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The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA; more commonly referred to as the IRA, the Provos, or by some of its supporters as the army or the Ra) is an Irish Republican paramilitary organisation. The organisation has been outlawed and classified as a terrorist group in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and many other countries. Since its emergence in 1969, its stated aim has been the reunification of Ireland, which it believed could not be achieved without an armed campaign directed against British rule in Northern Ireland. more...

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On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using "purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means" and that " Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever".

Like all other organisations calling themselves the IRA (see List of IRAs), the Provisionals refer to themselves in public announcements and internal discussions as Óglaigh na hÉireann (literally "Volunteers of Ireland"), the official Irish language title of the Irish Defence Forces (the Irish army).


The Provisional IRA has its ideological and organisational roots in the pre-1969 anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army. This organisation split into two groups at its Special Army Convention in December 1969, mainly over the issue of abstentionism and over the question on how to respond to the escalating violence in Northern Ireland. The two groups that emerged from the split became known as the Official IRA (which espoused a Marxist analysis of Irish partition) and the Provisional IRA.

Although a split in the IRA was inevitable given the irreconcilability of the two factions, a number of ministers of the then Fianna Fáil government attempted to help the fledgling Provisionals by purchasing arms for them. This gave rise to the Arms Crisis scandal of 1970, and marked the end of Fianna Fail's transition from the "slightly constitutional" party (with an ambiguous attitude to political violence) established by Eamon de Valera in 1926 to a completely constitutional one.

The main figures in the early Provisional IRA were Seán Mac Stiofáin (who served as the organisation's first chief of staff), Ruairí Ó Brádaigh (the first president of Provisional Sinn Féin), Dáithí Ó Conaill, and Joe Cahill. All served on the first Provisional IRA Army Council. The Provisional appellation deliberately echoed the "Provisional Government" proclaimed during the 1916 Easter Rising.

The Provisionals maintained a number of the principles of the pre-1969 IRA. It considered British rule in Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Ireland to be illegitimate. Like the pre-1969 IRA, it believed that the IRA Army Council was the legitimate government of the all-island Irish Republic. This belief was based on a complicated series of perceived political inheritances which constructed a legal continuity from the Second Dáil. Most of these abstentionist principles were abandoned in 1986, although Sinn Féin still refuses to take its seats in the British parliament.

Initially, both the Official IRA and Provisional IRA espoused military means to pursue their goals. Unlike the Officials, however, the Provisionals called for a more aggressive campaign against the Northern Ireland state. While the Officials were initially the larger organisation and enjoyed more support from the republican constituency, the Provisionals came to dominate, especially after the Official IRA declared an indefinite ceasefire in 1972.


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The Bekhme dam project in Kurdistan Iraq: a threat to the archaeology of the archaeology of the upper Zagros river valley
From International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 1/1/05 by Ralph S. Solecki


Owing to unusual circumstances in Iraq in the early 1990s the building of a dam across the Greater Zab River in the vicinity of a small village called Bekhme was stopped and the project abandoned. With this termination, the archaeology of this part of the Greater Zab River, called the Sapna Valley, was given a reprieve. Known sites of archaeological interest were spared, including Zawi Chemi Shanidar, an open village site dating back to the 11th millennium B.P. and the 4-5th century A.D. respectively (Solecki, Rose, 1980), at least three monasteries and one synagogue site. Shanidar Cave, an important Stone Age site with a long prehistory, lies above the planned reservoir level. But access to it would not be easy. No systematic archaeological survey of the total area had been made beyond cursory investigations made by the author in the early 1950's and later (Solecki, Ralph, 1971, 1952). The author was prompted to write this paper when he found a tourist map of the 1980s showing the Bekhme dam and reservoir already in existence, an error compounded in Gavin Young's (1980) book, in his map of northern Iraq.

The author spent in total about 14 months during 1951, 1953, 1956-7, 1960, 1978 and 1993 in Kurdistan Iraq and the Sapna Valley area of the Greater Zab River basin (Fig. 1). Since events in this region were rarely static, a description of the situation in any single year could not hold for long. Therefore we are compelled to narrate our descriptions chronologically.

One of the low points in our own era was in 1975, when there was an evacuation of the valley and the inhabitants deported under threat that the dam was being built. As for the cultural situation, to make a comprehensive assessment, there ought to be a study of extant government records as well as the records of local religious organizations. Reverend Wigram (the Kurds called him "Rabi") appears to have been the only observer to leave a record of his travels up the Sapna valley from Amadia to Rowanduz and Persia (Wigram, W.A. and Edgar T.A. Wigram, 1914). His later work (1929) gives us many first-hand observations made over his decade of residence in Amadia, in the heartland of the valley. His membership was instrumental in maintaining the presence in the district of the "Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission," at the behest of the "Nestorian" or "Assyrian" Church (Wigram and Wigram, 1914:viii).


The upper Greater Zab River valley and its environment.

Looking down river from a point near Amadia, in the upper long reaches of the Greater Zab River, a major branch of the Tigris River, one is treated to a breath-taking panoramic view of the valley (Pl. 1). Wigram and Wigram (1914) called it the Sapna Valley. A gem in Kurdistan Iraq for its picturesque beauty, the valley is about 70 miles long. It is bounded by three major anticlinal mountain ranges trending in a general northwest-southeast direction. The mountains, higher on the northern side or left bank of the river, rise sheer to about 6,000 feet in the Baradost Range, and the Berat Dagh, up to about 5,000 feet high on the southern side or right bank of the river. Unique in the mountain landscape in the southern part of the Sapna valley are the eroded parts of the jagged, upturned Aqra limestone beds, resembling "dragon's teeth." This is a very prominent and impressive feature, and an unusual phenomenon in Kurdistan. It can be see from afar. The river, like a blue ribbon, is hemmed in by these high mountains, on both sides entrenched in a synclinal valley. The Sapna Valley may be divided into two parts by a deep narrow gorge about midway at a place called the Pira Sar Gorge. It is about 10 km down-stream from Bille, near the left bank hamlet called Gundi Shkaft, below Shanidar Cave. The gorge is in Aqra limestone about 150m thick. It is the place where, until recently, the Herki tribe on its annual migration to the mountains crossed the river on a makeshift bridge. Shanidar valley lies in the lower part of the Sapna Valley in conjunction with the Rowanduz River valley. The valley begins downstream from this gorge and extends for about 21 km, including part of the Rowanduz River. Hamilton (1947:83-85) describes the wending path of the Rowanduz River through immense gorges and cliffs, which he described as among the most impressive in Asia.

About 3 km below its junction with the Rowanduz River, the Greater Zab River makes an abrupt right angle turn changing its course southwestward through the Bekhme Gorge to its confluence with the Tigris River. The Zagros mountain ranges are composed of parallel and sub-parallel anticlinal folds of Cretaceous age limestone and marls. (Hitchin, 1948).

Unlike mountain scenes in Turkey and Greece, the mountains are clothed in green vegetation and woods. This region is characterized broadly as "open forest" on topographic maps. Van Zeist (1969:41-43) noted that there might have been pockets of forests and steppes in a kind of refugium during the colder Pleistocene Age in this part of the Zagros.

The climate in the valleys of central Kurdistan has been identified as Mediterranean, continental to a certain extent, and even arid. There are cold winter storms of rain and snow; there is summer drought and heat. Warm maritime air from the Mediterranean Sea swings into the valley, controlled by the arc of the Zagros Mountains. The southwestward facing fronts of the Zagros receive and, like a giant funnel, direct the initial forces of the winter storms. The isohyets appear to follow the contour lines, unloading much of the precipitation before it reaches the higher elevations of the Zagros. The Baradost Mountain or Dagh, standing like a sheer rampart above the Sapna Valley, is one of the first ranges to receive the brunt of the winter storms. The highest precipitation for Iraq was recorded nearby, east of Rowanduz at Penjuin at 1,340 mm. (Buringh, 1960: 35-42). In the Sapna Valley the rainfall is about 1,100 mm. per year (Buringh, 1960:fig.16). W.B. Fisher (1950:50) believes that much of the fertility of the Mesopotamian steppeland is due to this phenomenon.

A curious freak of nature in the area of Shanidar is the fogging of the river valley bottom in the early morning, occurring especially in the fall. The joining of the two rivers, the Greater Zab and the Rowanduz, with their differing water temperatures, is probably the cause, because the greatest concentration of fog appears to be at their junction. Shanidar valley is considerably warmer than the Mergasur valley, which lies to the east and on the cooler side of the Baradost Mountain. Moreover, Shanidar valley is warmer than the northern end of the valley, as one might expect. When snow falls in the upper reaches of the Greater Zab River and the higher elevations, only rain falls at Shanidar until well into the winter.

Concerning vegetation, Buringh (1960:227) gives us elevation figures of 500 m to 2,000 m for mainly oak forest on the lower mountain slopes, and mainly grass vegetation at between 2,000 to 3,000 m on the higher mountain slopes. Alpine vegetation is found at elevations over 4,000 m in the higher mountains of the Zagros. Presently trees are more abundant on the borders of rivers and streams, and sparsely distributed elsewhere. Generally the trees (Quercus aegilops), the oaks, grow to about 20 feet high. They are closely cropped by herders using billhooks to crop off branches to feed their goats. Taller and larger trees were reported to grow on the opposite side of the Greater Zab River from Shanidar. Hay 1921:242) notes seeing oak trees two feet in diameter in the valley. Flowers are in great abundance during springtime in the valley. The most conspicuous flower was the red anemone. Hay (1921) mentions that he counted thirty varieties of flowers. They included the scarlet and yellow ranunculus, several kinds of iris, the grape hyacinth, the poppy, and the hollyhocks in two colors. In the area of Shanidar, the hollyhocks grew in such profusion they made a virtual carpet.

The soils in the valley are the chestnut soils, with shallow, stone and sloping phases, bordered by broken stony and rough mountainous land. Flat terrain suitable for agriculture is not a major component of the landscape. There appeared to be a laxity in farming. This might have been due in large part to cultural hindrances over which the farmers had no control. The farmers were not yet introduced to the steel plow, and used a Neolithic style wood plow drawn by oxen. The observer was left with the impression that the people could have produced more for themselves instead of importing vegetables. The country appeared to have plenty of potential for the growing of truck products. It is probable that incentive to change farming practices and produce more was stifled by the system of taxation imposed by the local agha, as well as the almost constant unrest.

Terrace gravels occur at four distinct horizons above the present river level, as noted by Hitchin and corroborated by H.E. Wright (1961). Isolated deposits occur at frequent intervals up the Greater Zab and Rowanduz valleys. Many are lime--cemented and evidently represent the deposits of past pluvial periods. They often contain material heavier and coarser than what the present river is able to carry, even in flood. The terraces are present at the 4,5, 35-40 and 90-100 m levels above the present low river level.

Kurds used the river for occasional transport by means of rafts. These were made of inflated goat skins, as depicted on some ancient Assyrian stone reliefs, or constructed of logs. On June 8, 1957, several persons were seen going down river on a log raft measuring 12 feet square. The raft carried some kind of cargo covered with a cloth. There was an earlier report that a raft load of men and horses tumbled into the river near Shanidar. Only two men survived.

The Backround of the Bekhme Dam Project

The Bekhme Gorge site is located on the Greater Zab River, one of the larger tributaries of the Tigris River. It is about 26 km northwest of Rowanduz and 110 km east northwest of Mosul. It had been identified as a good place for a high dam as early as 1937 when the area for the dam site was explored first by E.V. Richards (Hitchin, 1948). Hamilton (1947) also noted that the Bekhme Gorge was a good site for a dam. The Greater Zab River and its tributaries, the Rowanduz and Ru Kuchuk among the largest, have catchment areas in the Zagros Mountains. These contribute great quantities of snow melt during the spring and early summer months. The Bekhme Gorge, about 5.5 km long, cuts at right angles through a major mountain range reaching to 1500m. It is called Berat Dagh in Kurdish. There is no apparent reason for the breach of the mountain at this point. The river may have been an ancient superimposed river on the landscape. Hitchin (1948) comments that a detailed investigation of the gorge area indicated no major fault weakness in the rock, which could have influenced the Greater Zagros River to channel through at this point. Selected in 1945, the site for the proposed high dam was in the neighborhood of a small peasant village at the northern end of the gorge near the entry way called Der-e-Tesu, or Der-Tesu, below the junction of the Greater Zab and the Rowanduz rivers. Bekhme village lies at the southern end or exit of the gorge on the right bank of the Zab River. It was not directly affected by the work on the dam. As originally decided, the dam was to be located at the Der-Tesu village site. The rock in the gorge is Aqra limestone, which Hitchin believes had been cut through solely by the erosive action of the swift flowing river. The flood pool reservoir elevation as suggested in the Hitchin report would be at 550m. The reservoir made behind the dam at this elevation would make for a long, narrow lake about 20 miles long. After considerable expense and study during the initial stages, it was decided that the area of the dam site chosen was too honey-combed with holes and would not hold water. Consequently the project as planned was abandoned.

In 1976, nearly 30 years later, engineers made another evaluation for a dam site on the Greater Zab River for the Harza Engineering International Corporation of Chicago (Anonymous, 1976). The company had prepared a report on three alternative sites for the proposed high dam. One for flood control and irrigation, Project A, suggested a site 3.5 km from Raizan, upstream from Shanidar. It would be suitable for a reservoir at an elevation of 750 m. A suggested normal elevation of 675 m, much higher than the elevation proposed by Hitchin, would have spared the cave site, but would engulf a greater number of sites at lower elevations. Proposal project B places the dam at the Bekhme Gorge, actually at the site suggested in the earlier survey by Hitchin. A reservoir elevation of 550 m, a corroboration of Hitchin's suggestion, is called for in the Harza report. This elevation would reach up the Greater Zab River some 5 km above the villages of Bille and Barzan. It would also cover the villages of Shanidar and Raizan on the left bank of the river, and smaller settlements on the right bank. A small settlement of less half a dozen dwellings called Gundi Shkaft, situated just below Shanidar Cave, would be also covered. The new steel bridge, which had replaced the old Herki bridge of poles over the Greater Zab River near Raizan, would also be covered. Before entering the Bekhme Gorge, the peasant village of Malmen at the junction of the Rowanduz and Greater Zab rivers, would be affected. Going the other way, up the Ruwanduz River, the bridge over the river and the villages of Jeferkhan and Khalan would be covered. The Bekhme project called for flood control, irrigation, power, and possible recreation (!). Project C in the Harza report suggested a dam site at an unspecified location farther downstream, making for a reservoir elevation at 500 m. This project would call for flood irrigation and power, and possible recreation. None of these objectives would really benefit the Barzanis, whose lands would be inundated. Not discussed in the report is the need for power, since Iraq has an abundance of oil deposits, making it one of the world's largest energy producers. Turkey, on the other hand, with a critical need for power, realized that need by constructing dams on the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. There are several pages of references to construction, technical and legal implications of the Bekhme dam and reservoir to be found on the Internet.

During Saddam Hussein's regime, the Bekhme dam project was evidently resurrected. There was a transparently ulterior motive for constructing the dam in the late 80's and early 90's. Mulla Mustafa, the leader of the Barzani tribe, whose lands lay in the Sapna Valley, had become a strong adversary of the Iraq government. To punish him and the Barzanis, Saddam Hussein determined to flood them out with the Bekhme dam. In southern Iraq, in a similar retribution for the antagonism of the Marsh Arabs, he had a system of canals and barrages built across the rivers feeding the marshes, draining the water out of the region and leaving it dry (New York Times, March 8, 2005).

From verbal information in Baghdad, the Bekhme dam site was selected and work was well underway in 1989. The site selected was the same as that suggested by Hitchin, at the northern end of the Bekhme Gorge proximate to the peasant village of Der-Tesu. Evidently the new engineering study had come up with a new solution to deal with the holes in the limestone rock.

In the Hitchin (1948) report, the Bekhme site was thought to be a satisfactory location for a dam on Shirwanish limestone. A dam of arched gravity type 394 feet (120 m) above the stream bed with a crest length of approximately 600 m (1,770 feet) was one of the recommendations. A concrete dam was suggested, although a rock-fill type dam could be constructed. The Harza report quoted a reservoir level of 550 m. This would create a much larger reservoir pool than would have been gained following Hitchin's suggestion of a 488m elevation. This would flood a number of peasant villages in the valley, including Khalan, Shanidar, Raizan, Bille, and some of the larger ones.

Apparently the Directorate General of Antiquities Department of Iraq had departed from its normal procedure of having an archaeological inspection of projected reservoir areas made here as on the Lesser Zab River and on the Euphrates. The Proto-Neolithic site of Zawi Chemi Shanidar, dating back to the 9th millennium, would be lost. It is situated on the second terrace above the Greater Zab River at 445 m elevation. Lost too would be an opportunity to find other open sites in the valley along the river. The approaches to Shanidar Cave by road would be wiped out, and normal access to it broken.

All of the discussions and plans, even the work on the dam project, became an academic subject in 1991. Following the onset of the first invasion by the United States and the defeat of the Iraq army, there were arguments between the Kurdish nationalist leadership and Iraqi officials over the fate of the Kurds in northern Iraq. At an impasse in negotiations, the Kurds took matters into their own hands. They dismantled the Bekhme dam works. In the Aug. 4, 1991 San Francisco Times, Thomas Goltz reported that the Kurds had turned the unfinished dam into a virtual "gold mine." To the Kurds, the project was designed and intended primarily to inundate Kurdish lands. It was therefore a target of their hatred. Up to the time of its completion, the project cost $1.5 billion. It was a joint venture of Istanbul-based ENKA Insaat and the Yugoslav Hydrogranda. Consulting work was done by the San Francisco-based Bechtel International.

When Americans became involved in the project, U.S. Ambassador April Glasspie (Randal, 1997) made a visit to the site prior to its dismantlement. The dam had not been touched by U.S. aerial bombardment during the invasion of Iraq. Unprotected by the Iraqis, and abandoned by the Iraqi army, the dam site became a unique source of ripe revenue for the Kurds. Everything removable and saleable went, including trucks, tractors, steel girders, machinery, electrical cables and miscellany. Even scrap metal was hauled across the border to Iran where it was sold. According to the report, it was unclear as to whom the proceeds of the sales went. Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) avowed no knowledge of the looting of the dam site. In a counter statement, Barzani noted that money was needed to rebuild 4,000 villages were destroyed and life disrupted by Saddam Hussein since 1975.

Summary of the History of Conflicts of the Kurds in the Greater Zab River Valley

We begin with the history of conflicts in this part of northern Iraq in the 19th century. To attempt to detail prior history is beyond the scope of this paper. However, it is known that the Medes had dominated this part of the Zagros by 650 B.C. Needless to say, the inhabitants suffered during the times of early Christianity, from the Nestorians in the 5th century to Tamerlane and his hosts seven centuries later.

Jenghiz Khan, also known as Temuchin (born in 1162) destroyed for the sake of destruction (Wigram, W.A. 1929:117-123). Religious fanaticism had nothing to do with his willful depradations. The countries he invaded never fully recovered, and many areas were depopulated. Wigram (op.cit.:121) makes an interesting note that he shunned hill country, which could mean that at least some of the Kurds in their mountain fastnesses were bypassed. For a while, it seemed that Tartars, torn between accepting the Christian or the Islamic faith, would adopt Christian (Nestorian) belief (Wigram, 1929:129).

Hulagu, the grandson of Jenghis Khan, perhaps better known as Tamerlane, had a strange and terrifying reputation. He is best known for having sacked Baghdad in 1258. His background indicates that he was educated by a Nestorian priest, and his mother and wife as well were Nestorians. His wife persuaded him to be more lenient with the Christians on his campaigns. However, he never became a Christian. Strangely, he was looked upon by the Christians of his day as "their champion" (Frazier, Ian New Yorker, April 25, 2005;48-55). In the 13th century, the Mongols were on the fence between Christianity and the Islamic faith (Wigram, 1929:133-4). The Moslem rulers in Syria and Egypt were their enemies, and for a while were the deciding point, thwarting Hulagu's wishes to advance his "dominion" to the Mediterannean. In this, he had hoped for Christian help, but it never materialized (Wigram, ibid). One can make all kinds of scenarios for the world from this single failure of Hulagu. For several generations, the Mongols had been willing at least, to accept Christianity rather than Islam as their national faith. Wigram (1929:139) thinks that had the Mongols accepted Christianity, it would have been a blessing to rule both in the east and in half of Europe. In any case, following the reign of Hulagu, the eastern Christians were left in peace, for a while. Unfortunately for them, the Tartar rulers finally chose Islam as their faith, thereby upsetting the balance. Wigram (1929:141-145) notes that when the Tartars were still pagans, they had looked upon Christians as "equals." But when the Mongols accepted Islam, Christianity was put into an adversarial position.

Hulagu's ruthlessness knew no bounds. Even when the Christians submitted to him and his demands, he destroyed all of their churches. On one of his campaigns, much like the Nazi campaigns in Poland and Russia, he virtually depopulated the Mosul-Erbil district. He focused on the area because it was a Christian province at one time, and the "stronghold" of the Assyrian Christian church. Wigram (1929:153) notes that between the years 1350-1550, the "Period of the Mongol Khans," there is almost a blank in the history of the Assyrian "millet" and the church.

We are told that the survivors retreated to the Zagros mountains to the northeast and settled in the area of the Hakkiari. The Greater Zab River and its tributaries were the focal points of their hegira, particularly the gorges thereof. These mountain fastnesses were almost impenetrable to ordinary military forces. There the newcomers remained until the 20th century, when WW I swept them along with the rest of the world.

In the first part of the 19th century, Rowanduz and surrounding area was dominated by a blind ruler called "Kor Pasha" (Hamilton, 1937:92). In 1814, Mir Mohammed, the ruler of Rowanduz, attacked the neighboring tribes including the Surchi, Shirwani and Baradosti. He controlled a huge slice of territory outside the Rowanduz area, including that part bounded by the two Zab rivers, the Tigris River, and the Persian border He also attacked and seized Amadia in 1833 (MacDowell, 1996:42-43).

In 1837, the spiritual and temporal leader of the Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian tribes in the Tiyari district of the Greater Zab River valley area, Mar Shimun, sent a force of 3,000 men to the defense of Amadia against the Moslem Ottoman forces (MacDowell, 1996:45-46).

In 1845 disaster struck when, representing the Ottomans, the Kurdish chieftain Badr Khan plowed through the Nestorian region with 70,000 men on a rampage of massacres. There was a second invasion and much killing in the following year. Nestorian villages were destroyed and laid waste. Badr Khan was evidently so full of himself that he declared himself independent of the Ottoman empire. He went so far as to mint his own coinage. Of course this did not sit well with the central government, and he was forced to surrender in the same year. He was exiled to Crete (MacDowell, 1996:46-7).

The events of World War I, involving the Ottoman Turks, the Germans, the British and the Kurds, threw Kurdistan into great turmoil and disorder. Battles inundated Kurdistan for four years. During that war, Baradusti Kurds ejected the Assyrians from Amadia. In 1916, the Russians launched an attack against Rowanduz (MacDowall, 1996:103-106). Hamilton (1942:182) relates that when the Russians occupied Rowanduz, a squadron of cavalry "unwittingly" charged over the cliff into the gorge below to their deaths. And this without the canons of the "Light Brigade." Russian soldiers laid waste the countryside. Rowanduz was left in ruins. After WW I, only 60 houses out of 2,000 in Rowanduz were left standing.

In 1919 there was a serious outbreak of trouble in the Barzan-Zibar area. The Barzanis and their oft-time rivals, the Zibaris, looted the large village of Aqra, killing the local political officer and most of his retinue. In retaliation, the British burned the homes of the Zibari and Barzani chiefs. The British also resorted to aerial bombardment using the Hawker Hart day bomber, the single engine two-seater fighter planes affectionately (or maybe not so affectionately) known as "string bags." (Taylor, J.H., 1985:36-37; Austin A. and A. Dicks, 1989:486). Flying over the rough, mountainous terrain with its updrafts and downdrafts must have been no picnic for the pilots of the fragile, cloth bound, wire held, carriage wheeled ships. In the same year, two batteries of Assyrian Levies were given the task of "clearing" certain areas for refugee settlement. In 1920, when the Assyrians could not return to their homes, they attacked and razed Barzan village (MacDowell, 1996:153-5,160).

In 1920 the British established an R.A.F. aerodrome at Diyana, a safe Christian village near Rowanduz. Diyana was the chief Assyrian Christian village in Iraq, and a source for reliable labor. British Levies were also stationed there. (Hamilton, 1937:66). Ottoman Turks succeeded the Russians in occupying Rowanduz in 1921-2 (MacDowell, 1996:139). Joined by the Kurds, they were entrenched on Kurrek Dagh above Rowanduz. (Hay, 1921:192,254). At the end of the mandate, the British turned over the Diyana aerodrome to the Iraqis. Not until 1932 were the Levies disbanded. (Hamilton, 1937:66).

In 1922, the R.A.F. received overall responsibility from the ground forces. There was no fear of running out of manpower to soldier the wars. The British had at their command native troops stationed in India to draw on as needed.

World War I resulted in terrific numbers of casualties in Kurdistan. In the Baradost tribe alone, out of 1,000 families, only 157 survived. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 people perished. Of this number, over half a million were Kurdish civilians. R.A.F. bombings alone had destroyed 1,365 out of 2,382 dwellings in 79 villages (MacDowell, 1996:108-9, 179-180).

Not having learned his lesson, Sheikh Ahmad Barzani wanted to establish a Kurdish kingdom, with himself as its head. To this end, in 1931 he made war on the Baradust Kurds. This apparently caused Sheikh Rashid of Lolan, the leader of the Baradusti tribe, to call for an attack against Barzani villages. Raids and counterattacks ensued. Sheikh Ahmad drove Sheikh Rashid to seek refuge in Iran. In an apparent effort to quell the tribal conflict, an Iraqi strike force attacked the Barzanis. But things seemed to have turned against the hapless Iraqis. They had to be rescued by British air support. A second Iraqi force occupied Mergasur in the following year, only to be defeated once again by the Barzanis. But with the help of the R.A.F., Iraqi forces at last occupied Barzan. Denying the Iraqi forces vengeance, in 1932 Sheikh Ahmad surrendered to Turkish troops on the frontier. Sheikh Ahmad's two brothers, Mohammad Sadiq and Mulla Mustafa, surrendered soon after the R.A.F. dropped amnesty leaflets (MacDowell, 1996:179-180).

In 1943, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, Sheikh Ahmad's brother, took it upon himself to revolt against the Iraq government. At the time there was severe stress in Kurdistan. Harvests failed and there was famine and starvation. The government retaliated against the Barzanis. Unfriendly to the Barzanis, the Surchis and the Zibaris sided with the government (MacDowell, 1996:290-291,293). Mulla Mustafa's revolt was crushed in 1945. He fled the country for Russia, from where he was allowed to communicate with his people. He was later pardoned by King Faisal's government, and returned to Iraq in October, 1958. Bitter, he called "criminal" the enemies of the Barzanis: the Harkis, Surchis, Baradustis and the Zibaris. (MacDowell, 1996: 303,306).

In 1961 there was another Kurdish revolt, this one against Karim Qasim after his takeover of the Iraq government (MacDowell, 1996:306-313), (Bulloch and Morris, 1975:125). Mulla Mustafa was at odds with neighboring Kurdish tribes, including the Baradustis, Pizhda, Harkis, and Surchis (MacDowell, 1996:306-7). Barzan fell to the forces of the Qasim government in 1963 (Bulloch and Morris, 1992:127). That same year the Iraqi army mounted an offensive against Amadia and Rowanduz in 1963 (MacDowell, 1996:315). Spottily reported in American newspapers, these events stalled our hopes for further investigations at Shanidar.

In yet another Kurdish insurrection beginning in 1974, Mulla Mustafa Barzani planned to hold a line extending from Zakho to the Darbandikan area. His move prompted the Iraq government to take Amadia, Aqra, Rowanduz, Rania and Qala Diza. In 1975, the Iraqis bombed towns and villages in Kurdistan. To no avail (Bulloch and Morris, 1992:136). There ensued a program of Arabization or "ethnic cleansing," resulting in the forced deportation of Kurds. (Bulloch and Morris, 1992:146-7). Some 1,400 Kurdish villages were said to have been razed by the government (MacDowell, 1996:337,339). Saddam Hussein deported the Barzanis from the valley and dumped them in southern Iraq in 1975. In 1980 he relocated them south of Erbil. He took Barzani males over 13 years of age prisoners, numbering some 8,000. They were paraded through Baghdad before their execution. (MacDowell, 1996:148). This is reminiscent of the early days of the Roman Empire.

In 1987-88, a cousin of Karim Qasim, Ali Hassan al-Majid (also known as "Chemical Ali") was given the task of suppressing the Kurds. He ordered Kurdish villages razed and young male Kurds publicly executed. (Bulloch and Morris, 1992:159-160). In 1987, al-Majid declared large areas of Kurdistan in Iraq "prohibited" zones and issued this order: "Within their jurisdiction, the armed forces must kill any human being or animal present within these areas." Kurds were still living there. Between April and September of that year, he had 500 villages razed in order to destroy the sources of the troublesome "peshmerga's" food and shelter (MacDowell, 1996:353). In 1988, al-Majid introduced the gassing of the Kurds in the "Anfal" operations of genocide (MacDowell, 1996:357).

Survivors of the purges and vendettas who returned to the Sapna Valley in 1992 after Saddam Hussein's army had been routed in the Gulf War, found their old familiar landmarks gone entirely or unrecognizable. Everything had to be totally reconstructed. Their villages had been razed and rebuilt a number of times. Houses of worship, schools and police posts, and relatively substantial buildings, were prime targets. What land-based armies could not do with canon and dynamite, the Iraqi air force finished off with aerial bombardment. All of this has made locating the sites of churches, monasteries and synagogues difficult. At Shanidar, during one of the attacks, the Assyrians took their church/monastery up the Baradost mountain overlooking Shanidar to a cave site called Der-Eshki. There they were safer from airborne attacks simply because pilots had difficulty locating their targets.

Religion in the Zab Valley

Previous to the coming of the Moslems and the Islamic religion, the Christians were said to own "the greater part of the area between the Tigris and foothills to the east from Kirkuk and upwards." In the third century, Christianity was cutting its eyeteeth in Rome and the provinces. Paganism and the old religions were on the decline, and Christianity, the new religion, was taking their place. (Hay, 1921:89). Christian settlements dotted the valley, including Amadia and other villages (Hay, 1921:89). Here we must include Shanidar, although it is not mentioned in the literature consulted. Islam, the new religion without all of the trappings of Christianity, followed closely on the heels of Christianity. Diyana, near Rowanduz, is one of the last holdout Christian villages of the lot. Now Christians live as a minority among a predominantly Moslem population.

The Jewish population of Iraq, another minority, were dyers, weavers and shop keepers whose principal goods were clothes. Curiously, they appeared to have an unusual monopoly in making arak, the "white lightning" liquor made from raisins. The Jews are said to have lived in Kurdistan for over two millennia. They were traders, and artisans in the larger settlements (Hay, 1921:42: 87-88). Some were peasants. There was an exodus of the Jewish population to Israel in 1948-52 (MacDowell, 1996:12).

Christians were always well represented in Kurdistan. First came the Armenians, then the Assyrians (also known as the Nestorians), and lastly the Chaldeans. The Nestorians broke with the Western Church in Rome in 431 A.D. They never regained their original strength after the Mongol invasions at the end of the 14th century. The Nestorians shrunk to small community groups called Assyrians in the Hakkari area of the Ottoman Empire (MacDowell, ibid.). In the 19th century the temporal and spiritual leader of the (Nestorian) Assyrians was the Mar Shimun of the Tiyari district of the Greater Zab River valley (Mc Dowall, 1996: 44). It was he who came to the rescue and defense of Amadia with 3,000 men in 1837 against the Ottoman oppressors (Mc Dowall, 1996:45-46). In the 16th century, the Chaldeans, who originally followed the same religion as the Nestorians, were persuaded to acknowledge the church in Rome as their spiritual leader (Hay, 1921: 87). Two or three centuries ago, the Chaldeans were centered around Rowanduz, but fled after the Russians withdrew their forces from Rowanduz in 1916 (Hay, 1921: 87-90).

Today, it may be said that with the exception of a few Christian enclaves, the majority of the Kurdish population are Moslems. However, they are not as strict in their observances of daily rituals and other observances as the followers of Islam in the larger cities of Iraq.

Christian churches, monasteries and Jewish synagogues in the Sapna Valley

Whereas in other areas of southwestern Asia, there are to be found many physical evidences of still established Christian churches, monasteries, and Jewish synagogues, in the upper part of the Greater Zab River, principally in our area of research, such evidence is sparse. Not only are physical constructions a rarity; the same is true of written records. Both have suffered greatly from the many wars fought in this land. Physical constructions are tempting targets because they are the most obvious. Written records, by virtue of their portability, were secreted in various places at different times. Religious leaders of the time tried to hide old records, stashing them in cracks in the mountainside, in caves, in other hiding places, or with the leading religious figure, such as the bishop of the area. We have accounts of Christians who have lost their minister, the only literate person among them, but still jealously safeguard moldy, deteriorating documents in the bleak hope that someone will read them.

Christianity appeared among the Kurds as a wave, spreading out from Rome in the third and fourth centuries. Most influential and notable was the spread of the Nestorians. Nestorious was the Bishop of Constantinople in 428-431. (Darke, D., 1990:269-270). He was rejected for heresy in 431, and had to leave for Syria and Persia where he was welcomed. At Shanidar at the Zawi Chemi village, we have archaeological proof of a Christian occupation evidenced by a stamped coin and dated ceramics with crosses on them. As late as the 15th century, many Nestorians found refuge in the mountain villages where they lived alongside the Kurds, many of whom adopted the Christian faith.

The Nestorians became easy targets of persecution and in the 19th century, relations were particularly bad between Nestorians and Kurdish neighbors who massacred them.

The People and Their Villages Viewed Chronologically

The Sapna and Shanidar vallies were home to three recognizable, related groups or tribes, the paramount of which is the Barzan tribe or family. Their homeland centered at the Barzan village, and is grouped on the left bank, or north side of the Sapna Valley. It includes the larger village of Bille, sometimes indicated on maps as Zibar. Down river, the cut off point is in the vicinity of the smaller villages of Raizan and Shanidar. Up river, the cutoff point appears to be in the neighborhood of Amadia. The right bank of Sapna Valley is in control of the Surchi tribe, which at least in the past, was not overly friendly with the more aggresive Barzanis. From Raizan down river past Shanidar village, the land is occupied by the tribal group called the Shirwani, a branch of the Barzanis. Continuing down river toward the Bekhme Gorge, at the village called Jeferkhan, the land is in control of still another group, unnamed. One of the Shanidar policemen said that Barzan territory extended from Amadia down the Zab River valley to Bekhme and beyond to the Persian border, an estimate that could be disputed.

The villages in the Sapna valley have undergone many radical changes. We note Massoud Barzani's observation that some 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed during Saddam Hussein's regime. This is indicative of the problem of trying to describe the character of Kurdish villages in the Sapna valley. The Iraqis under Saddam Hussein attacked and bombed the Kurdish villages from the air and sent in ground troops as well. They systematically bulldozed and bombed their homes and edifices, removed the Kurds from their homeland, and killed them without mercy. Earlier, in retribution for the acts of the wily Mulla Mustafa Barzani during the British mandate, the British sent the R.A.F. on bombing missions over Barzan villages. Airplanes continue to play an important part in Kurdistan Iraq. Following the 1991 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the defeat of Iraq forces by the United States army, pairs of low flying American jet fighter planes made regular passes up the Sapna valley with thunderous noise. This was part of the "no fly" zone.

What the author saw of the villages and associated buildings at various times in this valley during his work at Shanidar from 1951 to 1960 is now largely gone. The years 1953 and 1956-7 were outwardly problem free for those of us in the field. There was a great alarm in Kurdistan Iraq during the Suez war. We were later told by the American embassy that we were too far out and "beyond recall." We returned to Shanidar in 1960, when the local situation seemed to be more peaceful and were permitted to continue our archaeological investigations without incident. However, harbinger of some local difficulties, late in August 1960, our government representative received an official letter from the mutasarif of Erbil informing us not to go to Bille. No reason was given, but we assumed security reasons. The warning was well grounded, for hostilities broke out again among the Kurdish tribes in the valley in 1961 and in the years that followed.

In 1978, we launched an archaeological expedition to continue our work at Shanidar, which had to be aborted. Although we had received permission from the Directorate General of Antiquities in Baghdad, the army had not been notified of our intentions. Shortly after our arrival at Shanidar in June 1978, when our representatives went to pay a courtesy call to the military at Raizan, we were informed that we had to leave the field. Since there was no more police protection at Shanidar, the post having been demolished again, there was no protection for us. We had barely set up camp at Shanidar in the two days that we were there, when we had to evacuate.

A last quick visit to the valley in 1993, when conditions were calmer, revealed that there had been many changes in the types of building construction in the valley. The few villages the author visited and made notes on included Barzan, Shanidar and Bille. They are described below chronologically from my first visit in 1951. The notes and observations were not taken for a specific purpose, i.e., an ethnographic study, but as part of a record of daily events.

An article in the New York Times by Robert F. Worth (2005) said that mass graves of people killed by Saddam Hussein's government were found in northern Iraq. One mass grave, really a hole gouged into the ground near Samawa in southern Iraq contained what is believed to contain the bodies of 2,000 Barzanis. The article states that as many as 8,000 Barzanis disappeared in 1983 under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid. Related to this, in 1978, we had witnessed in Shaqlawa a convoy of open trucks with their sad burdens coming from the north. Each truck bore many women and children, huddled together anxiously, all either weeping or very sorrowful. Although tempting, a "photo-opportunity" at this time would have been dangerous.

1951: Shanidar Village

During my first survey of the Rowanduz area in July 1951, I visited the village of Shanidar. It is 29 miles by road from a place called Khalifan at the entry to Rowanduz Gorge, or Gali-ali-Beg. On the way to Shanidar, I noted a charcoal kiln smoldering on the roadside. There was a pit about 15 feet long with dirt heaped on top to a height of 2 1/2 feet. A whitish cloud and pungent wood smoke escaped from the pile. Charcoal is a commodity in great demand in Iraq, and although illegal, helped the economy. The village of Shanidar at elevation 495 m (1633 ft.) is situated on the left bank of the Zab River. It lies on the third terrace 210 ft. above the river. It is occupied by the Shirwani, a branch of the Barzani tribe. According to my informant, the village was much larger in fairly recent times, with 150 houses. At the time of my first visit, only 3 houses were occupied. The most prominent feature was the newly-built police post built of stones, like a Beau Geste fort. It was constructed in the "cookie cutter" plan quite similar to others in this part of Kurdistan Iraq. It had two bastions, one at either end. The police post, measuring about 100X100 feet, had living quarters ranged on one side. There were storerooms on the other side. A horse stable was ranged on the side opposite the single entrance. In the central court were two ranges of feeding troughs to accommodate about 20 horses. No horses or evidence of these animals were seen in the stable at the time of my visit. This police post replaced an earlier one destroyed by the Barzanis in their revolt in 1945. That whole structure had been brought down.

The new post was built by the Iraqis about 150 yards to the west, and closer to the river. The date 1947 was scratched on the concrete next to one of the rifle slots. This would date the approximate construction of the fort. Below the police post, on the lower second terrace the government (post 1945) had built four rows of stone built homes, joined together. Evidently they hoped that the originally dispossessed villagers would return to live in them. The cost of construction was said to be 1000 dinars. For some reason, this plan was not completely successful. All of the returning Shanidar villagers did not live in them. There were several scattered homes to the south of the police post. Evidently they preferred to live on the terrace above the government village on level with the police post. An informant said that the original Shanidar village had been built to the east of the police post. But this could not be verified by surface evidence.

My quarters in the police post were Spartan, but dry and substantial. My room was about 15 X 15 feet square, with a ceiling about 14 feet high. There was a single window 2 1/2 X 3 1/2 feet, the lentil about 7 1/2 feet from the floor. Facing the inner courtyard was a grated window measuring 4 feet high and 2 1/4 feet wide. There was a single wooden door entered from the inner court, and another door that led to an adjacent room. The floor was bare concrete. The furniture in the room was also Spartan. It consisted of a simple, locally made wooden table, a creaky wooden arm chair, 3 wall hooks and a nail. Four rusted iron beams supported the ceiling across its width. There was a wooden bed in the corner. My sleeping bag made up the bedding. My belongings were kept in two army footlockers, and in a box on the floor. A Primus stone served for heat and a kerosene lamp for light. A short wave radio kept me up on the news.

During the Turkish-Russian war in 1915 The Russians occupied Shanidar for about 25 days. They engaged the Turks in battle across the Zab River at Bikres, a short distance upstream from Shanidar village. Mohammed Amin, one of the Shanidar residents, hid up in the cave at Der-Eshki in the Baradost Mountain above Shanidar.

Eye diseases and malaria were common in Shanidar. Fortunately my medicine kit helped with both, as well as the usual infections, cuts and bruises. U.S. Army issue sulfa powder helped with wounds and cuts. One of my prerequisites was that the patient used soap (which I sometimes supplied) and hot water to cleanse the area to be treated. I had a line of sick to attend after work. I was glad to shift the responsibility of being the "doctor" to our student, Jacques Bordaz, after he arrived in the 1960 season. He was very conscientious and even made house calls.

In November 1951 it was reported that there were 15 Barzani families living in Shanidar. On my next trip to Shanidar in June, 1953, I noted that the police post, only about 8 years old, was falling apart. The post had 10 policemen at this time, including 1 corporal, and 1 radio operator (one of my informants). The concrete appeared to be made of an improper mixture. It was reported that the police post at Gali-ali-Beg, which had cost 50,000 dinars, had already collapsed. The row houses at Shanidar built on the Zawi Chemi terrace were also falling apart, year by year.

In November, 1956, there were a total of about 35 houses in Shanidar, indicating a rise in population. There were three groups, two on either side of the police post, and one on the point above the spring and gorge.

In 1957, there were about 15 homes west of the Shanidar police post, and 11 scattered to the east side. At least 7 of them were homes of the police who lived with their families at Shanidar. One of our workmen used two bullocks and a wooden plow to work his fields. None of the Barzani, who claimed to be Moslems, were observed at prayers, although some of the police were seen to offer prayers regularly. One of the policemen served as a mulla, calling to prayer from the rooftop. The police were never without their rifles, which they kept across their knees when sitting down. Cigarettes are home made. Tobacco was grown locally, and the cigarette paper was store-bought. There were no factory-made cigarettes at Shanidar.

In June 1960, Shanidar endured a very good harvest. Much acreage was now under cultivation, more than I remembered from previous years. The villagers had prospered noticeably. There were more cows and donkeys than previously. Saleh, the son of Shuan Agha, said that there were 500 animals at Shanidar. No one wore rags anymore, wristwatches were much in evidence, and new clothing, shoes, cooking gear and the food menu, had noticeably improved. One of the families boasted a new shiny tin samovar, which excited much comment.

The prosperity at Shanidar was not unnoticed by the government. On Aug. 11, 1960, the qaimaqan of Mergasur along with an assistant and a police escort arrived at Shanidar to collect taxes from the Shanidar people. Shuan Agha of Shanidar refused to pay. He said that he had only 20 tins of rice (each tin a 5-gallon can), which the tax collector did not believe. The latter went out in the fields to check for himself. The outcome was unknown to me.

There was an unfortunate auto accident at the hairpin turn near Zawi Chemi on June 23, 1960. It was a brown jeep. It had been noted to drive furiously on the road on other occasions. We were told that one of the occupants was a nephew of Mulla Mustafa named Saleh. He was carried to Raizan, where he was declared dead. Some thought that he may have died of shock in the transport, and it would have been better to keep him at Shanidar for medical attention.

In July, 1978, the population at Shanidar changed drastically. The original Barzani inhabitants were farmers supplanted by members of the Surchi tribe. There were about 100 in the population. The police post had been destroyed. Barzani villagers from Shanidar and Sapna Valley had been evacuated by the Iraqi government as part of the plan to rejuvenate the Bekhme dam project. According to a major in the Iraq army, who gave us this information at Khalan, the dam would be built in two or three years. The earlier reports said that the rock at the dam site was too porous to hold water. Evidently there was a plan to overcome this problem. The elevation of the reservoir was going to remain at that of the original plan, which was to cover all up river with a big narrow lake including Bille and Barzan. According to the major, a new road from Jefferkhan up the Baradost Mountain to Havdian was going to be punched. The Rowanduz River, the Gali-ali-Beg road to Rowanduz and the gorge were to be flooded by the reservoir. The iron bridge at Khalan was also going to be under water, and a new bridge was going to be put across the Rowanduz River farther up. We learned that Rowanduz village was surrounded by Iraqi forces in 1974.

Old Shanidar Village

There was a wheat field about 200 yards west of the old Shanidar village along the river, which caught my curiosity. It was in a flat area about 30 feet above the river, the first terrace. Several potsherds and flints of late prehistoric type were found on the surface of the field. The site was said to be an ancient Shanidar village. The site was later investigated by our Columbia University group.

Sakoo and Kusstan Villages on Baradost Mountain

I visited Sakoo village in company with a couple of policemen in July, 1953. On the way up, two hours and forty minutes from Shanidar, we stopped at Kusstan village. We had climbed about 2,600 feet from Shanidar. Kusstan had 7 families, about 30-35 people, including men, women and children. There were cattle, goats and dogs as well. Among the furniture goods were baby-rocking cribs and household goods. The favorite drink/food derived from and called "mastau" was being made. It was churned in animal skins on a wooden rack. There was a good view of Turkey from this village. This village is near the top of the Baradost Mountain. On the way up, we passed two caves occupied during the cold season. We also passed on the same trail a deserted village of which only the stone foundations remained. Some potsherds were found on the surface. Sakoo village is situated on the side of and near the summit of the Baradost Mountain. It was composed of 6 dwellings, joined in three units. The population was generous, and fed us cheese, bread, mastau and tea. The population consisted of four women in the hamlet. We bypassed about 5 more women from the hamlet later on the trail. The men folk were evidently about their business elsewhere. Four or five children were seen toddling around. There were a number of animals to be seen. There were several donkeys, lambs, and about 12 brown and black cows.

There was an excellent view of the Zab valley about 400 feet from the mountaintop. There were small patches of wheat fields, which were ripening at the time of our visit in the middle of May. These were around the village and here and there on the mountain slope. The blank wall of the mountain hindered climbing to the top at this point. Therefore we followed the trail eastward toward the Shanidar-Mergasur trail and descended down to Shanidar village. On the way down, we stopped at Der-Eshki village. This had been an early Christian monastery. "Der" means 'church or monastery' and "Eshki" means 'no water.' It had been bombed during the earlier Barzan troubles. Nothing remained but some walls of the buildings. There were abandoned terraced fields above and below Der-Eshki village. From this site one could see former villages on the right bank of the Zab River. At Der Eshki there were three or four houses built into a large sheltering cave. We met one man, 3 women and 4 boys in the hamlet. Several goats were seen, but no cattle. Continuing on down, we stopped at two fine springs. These springs fed several small hillside plots of wheat and tobacco. The fields were somewhat terraced, but did not appear to be well constructed.

Altimeter Readings

Altimeter readings were taken at various places around Shanidar. The reading at the police post was 1,400 feet, and at Shanidar cave, 2,300 feet. From Shanidar village to the cave was a walk of one hour and five minutes, about half of which was up the mountain trail. Returning was faster. It took about 50 minutes on the return. Shanidar village was at elevation 1,420 feet. The Herki bridge was at elevation 1,280 feet, or about 25 feet above the river. When we had two excavations going, one at the cave, and one at the Zawi Chemi village site, which was just a couple minutes from their homes, it turned out naturally that the latter site was preferred to work at rather than the cave.

There was a cave called Shkaft Sederi below Shanidar May 15, 1953. It was in a limestone bound gravel terrace remnant jutting out over the Zab River. It had a smoke blackened ceiling and a floor marked by goat droppings and evidences of fire. It looked more like a temporary shelter than a permanent home.

Zawi Chemi Shanidar and Old Shanidar Village

Old Shanidar village was about 1/4 mile on a lower terrace west of its present location near the police post. This was the site noted earlier. The old location was apparently in the vicinity of the archaeological site of Zawi Chemi Shanidar (Rose Solecki, 1981). On November 27, 1956, I received a letter from the Bishop of the church at Aqra who said that the name of the village should be Shani-der, where a Christian monastery had once stood. The chief of police of Mergasur, Petros Jebrael, a Christian, said that "shani" means "collector," and that "der" means monastery or church. The inference is that church tithes were collected at Shanider. Shwan Agha of Shani-der said that it was true that a Christian monastery or church had once been here. He also noted that his family long ago had been Christians, and that his family included among them a bishop. There is archaeological evidence that a Christian community had been present on the site. On March 15, 1957 in a reconnaissance for surface evidence of the monastery-church, I found in the gully below the little cliff, a short distance from the police post, what looked like bathing pools cut in the limestone bedrock. There was also a pool for fresh water supply, and one for washing clothes. We believe that these must have been part of the monastery-church, because the resident Kurds had neither the tools nor skilled knowledge of the stonework that is so difficult. Very close to the pools the search revealed a small boulder with the surface hollowed out. We assumed that it could have been for the crushing of grapes, the first step in making wine.

The site of Zawi Chemi Shanidar was tested by Rose Solecki in 1957 and 1960 (Solecki, Rose, 1980). There were two main layers, Layer A and B in the 2-meter excavation dug down to sterile soil. Layer A contained historic material. Layer B contained Proto-Neolithic material dating from the 9th millennium. In its 50 cm thickness, Layer A contained later dated archaeological material. This included household potsherds which were most numerous, as well as iron, copper and pieces of glass. A date fix for this horizon was made from the find of a stamped copper coin. It is interesting that no clay smoking pipes were recovered from Layer A, indicating that this horizon predated the smoking habit in Kurdistan. We know that the smoking of tobacco in the Old World began sometime in the 17th century at the earliest. Therefore we may assume that the site had been abandoned before the introduction of tobacco, a habit quickly adopted by the men of Kurdistan. According to Nancy M. Waggoner of The American Numismatic Society, a more certain date fix was obtained from the coin struck in Constantinople. It dates from between ca. 498 and 538/9 A.D. during the reign of Anastasius I, Justin I or Justinian 1.

The pottery found in Layer A may be separated into several distinct types. Aside from the obvious undecorated household utilitarian wares, there is the so-called "Christian ware." These ceramics, said to date between the 6th to 12th centuries (Campbell and Mallowan, 1933), have an occurrence over a broad area in northern Iraq. Undoubtedly they reflect they spread of the new Christian religion in this part of the world. Their most distinctive feature is a medallion with crosses or other designs impressed on the bodies of the vessels (Solecki, R, 1981, pl. 2 c-f). It is believed to be from a time when the native Kurds adopted the Christian religion and marked the presence of early Christian settlements in the Sapna Valley. Only the finer quality pottery bears these imprinted marks. However, there is at least one exception, with one example of a cross stamp on a coarse vessel fragment. Glazed pottery sherds were also recovered. Several interesting sherds had some black material adhering to the inside, which looked like bitumen (?). Fragments of large storage vessels are in the collection. Extrapolating the diameter at the mouth of one of the vessels from its sherds, we obtained a diameter of about 32.0 cm. Presumably the vessel was much larger at the main body of the vessel.

Of other unusual interest was the recovery of evidence of copper ore smelting at the site. An analysis of samples from the site by Isabella M. Drew, formerly with Columbia University, revealed evidence of metallurgy at Zawi Chemi Shanidar. The group of fragments recovered "strongly suggests" that the people were engaged in the production of copper metal from its ore (Solecki, Rose, 1980). The closest copper source is in Turkey, indicating contact with people in the area of the headwaters the Tigris River.

Nov Shira

Shuan Agha, the headman of Shanidar, led us to a place on the same side of the river about 20 minutes drive downstream. In a roadside field we picked up some naturally and man-made broken flints. This was said to be a former home of Shuan Agha. There was a cultivable field and a spring nearby resembling conditions at Zawi Chemi Shanidar. We recovered altogether about 60 flints in half an hour. It left us with the suggestion that the site was another possible Proto-Neolithic site like Zawi Chemi Shanidar. It appeared worthy of testing.

Shanidar Village, About 1957

In 1957, there were noticeable evidences of prosperity in Shanidar village. One of the workmen's houses had glass windows, an innovation in building construction. His house was also marked outside in large black painted letters with the legend "DDT" and the date the house had been sprayed with this chemical. One family sported a new tin samovar, tea glasses, and materials for tea making. There was also the appearance of cigarette lighters. This was a most welcome substitute to the flint and steel, which the Kurds kept as backup in case of failure of the new lighter (Solecki, 1998: Pl.8).

A local count in 1957 gives the population of Shanidar as 300 people, including men, women and children. The village paid taxes to Mohammed Agha, a Shirwani in Mergasur over the mountain. The planting fields above Zawi Chemi had several circular areas cleared of stones. These were threshing floors. One of the two of them measured 9.2 m in diameter and the other 11.7 m in diameter. They were ringed by ordinary field cobbles. These circles were called "Jochin" in Kurdish. Storage place for animal fodder is called "Koch-Kaki" in Kurdish. There is a center pole 2.4 m high and 8 cm in diameter whose probable function was to anchor the grasses. There were small huts filled with chopped straw for winter use. Doors were very simple. They were made of intertwined twigs and were enough to close off the huts from the larger animals.

In 1957 a ruined mosque close to Zawi Chemi was examined (Fig. map). It was probably built by the Iraq government at the same time as the collection of rows of houses was built nearby. It had a roof on it in 1951 and 1953, but in the last visit in 1957 it was in a state of considerable disrepair. The walls, 80 cm thick, and the ceiling, 1.20 m high, were built of rudimentary field materials. The walls were constructed of roughly hewn fieldstones bonded with wet mud.

There were three terraces at Zawi Chemi Shanidar above the river. In the month of April, 1957, these were (1) 15 m above the river, (2) 18 m above the river, and (3) 21 m above the river.


Shanidar 1960

The population of Shanidar had gone up to about 300 people in residence. There were said to be 30 families in Shanidar. As noted above, there had been a good harvest this season, and prosperity was in full evidence. Our work at Shanidar Cave and the open site of Zawi Chemi Shanidar had progressed very well. Relations with the villagers was also good.

In the 1960 field campaign, Shanidar on June 18th appeared to be quite prosperous compared to previous years. The Surchi and their flocks appeared to have gone, and the Barzanis were back in residence again. June, the time of our visit, was the harvesting season, and the farmers were gathering in the wheat. There was a good harvest this year and much acreage was under cultivation. There were many more donkeys and cows this year than I had remembered in previous years. Saleh, the Shuan Agha's son, said that there were 500 animals in Shanidar.

Regarding wild or natural foods from the area, the Kurds were observed not to eat snails or shellfish, turtles, and did not fish in the river with either nets or lines. All of these were abundant and readily had. We may remark that the local Kurds did on occasion use home made bombs using gunpowder to bomb the fish in the river. The Kurds knew how to trap birds, particularly the partridges.

Of the larger animals, I have seen two ibex on the cliff above Shanidar Cave, a rarity. Also rarely seen are bears. I have seen a herd of wild boars close to Shanidar Cave. These animals are shunned by the Kurds whose Islamic religion forbids eating them. However, the Christians among them do partake of boar flesh. Regarding vegetal foods, the local Kurds are familiar with all types of roots, tubers, nuts and berries, which they collect. Particularly abundant are the oak nuts, which they dry and crush in stone mortars. Wheat is ground to powder in stone grinder. The earlier flat stone grinders as found in the Proto-Neolithic horizon in Shanidar Cave and in Zawi Chemi Shanidar (R and R Solecki, 2004).

Concerning agriculture, small garden patches were seen on the Zab River bank where the river had deposited fertile sands. There were three patches, about 35 by 20 feet each. In these patches were green plants growing in rows. In one row onions were seen. There was fresh evidence that these plants were being nurtured and watered regularly. The plants were fertilized with sheep and cow manure, and fenced in by low walls of stones. Over these walls were toppings of thorn bushes. There were lengths of barbed wire filling out spaces in the toppings.

In 1960, there were 30 families in Shanidar. There were about 300 people in residence. Old Shuan Agha died of natural causes.

Shanidar 1978

After some delay over which we had no control, we arrived at Shanidar for our fourth season on July 13, 1978. The road to Shanidar was in terrible shape due to the heavy army traffic and gouging by tank treads. It was also evident that nothing was being done to correct the problems. We found that quite a change for the worse had come over the village and surrounding fields. The police post had been demolished again, and many of the homes had been destroyed. The schoolhouse was full of Kurdish peasants; it was impossible to use it. Moreover, they were of the Surchi tribe, enemies of the Barzanis. The people were squatters, and very apprehensive. Upon questioning, it appeared that the Barzanis had been evacuated from the valley by the Iraqi government. There were very few people in Shanidar. The menfolk were out with their animal herds. The total population was about 100, a fraction of the former Shanidar population. Of the many former homes, left were only many empty house foundations. The homes had been dynamited or burned. No planting in the fields had been done as far as I could see. They were overgrown with weeds. For our own use, we were fortunate to find a two-room building still standing, which needed a roof. We were told that it was originally Shuan Agha's house, and that its current owner was Mahmud, the son of the Agha. It was reported that he had escaped to Iran. Unfortunately, after two days residence at Shanidar, we were obliged to leave the area for security reasons. The army informed us that the police were no longer at Shanidar, and we had no protection.

On the way to Khalan to interview an army officer for some clarification of the issue, we passed by a number of homes which looked just like Neolithic houses. At Khalan, the army major, who had taught himself English, informed us that they were evacuating the Barzanis from the valley because the Bekhme dam project was rejuvenated. It was to be built in two or three years. This surprised us because I thought that the plan had been shelved because the original dam site was deemed to have rock that was too porous to hold water. A new road was going to be built taking off from Jefferkhan up the Baradost Mountain by way of Havdian. A new road was going to be built through difficult terrain between Meregasur and Amadia, bypassing the old Greater Zab River route which went through Shanidar and Bille to Amadia. From Amadia, the road was to link up with Mosul. The major said that this work was to be part of a plan for a network of roads in northern Iraq, interlacing and bridging all of the now isolated valleys. In the course of his interview, the major also said that Rowanduz had been surrounded by the military in 1974, and that the Gal-ali-Beg road to Rowanduz had been cut.

Our field season for 1978 was thus aborted even before we could get started. We left Shanidar to take up a short residence in Shaqlawa in order to get some clarification of our status. When it became obvious that nothing could be done on our behalf, we returned to Baghdad. Our field equipment was stored in the expedition quarters at Nimrud with hopes for a try at another season in the future. As we have seen, instead of getting better, the political situation became worse.

Shanidar Village, 1993

Shanidar village was visited again in June 1993. The head of the village was now Mahmud Agha, our foreman for Shanidar Cave. New construction was underway in the village by the German CARITAS contractors. There was no opportunity for me to interview the men in charge. Actually, I had the impression that they made a point of not being too friendly, and were not ready to engage in conversation. Evidence of their work was seen at Bille, Barzan, Raizan and signs were placed at other points off the road proclaiming that renewal of habitations was underway at old former villages destroyed in the recent past. A new school was built on the site of the old school, which had been built in 1978, and was later razed by the Iraq government. This school had been built on the site of the former police post, also razed by the government. The police post had been shoddily built, almost in anticipation of being flattened like its predecessor. The new school was a one-story edifice, and appeared to have several large rooms, which could be classroom sized. There was a new main street, with newly built homes on either side. New homes made of cinder blocks were already constructed for the Shanidar inhabitants. They were arranged in rows of about seven houses. All had flat roofs, and like the houses constructed in Barzan, had the same number of rooms and facilities. The houses lacked glass windowpanes, and were, for the most part, empty of inhabitants.

Mahmud Agha's house was exceptionally large. It had been built for Shuan Agha, or his son Saleh Agha. But the elder Agha had died and Saleh had been arrested by the government. Since he did not return, he was presumed killed. The house was to be a two-story home, but the second story had not been built at the time of our visit. It was built on the site where Mahmud Agha's house had been in 1978 on the point above the river. We had proposed to house ourselves there in our aborted 1978 season. In anticipation of a second floor, there was already a staircase leading up to the upper floor, which was then the roof. The house was equipped with windows, but at the time of our visit there were no glass window-panes. There was an exceptionally large center hallway measuring about 15 feet by 25 feet. The house had two outside porches, one facing the river. The furniture included a couple of couches, a rarity in northern Kurdish households, stuffed chairs, and three large Persian carpets.

A sheep was killed in our honor, and we dined on it at 11 o'clock that night. Further evidence of prosperity and status was the Pimus pressure-based nickel-plated samovar for the making of tea. It occupied a central place. The dinner, long awaited, was sumptuous. It consisted of the meat of a cooked sheep, rice with a broth on it, mastau, a lot of the flat bread, nan, and several glasses of tea. Abdullah's family included five sons and four daughters, a number not unusual in a Kurdish household. I asked Abdullah about our other former Shanidar workmen. He said that 33 men from Shanidar had been arrested. A number had escaped to Iran. Of our force of about 40 workmen, 75 to 90 percent were arrested and killed. Among them was Saleh, Shuan Agha's son. Originally there had been 71 families living in Shanidar. In each family there were about eight people. The total population had been about 568 people. In 1960, when we left Shanidar, there had been 30 families; most had been killed over the years since then. In 1993, there were 6 families in Shanidar, some headed by widows, the male heads having been killed. There were a total of 62 people in Shanidar.

I happily met one of the survivors, who had been one of our Shanidar workmen, Ahmed Hassoo Mirhan. He had returned to Shanidar in 1992. He had escaped the round up at Shanidar in 1987 by fleeing to Mergasur over the mountain. He crossed the border to Iran, where he took refuge for three years. He returned to Mergasur. From there he went to Shaqlawa, thence to Diana, and at last to Shanidar. Possibly he returned to Shanidar about the same time as Sheikh Abdullah returned to Barzan, on April 14, 1992. Ahmed said that most of the Shanidar villagers were arrested, removed by Saddam Hussein's men, and killed. He said that there were 6 families now in Shanidar, headed mainly by widows. This totaled about 62 people. By families, these were:

1- Headed by an unnamed widow, 8 persons.

2- Headed by Ahmed Musa, 9 persons.

3- Headed by Hadhi Musan, 6 persons.

4- Headed by Mohammed Hasso Mirhan (son of Ahmed Mirhan), 12 persons.

5- Headed by Khaneh Saleh, 3 persons.

6- Headed by Salem, 14 persons.

7- Headed by Abdulla Mustafa, 10 persons. (Ahmed Mirhan did not include his own family in the count.)

Construction of homes was underway at the time of our visit. I counted 59 houses, all on the same plan, ranged along what might be considered a street. The homes were put together with stone blocks held together by cement applied in a slap-dash manner. No evidence of the use of a hand level, measuring instrument, or plumb bob could be seen employed. Fifty-two houses were up already, and one school was put up where the old police post used to be. In Shanidar the plan was for 78 houses, built for people who were expected to return. No homes were built on the Zawi Chemi terrace below the village. It appears that Mergasur and Diana were villages touched by Shanidar villagers who were able to escape to Iran during the government purges. Those left of former Shanidar residents returned to Shanidar about 1992.

In the ravine below the village the old monastery baths and spring had been converted into a large concrete water basin and spring conduit with two large pipes gushing fresh water from the hillside.

Gundi Shkaft (Village of the Cave)

On the path to the Shanidar Cave (Solecki, 1971, 1998:23, Pl.5) the trail leads past a small collection of four houses, called Gundi-Shkaft. The houses, made of stones, were ruined. They were built of trap rock from the nearby hill, and their roofs made of sticks and brush, with branches and hard-packed earth on top. The flat roofs were kept water sealed with a stone roller still present on one of the roofs. The roller was applied after every rainstorm. A spring nearby supplied water. It was reported that two policemen were killed in this village in 1950. As punishment, the whole village was destroyed.. Noted were at least 40 oblong lines of stones marking old foundations on the slopes with little terraces in front of them. There were six long ricks of interlaced twigs about 8 feet high probably built as storage bins for animal fodder. A number of large tree trunks, some about 1 1/2 feet in diameter, were found in the house foundations. This village is said to have been over a hundred years old. On the surface were recovered 1 fire flint, an old clay pipe bowl and 4 potsherds on the slopes of the site. An old water powered stone mill was also found. There must have been water running down the hill as shown on the topographic maps, but it is now dry. There were a fair number of standing trees at Gundi Shkaft, and the evidence indicates that it must have been a comparatively flourishing settlement at one time. There is a now a dry streambed below the village site, which heads in at Mergasur. Some standing pools of water were seen in the streambed, indicating that there must have been flow during the earlier spring months.

In 1953, a return visit was made to Gundi Shkaft. Only one of the houses appeared to have been reused since my last visit two years ago. The house interior was full of fleas. It measured about 15 by 20 feet. It contained three animal corrals, one on either side and one in the rear. A trial excavation under the direction of Rose Solecki was made at Gundi Shkaft in 1956 (Solecki, Rose, ms.) The site lies within the range of the reservoir pool level of the proposed Bekhme reservoir.

Two small caves (Gundi Shkafta, Solecki, 1998:22-23) were examined on opposite sides of a hill by an intermittent stream about 0.7 km down slope from the Gundi Shkaft village. It is 1.5 km southwest of Shanidar Cave. Within the reservoir level, they are near the gorge opening to the Zab River.

In 1993 Gundi Shkaft village lay in ruins again. At least 6 house foundations could be seen. There were no people. On a less sad note, the whole area had burst out with the hollyhock flowers in full bloom. It made for a virtual carpet of bright happy color.

Shkaft Sederi (Solecki, 1998:23)

This is a cave complex west of the intermittent stream flowing past and below Shanidar Cave. It is a double-chambered cave, caves A and B within view of Shanidar Cave. It lies within the reservoir limit.

Gali al Shkaft Hamadke

This is a canyon in the side of Baradost Mountain containing thirteen cave and shelter sites (Solecki, 1998:28-32, Pls. 18-19; 1971). It lies about 1.5 km northwest of Shanidar village and 2.7 km southeast of Shanidar Cave. This complex probably took some of the overflow of residents from Shanidar Cave during the winter months. It lies above the high Bekhme reservoir level.

Gorge of the Spring Caves

Just east of Shanidar Cave are three small caves about 100 meters above it (Solecki 1998:26-27). They are above the Bekhme reservoir high limit.

Shkaft Galook Shanidar

This is a canyon about 1 km northeast of Shanidar village (Solecki, 1998; 24-26, Figs. 3,4; 1971; 1963). There were five features in this canyon, including shelters, houses and animal corrals. This complex, like other shelters in the area, probably took the overflow of wintertime residents from Shanidar Cave. It lies within the high reservoir limit. Three families were living in this complex in 1957.

Hamsa Merhan Cave

This is a cave about 92 m above Shanidar Cave (Solecki, 1998:22). It faces west and is fairly large. It lies well above the Bekhme high reservoir limit. A number of shelters were observed on the opposite side of the gorge leading to the village of Mergasur on the other side of the Baradost Mountain. These shelters were not inspected.

Shanidar Cave

The modern occupation of Shanidar Cave has been described in some detail elsewhere (Solecki, 1971, 1979, 1998:4-21. Pls. 2-4). Shanidar Cave was regarded by the Barzanis as their ancestral home. During the Barzani revolution in the 1940's, between 70-80 people found refuge in the cave. A trial excavation under the direction of Dr. Rose Solecki was made at Gundi Shkaft in 1956 (Solecki, Rose, ms.)

It is also very likely that the overflow from this cave found shelters in the other caves and rock shelters in the vicinity of Shanidar Cave. From Shanidar Cave, to the southwest one can see the right bank of the Zab River. One village, Irwan, which can be picked out in the distance, is said to have a population of 40 houses and 100-150 people. Several flat topped homes with mud plastered sides in this village could be seen through the gap between the two hills to the southwest. Sideri cave, a small cave, is in the north hill, readily visible from Shanidar Cave. By virtue of its elevation, Shanidar Cave lies above the proposed Bekhme reservoir high level. If the dam were to be built, the cave would become quite difficult to reach. The nearest village for access would be Mergasur around the nose of Baradost Mountain. The absence of a serviceable road would necessitate travel on foot or by horse on the route followed by the Herki nomads.


A hamlet high up on Baradost Mountain beyond reach of any dam, is the village called Der-Eshki (Solecki, 1971, 1998:27-28, Pl. 17). It lies on a sometimes steep climb up the Baradost mountain from Shanidar Cave. According to legend, it is believed to have been a monastery of Assyrian Christian times, monastery ("der") and "eshki" meaning "no water." The very aggressive Kor Pasha, who died about the middle of the 19th century, is supposed to have taken refuge here with his army while fighting the Turks. His army was at some disadvantage in terms of armaments because they had to use flintlock rifles against the more modern arms of the Turks. He had a road built wide enough to enable an arabana, a wheeled chariot, to drive on it. The road, evidence of which can still be seen today, skirted the hill just below the village of Gundi Shkaft. He appears to have followed the route of the Assyrian monarch, Sargon II, in his campaigns in this area in the 9th century


A visit to this site in 1957 found a collection of six houses, three of them built into the three caves at the site. The largest of the houses measured about 30 feet square, made into apartments for two families. The ceiling was about 6 feet high, and the flat roof as usual was made of intertwined sticks covered with earth and sod. Supporting the roof were upright logs set on the ground. The sides were made of wattle or intertwined twigs, covered with mud, or "wattle and daub" sides. The door was quite rudimentary, without door handle, lock or hinges, made of intertwined sticks. The houses were empty during the time of my visit. At the entry way was painted in large bold black letters in English "DDT" and in Arabic the figures for the year 1956 and E/29. Scattered about on the ground outside the house were seen scraps of cloth, glass bottle fragments, and broken shoe soles. There was an abundance of sheep dung.

There was an exceptionally good view to the southwest from this site. Across the Zab River on the right bank could be seen Kolakan village, with 40 houses reported, Irwan, and Saka. Kolakan was situated high up on the mountainside, at an altitude of some 2,500 feet. About 6 flat-topped houses could be seen, with several corrals for the animals. On the same bank almost opposite Shanidar had been located a fairly large village. Its name was not verified. It reportedly had about 100 houses. During the Barzani revolt in 1945, the people of the village, evidently allied with the Barzanis, left for Iran. As a punitive measure, the Iraqis destroyed their village.

On the left bank, or the Shanidar side, could be seen the villages of Saka and Seder. The latter village, which is near Shanidar Cave, has two long houses. There were three small caves A, B, and C, in the gorge to the east of Shanidar Cave and about 300 feet above it. They were located on a branch of the trail leading up to the mountain spring above. All had a western exposure. Cave A was a little grotto with a rock base. Sheep dung was inside. Cave B was larger, with a low ceiling marked by smoke stains of many fires. A sheep shelter corral was in the rear of the cave. There was a little rivulet coursing through the cave, and a clear pool of water 6 feet in diameter and about 3-4 inches deep inside. The water drained down the cave slope. Two goatskins, one a water bag, were soaking in the pool. Cave C was a niche in the rock on the same level with Caves A and B. There was evidence of occupation in the form of evidence of fire and sheep droppings.

There is a perennial spring and a pool on the trail above Shanidar Cave. It is situated in a grove of rushes. There is another one-foot-deep pool about 75 m east and on the same level as the first pool. The pool measures about 6 feet by 3 1/2 feet. There were other small collecting basins down the slope.

Below the Gundi Shkaft village in front of Shanidar Cave, direction to Zab River access is given by way of a gorge worn through the rock path at this point. A cave is present off this gorge, which twists downward for about 20 feet. A branch gallery goes back at least two hundred feet. The old path, which goes by Gundi Shkaft, follows old Kor Pasha's road of the mid 19th century, and much before that, the route of Sargon II during his 8th century B.C.E. campaign into Kurdistan. The old road measures about 7-8 feet wide, lined by some upright stones on either side. It could be traced in this area for some distance.

On August 22, 1960 I went to inspect a new cave in Baradost Mountain. The workmen told me about it. It was located very close, above and to the west of Shanidar Cave. It took about 15 minutes to make the climb to the site. Actually it was not a true cave, but a great hole about 50 feet across and 20 feet deep. The base was choked with bushes and vegetation. I did not have any equipment to go down into the hole for a spot check. From its position on the side of the mountain, I thought that this was probably a giant swallow hole that led into the rear of Shanidar Cave. We would have to have a survey made to find out if the alignment is correct. From this site one could see the gorge through which the trail from Shanidar to Mergasur follows. A perennial stream flows in the gorge, flowing below Gundi Shkaft to the Zab River. In the summer, it is generally dry, with scattered pools of water remaining.

A visit to Shanidar Cave in June 1993 found little change in the physical appearance of the cave itself. Our excavation was practically brim full of wet detritus, barnyard leavings, etc. dumped into the hole by the itinerant wintertime Kurdish herders. Their temporary homes of sticks and brush were still in place ranged around the interior of the cave. Each of the broken down homes had a stone-bounded hearth within the enclosure. Swallows were flying about in the cave, just as I had seen when I first visited the cave in 1951. Outside, the mountainside was a blaze of color with flowers all in bloom. A carpet of hollyhocks was blooming, along with groundsel, milfoil, Russian thistle and other spring flowers. The Russian thistle particularly grew as luxuriant plants reaching four and five feet high. The hollyhocks were generally white, but also a very delicate pink-red color. There were some missing flowers found in the Iraq plant books, which perhaps had a different growing season.

Sakoy (Saka)

On the road from Raizan to Shanidar in 1993, we passed another small village called Sakoy or Saka. It was not visited for the lack of time on the trip. It lay off a dirt road on which was the blue placard proclaiming that reconstruction of the village was being undertaken by CARITAS. This village lies within the reservoir limits.

Gala Alaka

In August 1960, off the road west to Bille on the left bank of the Zab River, about 20 minutes drive from Shanidar, was found a site of an old village called Gala Alaka. On the surface was found some flints. No other details were noted.


The route to Bille on a very poor road, is a distance of 16 miles from Shanidar, three hours and forty-five minutes by foot, and a tortuous one hour by car. The route passes by the Pira Sar Gorge, where the Agha of the Aqra area annually constructed a wood bridge across the Zab for the migratory Herki tribe (Solecki, 1971). The river was about 50 feet wide at the narrowest part of the gorge. The bridge had been dismantled at the time of our visit, the Herkis having already passed over it. The bridge was built for the Herkis by Shawket Agha of the Zibari tribe, who got the toll money from the Herkis. In November, 1951, I saw 50 black goat hair tents of the Herkis returning from Iran. They were en route to Erbil and Mosul, their winter quarters, where they were going to sell their sheep and goats. Their chattels and goods were laid out in rowed heaps by the tents. Omar Miran, my informant, said that there were about 700 families in the tribe. The road passes Raizan village, which is off the road next to the mountain. It was not visited, although it is a major port of call for the migratory Herki tribe. Their annual route up to the mountains passes this way.

On my visit in June 12, 1957, I noted that the Herki bridge over the river at the Pira Sar Gorge was nearly finished. There were said to be 5,000 sheep, cattle and horses ready on the right bank to cross over. Later the same year I was told that the Iraq government was going to build an iron bridge over the river at this point replacing the temporary structure. The Zibar Agha used to collect about 1,000 dinars in toll money from the Herki. The toll was 20 fils for each horse or cow, and either 10 or 4 fils for each goat and sheep. Nothing was charged for human traffic. At the left bank of the bridge side, there were generally four or five men ready to help with the traffic over the bridge. One alert individual was armed with a vintage Russian machine gun, presumably on hand to protect the collected tolls.

The new bridge was seen to be in place in 1993. It was not learned when it was put in, but there was still some digging machinery around it. With the construction of the new iron bridge where the old Herki bridge had been at the Pira Sar Gorge, the Agha who used to collect tolls from the Herkis lost a good annual source of revenue.

The road from Barzan to Bille was totally new in 1993, winding down the hills toward the former site of Bille. The fields looked greener than ever. The trees had more foliage. The branches had not been trimmed for goat fodder, as was the old custom. The evacuation of the people owing to punitive measures taken by the former Iraq government was probably the reason for the rebirth of nature in the valley.

A major branch of the Zab River, the Ru Kuchuk River joins the Zab at this point. On the first visit in 1951, one crossed the river on an iron bridge, which gave easy access to the other side. In the river below could be seen giant carp fish over three feet long swimming lazily in groups. On a visit to the area in 1993, it was seen that a new steel bridge had been constructed over the Ru Kuchuk River. Twisted beams of the old bridge were noted in the water, rusted, another casualty of the war against the Barzanis.

Bille (Zibar)

This village, which also had its police post, was situated in a flat field nestling among the mountains. I visited Bille first in 1951. It is in a strategic position because it was a ferry point across the Zab River. The village is known by both names. Zibar is actually the name of the village on the opposite side of the river. The place was a scene of many battles in recent times. The original police post was destroyed by Mulla Mustafa with canons in 1945.

The site was of international importance during WW II because it had a landing strip for allied aircraft. Behind the police post were the remains of the airstrip, marked by whitewashed stones in a line. The airstrip was in a deeply cracked sun baked grassy field. For pilots, the airstrip was marked by a whitewashed limestone rectangular slab measuring about 2 feet by 5 feet. In addition there was a 50-foot diameter white limestone slab circle. R.A.F. Squadron Leader John Waechter, an archaeologist, used to ferry aircraft over the mountains to Iran. He told me that the height of the surrounding mountains made getting into Bille and out again was a worrisome feat even in good weather. I wonder why the old RAF aerodrome at Diyana, dating from the 1920's, wasn't preferable. Perhaps the long valley approaches to Bille favored heavier aircraft, better or safer than what could be landed or taken off from the Diyana field.

In 1953, I was told that in the absence of money, paper or scarce coin, exchange was made in English cartridge clips of bullets. One kilo of cooking fat was 7 clips and 2 bullets (cartridges). The cartridges were presumably .3O3 caliber used in the WWII British Lee Enfield rifle. Clips of these cartridges were reportedly acceptable as currency in trade in Bille, Shanidar, Batas, Erbil, and Suleimaniya.

On the road to Bille from Shanidar, about half a mile from Bille, there were a couple of primitive type houses, elongate ovals in shape, with a single entryway in the side, made of brush and sticks. The roofs were of bunches of hay, similar in appearance to older English peasant homes. They looked like Neolithic habitations similar in appearance to the homes of the hamlet Harbo, situated on the right bank of the Zab opposite Shanidar (Solecki, 1998:Pl. 16). On June 10, 1957 I noted that the wheat in the fields was ripening and would soon be ready for harvesting.

At the time of my visit to Bille in the spring of 1957, there was a single main street through town lined with shops. Counted were about 50 houses and about 7 stores selling various goods and supplies as well as at least 2 teahouses. The houses, one joined to the next, were made of stone, single storied, with flat roofs. The street was unpaved dirt, and drainage no doubt was a problem. We were told that there were big plans for the community. The qaimaqan of the district, Omar Kardi of Suleimaniya, said that a government hospital, and health facilities with a resident physician and a school for the children were to be established in Bille. He said that Mulla Mustafa Barzani, at the time in Russia, had about 5-6000 men under arms. Mustafa's brother was jailed in Basra. On a later visit to Bille, in November, I observed that workmen were laying the foundations for the new buildings promised them. Donkey loads of stones were being brought in for the construction.

In a visit to Bille in July 1953, I visited the police post and looked into the jail cell. There were single scratches grouped together on the walls reminiscent of jails over the world where inmates kept track of the days in detention and the passage of time.

I visited Bille again in June 1957. In addition to the police post, the village had a new addition. There was a resident doctor living and practicing in quarters made of wattle and daub. The hospital also looked miserable. At the hospital were three other people who may have been either assistants or patients. Communication with the outside world had improved. A two-strand telephone line had been established, supplanting the wireless radio connection.

In June 1993, in Bille, there was not a single building left standing. The devastation was complete. Nothing like the old street bustling with shops was left. Both the ferry and the police post were also gone. It was not learned if the loss of the ferry was going to be permanent. As elsewhere in the valley, new buildings were under construction. The new construction was not built on the old foundations, but in a wholly new configuration. Cement blocks were placed one on top of the other and cemented together, not with mud as customary of old, but with a dash of cement. From the past history of buildings here, there is no guarantee of permanence in this part of the world. Without the ferry connection, the importance of Bille as a shopping center for the valley would certainly have been diminished. Indeed, somewhere near the bridgehead over the Zab River at the old Herki River crossing might be a better location. A quick access to Aqra and Mosul would have been a good alternative for a shopping site.

A search was made in 1993 for old landmarks of the WWII landing field, but all signs of it were gone. New buildings were being constructed under the aegis of the German Westphalian organization called CARITAS. There were blue painted signs with the legend naming the village and the reconstruction underway at site of each of the villages being reconstructed. New buildings were being built of cinder blocks according to a set architectural pattern, with flat, beamed roofs. Instead of using the age-old method of roof covering made of tree limbs, twigs, sod and mud, metal was favored. Over the metal, corrugated sheets was laid a thickness of tamped earth, which was flattened with heavy rollers in the old traditional style. The workmanship of the concrete block laying did not appear to be precision perfect. I did not see any hand levels, line levels, plumb bobs or other measuring instruments in use, but despite this, the walls appeared to be straight and squared off well enough. Things appeared to be done "by eye".

There appeared to be a vast amount of reconstruction activity everywhere we looked. There was a new iron bridge over the Bu Zapsuyu River between Barzan and Amadia, a new bridge over the Ru Kuchuk River, a new bridge where the old Herki Bridge had been at the Pira Sar Gorge, and a new bridge replacing the old one at Khalan on the Rowanduz River. It was ironic that the first three bridges would have been flooded out with the planned construction of the Bekhme dam. The work of the CARITAS organization would have also been wiped out with the proposed reservoir. I did not have the chance to see any official of the organization to get their opinion on the subject.


From Bille in 1953, with six police as escorts, I went to Barzan en route to a cave I waned to inspect at the nearby village of Houstan. The walk from Bille to Barzan took 35 minutes. Barzan was situated in a wide cleft of the valley facing to the south in the midst of a delightful green spot with many trees and shrubs. The most prominent structure was a single-story police post. It was flat topped and built of roughly hewn stones set with mortar of a mud and straw mix. There was the running sound of many streams around the village. It was reported that there had been some 12 mills at Barzan at one time. None of the original buildings were standing. There were about 20 houses left.

In 1953, the buildings I saw had been newly, but not well constructed. There were no stores of any kind. It had been bombed and burned several times in its checkered history. The ruined walls of the homes of Sheikh Ahmad, Suleiman, the nephew of Mulla Mustafa, and Mulla Mustafa, could be seen still standing from the police post. Mulla Mustafa's house had a foundation of well-dressed stones of limestone, with arched doorways. Sheikh Ahmad's house, at the edge of the village, had arched doorways, and windows with stone lentils. It measured about 75 by 20 feet. Sheikh Ahmad had not been pardoned, and was in the jail in Basra. Suleiman's house and Mulla Mustafa's house measured about the same. One of the houses, never finished, had a well-dressed stone foundation measuring about 100 by 20 feet.

In November of 1956, there were about 100 houses in Barzan, but not all of them were occupied. There was a new Barzan hospital and a new school was being built. The village stood in a fine grove of tall poplar trees, with five springs welling out of the ground.

On June 12, 1957, while I was visiting Barzan, the King of Iraq proclaimed an amnesty for the imprisoned Barzanis, and they were free to return to their former homes. The occasion was on the first day of the Eid holidays. Of course there was much rejoicing at the news, and it made my visit particularly memorable.

The mosque was a short distance away from the houses, shaded by a large tree. It had survived the bombing. The interior had well-worn stones, polished by wear. There was a room for ablutions. It had a spring of water and a shallow pool, paved with flat stones. There was a courtyard measuring about 25 by 50 feet. The mosque had 2 stories.

Next to the mosque was a Jewish synagogue, which had been hit and wrecked by airplane bombs. Nothing remained of it but part of the walls and the cut and dressed foundation stones. The Jewish residents of Barzan are said to have worked like the rest of the people; but, as elsewhere in Iraq, were forced to leave the country in the late 1940's when the "trouble" began.

Dinner at Barzan consisted of rice, mutton, beans, the Kurdish flat bread "nan" and tea. Coffee was produced later. The dinner was served on a large flat copper tray heaped with a variety of foods on separate dishes. Before eating, one washed hands over a bowl of water with soap, and dried them with a towel proffered by one of the food handlers.

We were told that workmen at Barzan in 1960 were getting about 300 fils per day wages. We were paying 450 fils per day to our workers in the archaeological excavations, which of course was temporary employment. The police at Shanidar also appear to have been paid on a similar low scale. A corporal got 14 dinars a month and a private got 13 dinars a month. A sergeant's wages was 15 1/4 dinars a month. The Iraq dinar was pegged in 1960 to about $3.25 in American currency. This seems like a very low wage. But it should be remembered that the WW II private in the American army received only $40 dollars a month, extra for combat pay.

In June 1993, there was new construction underway in Barzan village. The construction was being done by the German firm, called CARITAS. The work was being done under German supervision. CARITAS was seen to be at work in other villages including Raizan and Shanidar. At Barzan, the new homes were being built overlooking old Barzan. It was said that each house cost about $1,800, or in Iraqi devalued currency, 75,000 I.D. One of the variables was the price of cinder blocks and other building materials in Erbil. The houses under construction were severely elemental. There was no chimney, no heat, no water, or electricity, just a basic house made of cinder blocks. The houses came with two bedrooms. Considering the average size of the Kurdish family, this meant for cramped living space by western standards. However, in comparison with the size of the Kurdish living quarters we have seen, this was luxurious.

So far as I could ascertain, these homes came free to the new owners. The new individual owners could alter their homes at will to their own requirements. Each house had an entry hall, with a kitchen off the hall, as well as a toilet and separate bathroom. The plans called for a shower and toilet fixtures, therefore presumably the houses were to be equipped with running water. How this was to be done was not learned.

Outside Sheikh Abdullah's house was a courtyard with a lovely small-flower garden of pansies which he nurtured and tended himself. In the same courtyard was a heavy caliber anti-aircraft machine gun pointing up to the sky. It looked as if its working days were over. There was a certain amount of rust on its working parts. Sheikh Abdullah said that it had not been used in over three years. The last time it was fired was in 1990. Sheikh Abdullah did not carry arms of any kind on his person. Only the younger members of the hierarchy bore holstered small arms, a mark of prestige one assumed. From Sheikh Abdullah we also learned that the government had placed an order against hunting in the region, an edict not well received in the region.

The remains of well-dressed stone architecture of former buildings could be seen everywhere. As for remains of the mosque, only the toilets seemed to survive. There were at least twelve separate stalls conveniently ranged in a row over a running stream of water. The small stream fed a shallow rectangular basin and continued to flow to course under the toilet cubicles. There were no doors to the cubicles. Like the basin, they were built of cut and fitted stone blocks.

On arrival at Sheikh Abdullah's house, we found outside his door two sets of parties who looked like foreigners. They were equipped with still and video cameras. They did not introduce themselves to us, which was reciprocal. Sheikh Abdullah appeared to dismiss them curtly and introduced us to his living room. It was a room measuring about 15X18 feet. A gasoline generator was started outside, which lit a small bulb in the reception room. There was a new Oriental rug on the floor. What looked like bedding was ranged up against one wall, farthest from the door, where Sheikh Abdullah had his seat. No chairs or other furniture were in the room. One can understand this, knowing how many times Barzan had been razed in recent times. The situation was always tense, and people had to be unencumbered with luxury chattels and ready to take off at any moment.

The next village seen in 1993 on the road toward Shanidar was called Perisal. The name may be a corruption of the name Pira Sar, the name of the narrow gorge over which the annual Herki bridge was built. The village was located very close to this gorge. Between Perisal and Raizan, villages not visited on this trip, was a cave in the mountain. Although it looked readily accessible, time could not be spared to examine it. It faced south, and looked as though it might have archaeological potential. We stopped on the road to Raizan to have a Pepsi at a drink stand set up on the road. A can of Pepsi cost Iraq 14 dinars. In June of 1993 official exchange rate of 4.30 Iraq Dinars equaled $1.00; the cost of a can of Pepsi came to 35 American cents. From there, one could easily pick out three terraces, with a fourth high up above the river.

Houstan (Solecki, 1998:41-42, Fig. 10)

About one hour's walk east of Barzan, we made a visit to Houstan village. It is located about half a mile from the cave I wished to investigate. Houstan had about 50 houses at one time. At the time of our visit, there were only four homes left. The houses were well built with limestone foundations. There were small stony plots on terraced fields. This village was above the reservoir limit.

Other Villages in the Sapna Valley

Other sites visited include Malmen, a hamlet of two houses situated on the left bank of the valley about a third of a mile above the junction of the Rowanduz (locally called the Zwa-Ru) and the Greater Zab rivers. Malmen lay on the second terrace about 50 feet above the river. The first terrace, about 25 feet above the river, was composed of gravels, and the second was composed of silts and quiet water deposits. There used to be a road to Bekhme this way, now overgrown and washed out in places. To get across the Rowanduz River before the dam was built at Khalan, travelers used a raft. The owner of one of the houses, Ali Beg, had a large stone house where he and his family wintered. It lies well within the reservoir limit.


This was a small hamlet up the Rowanduz River on the trail above Malmen. Counted were a dozen houses in two groups. Noted were trees and wheat fields on cleared stony ground. The fields appeared to be about 200 feet square, the maximum size. In elevation, Kharva is about 205 feet above Shanidar village.

Shewadi village and a ruined unnamed village.

Going up the Rowanduz River valley, the next village visited was Shewadi, a 10-house village situated close to a gorge with a narrow passage. It is said that a "king" used to live there. The age-old custom of using flint and steel to light pipes was noted still in vogue among the male residents. The dried inner bark or punks was used to catch the spark and used to make the ignition.

On the return to Shanidar using a high trail, we bypassed an unnamed ruined village. There were remains of houses made of uncut stones with oblong low heaps of stones measuring about 30 feet by 20 feet. This unnamed village site was said to be very ancient, "older than Erbil."

Areas Visited Outside the Sapna Valley


In Aug. 17, 1951, I finished with Shanidar for the season, and drove from Mosul to Amadia with a stop at Dohuk. The village or town, Amadia is perched on top of a geological outcrop. It has large population, and featured in Wigram and Wigram (1914) as having a church. It has about 400 houses with an approach from the north. It is 40 minutes by car from Sirsank. Sirsank is about 3 1/2 hours from Mosul.


In 1960, I visited the village of Mergasur on the other side of Baradost Mountain. It was reached after a three-hour walk on a trail from Shanidar. It has a road connection with the main road at Khalifan. Mergasur is the district seat of Shanidar. It lies at an altitude of 3,500 feet. It had an old destroyed police post, a large dispensary or small hospital, a school and some stores. My impression was that Bille had more stores, probably because Bille was situated at a strategic river crossing. By car, it took one hour and twenty minutes from Balikian to Mergasur on a good road.

The Right Bank of the Greater Zab River


I was told in 1953 that there were potential cave sites on the right bank of the Zab River. In addition I was told that the village of Gundi Bikres, now ruined, had been situated opposite Shanidar village. It lay among tall poplar trees near a spring with running water, grape vines, grape arbors and large play areas. Some stone foundations of rough-cut stones and remnants of standing walls were all that was left of what apparently had been a thriving village. It is said that the village was defunct because the villagers refused to pay taxes to the government and revolted. They abandoned their village and left for Iran. As punishment, the Iraq government tore down all of the houses. The village was the place where the Turks fought the Russians in 1915. It had been the home of Mulla Mustafa Barzani, the original leader of the Barzani tribe. Sheihk Agha of Aqra was said to be in control of Bikres. He had exacted from each family a petrol tin (about 5 gallons) of wheat, grapes, raisons or rice. This village lay within the reservoir limit.

In my 1953 survey no village was seen between Kolakan and the Bekhme Gorge on the right bank of the Zab River. There was a well-used hard-packed trail going past the remains of Bikres. Although the fields were flat and level, they were full of limestone areas, which would have made cultivation difficult. There were a fair number of fields, however, and those seen were terraced.


Downstream on the right bank of the Zab from Shanidar could be seen in August, 1960, five thatched roofed houses, which looked similar to those seen near Bille. This hamlet looked very much like a typical textbook example of a Neolithic village. The hamlet was viewed with the aid of field glasses. It was not visited. It lay within the reservoir limit.


In my 1953 survey, we came to a place called Kharbo on the route to Bekhme. Several rectangular groups of stones marking old habitation sites were seen at this place. Near Kharbo is a cave site called Shkaft Fatima (Solecki, R.:32). This is a broad open cave, with three side chambers. It is an hour's walk from the crossing point opposite Shanidar. The cave is situated on a good footpath, about 800 feet above the river. It overlooks the first bend of the river before it swings on to turn into the Bekhme Gorge. The cave faces to the east, on the west side of a wooded draw, which ends in the wall of the mountain. It is a limestone breccia cave. The ceiling was coated with black soot and carbon, indicating human occupation. The floor was covered with a thick crust of sheep and cattle dung, indicating that it was also used as an animal shelter. A stone bounded fireplace was noted in a fenced off area. Three animal corrals were found in the cave. In the cave were several chambers. The main chamber had an earthen floor, which looked worthy of a test excavation. There was a steep talus slope outside. No artifacts were recovered at this cave site.

There is a smaller cave about 30 feet to the south of Shkaft Fatima on the same level. It measures about 15 feet wide and 15 feet in depth. There is a 20-foot high ceiling blackened by soot and smoke. The floor was rocky, and did not appear to have much of a cultural deposit. There was still another cave about 50 feet farther on, which had an open chimney to the roof outside. It measured 10 feet wide and 25 feet long. It had a peaked ceiling about 20 feet high. The floor was steeply sloped and strewn with rocks. It was narrow and did not appear to be habitable or used. These features lay above the limit of the Bekhme reservoir.

About three hours were spent in the investigations on the right bank of the Zab River. The survey did not extend as far as the Bekhme Gorge. In order to cross the river without using boats or rafts, the men used either gourds bound together or inflated goatskins with a combination of hand paddling and floating to the other side. They were able to transport some light goods in this manner. The use of floats was foreign to me, and I swam across the river, going along with the swift current down-stream.

Survey on the Upper Left Bank of the Greater Zab River

In November 1956, Dr. Rose Solecki and our antiquities department representative, Sabri Shukri, made a survey on the upper Zab River near Jefferkhan where they reportedly found two possible early village sites. The exact location and site names were not recorded. No details are known of these finds.

In 1960, a ruined village identified as Nov Shira was briefly explored. It lay near a spring. The site was said to be the former home of Shuan Agha of Shanidar village. A number of flints were recovered there. They looked similar to those found at Zawi Chemi Shanidar.


Khalan is a village site situated near the iron bridge over the Rowanduz River. It was visited on Aug. 28, 1960. It is about 9 miles up river from Shanidar. Husein Agha of the Surchi clan was the headman of Khalan back then. He live in a two-story house, which was unusual for its size. It took us one hour and fifteen minutes to make the trip. However, we had made stops along the way to make observations. Some well-developed terraces were seen as high as 300 feet above the river. Of interest at Khalan is the presence of a large south-facing cave, called "Ow Zen," which means "good water" (Solecki, Ralph: 40-41, Pl.30; Fig.5, No.14; Fig.6, No.6). It is above the village on the mountain slope. It took about 20-25 minutes to climb up to the cave. It had a large talus slope fertilized by animal dung removed from the cave by herders. Checking the cave in August 1960 as a possible archaeological site, it was found to have a good number of large fallen rocks, which would have been a major hindrance. The site lies above the maximum flood pool level of Bekhme dam.

In 1993, the old Khalan bridge was still standing, but a new bridge was in place farther up the Rowanduz River, bypassing Khalan village. The asphalt road was potholed in many places, which made travel by car slow.

Jefferkhan was a small thriving Surchi village on the road below Khalan. Its position made it a convenient stopover point. There appeared to be much new housing going up in this town as seen from the car. The going was very slow because the road had been heavily potholed. The village lay within the full Bekhme reservoir pool limit.

At Shanidar in 1960 the villagers were seen digging pits in the ground for wheat storage. The holes measured 1.5 m in diameter and 1.5 m deep. The sides of the pits were lined with red-colored hardened mud. Close to the village a circular threshing floor was made to process the wheat. The villagers appeared to live in close harmony, and helped each other when called on.

Bekhme Gorge

In June 1953, on the road to Bekhme from Batas, I went down to Bekhme Gorge on a real gravel road most of the way. Before coming to Eshkafta village, I noted a prominent cave on the hillside facing to the west. I did not check it. There appeared to be at least 2 or 3 parallel paths along the river in the gorge. The trails were on the left bank of the river. The right bank at the gorge was impassable. I followed a trail toward Der Tesu where my informant, Pushu, said a large cave was present. I did not see it.

Years later, in 1993, approaching Bekhme Gorge by way of the road from Shanidar on the left bank of the Zab River, the newly constructed work on the Bekhme dam could be seen from the road near Khalan. Where Der-Tesu had been, there now appeared to be a new settlement of houses. There was even a mosque, new and shining, with a blue roof and a tall minaret. It was assumed that this was meant to serve the workmen at the dam site, and the people who remained employed in dam operations. Of the dam itself, three penstocks could be seen, their open empty mouths facing high above the valley. But the dam itself had not been constructed across the river. So far as I could tell from a distance, the Zab River flowed through the Bekhme Gorge as before.

The Early Christians in the Sapna Valley

The early Christians in the Sapna valley recognized its unusual beauty. Hamilton, a British engineer who built the road to Rowanduz, says that "Every Assyrian speaks with pride of the beauties of this land, and the legends of these. Nestorian Christians claim the upper Zab as "the true site of the Garden of Eden" (Hamilton, 1942:84). Indeed, in the author's own travels in northern and southern Kurdistan, he has not seen any land comparable in picturesque beauty to the Sapna valley.


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Ralph S. Solecki

Department of Anthropology, Columbia University

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