surveillance system to avoid isolated and undisturbed episodes of vandalism.
The Shiru Maliktha rock relief, which probably represents Sennacherib himself, is now completely eroded and in a state of total abandonment.
The path that goes from the rock relief into the Bandawai Valley runs beside the remains of an underground channel dug into the rock and leads to the well from which the tunnel begins, is difficult to walk on, badly maintained and overgrown. In this regard, the Archaeological Park project involves the establishment of a trekking path that leads to the various archaeological remains identified by LoNAP and allows the enjoyment of the beautiful scenery and the archaeological sites of different periods located along it.
The part of the valley to the south of the restaurant was equipped until recently with small huts built with local canes that have now been destroyed. The area, however, possesses an excellent recreational potential that offers the opportunity of spending a pleasant day outdoors next to a cool river, in addition to organized visits to the site (Pl. 4.a.4).
The first phase of the methodological path consisted of the acquisition of the cartographic documentation relating to the archaeological complex…
The project is aimed at the conservation of cultural heritage and the strengthening of the local economy through the creation of an Archaeological Environmental Park.
Sennacherib’s irrigation system was built by the Neo-Assyrian ruler to bring water to his new capital, Nineveh, and to irrigate its hinterland.