Ismael Nuraddini peers into a hole in the earth of Iraq’s Kurdistan region at what researchers believe could be remnants of a lost city dating back more than 2,000 years.
Pointing around the Qalatga Darband site, he recounts the discoveries of two statues that might help to prove this was once a thriving hub founded by one of the ancient world’s most powerful rulers — Alexander the Great.
“One of them looks like Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty in ancient Greece. The other one could be Alexander,” said Nuraddini, 62.
Until recently the dig, about 330km northwest of Baghdad, was buzzing with activity as a team of 15 archaeologists from both Iraq and abroad worked under the stewardship of the British Museum to uncover more invaluable treasures.
However, now the site is silent as the foreign experts — two Britons and a Hungarian — packed up and left last week to avoid becoming stranded after a spat between the Iraqi central government and Kurdish authorities over a disputed independence referendum that saw Baghdad cut international air links to the region.
“This is the first time researchers from abroad have had to leave,” student Rzgar Qader Boskiny said, who has been working on a neighboring dig.
“They even stayed here when the Islamic State group came near,” he said.
The sudden disappearance of foreign experts has left Nuraddini guarding Qalatga Darband.
That is a major job for the self-taught man from the nearby town of Ranya, who in 2013 helped to guide foreign researchers to the 60-hectare site perched on the edge of a lake.
Archeologists who have been working on the site describe the find as “exceptional,” but it will take the British Museum project years longer to determine if it genuinely was linked to Alexander the Great. Some believe it could be a major city from Alexander’s empire that was lost from historical records for millennia.
However, even if those hopes prove unfounded, it is still an important find.
“It was a strategic town, maybe even a provincial capital, that controlled the routes linking different worlds — Mesopotamia, Persia and Ancient Greece,” said Jessica Giraud, head of the French archeological mission in the region.
While the hunt for more clues about Qalatga Darband has ground to a halt, it has assistance from an unlikely source flying overhead that helped experts hone in on the ruins.
Archeologists used declassified images taken by the CIA’s Cold War spy satellite program in the 1960s to help them survey the site and better focus their explorations.
An image of the area from 1967, shows the outlines of ancient walls, roads and what appears to be a large building that researchers think was a fort and a temple.
“Now we use these images for all our missions,” Giraud said. “Thanks to them we have managed to speed up our searches fivefold.”
A joint French-Iraqi mission to map archeological finds has already found about 354 sites in the region.
Experts put the density of finds down to fertility of the land and the fact that the area was at the crossroads of major kingdoms.
The British Museum project began last autumn and is set to run until 2020, but the disruptions could mean delays in answering questions surrounding Qalatga Darband.
For now, only Nuraddini and Rzgar are left pottering around the abandoned equipment at the site, their lone companion a fisherman drinking tea in the shade of his pickup.
They are hoping that the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities can patch up their differences, which would mean a lifting of the ban on flights to the region.
“If this suspension lasts for a long time, I fear it will have a negative impact on our work,” Rzgar said. “When the team return then the golden age of archeology can resume.”
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
ACADEMIC FREEDOM: One professor told her students to submit anonymized papers and not to record any online classes. Some US schools have announced similar steps Students at Oxford University specializing in the study of China are being asked to submit some papers anonymously to protect them from the possibility of retribution under the sweeping new security law introduced three months ago in Hong Kong. The anonymity ruling is to be applied in classes, and group tutorials are to be replaced by one-to-ones. Students are also to be warned that it will be viewed as a disciplinary offence if they tape classes or share them with outside groups. The Hong Kong National Security Law was imposed on June 30 by Beijing after more than a year of pro-democracy
Japan’s government yesterday urged people to seek help if they were struggling to cope, following Sunday’s death of the popular actress and Miss Sherlock star Yuko Takeuchi, 40. News of her death shocked the nation and follows other recent cases of Japanese celebrities taking their lives, with figures showing a recent rise in suicides. Takeuchi was a household name in Japan and had given birth to her second child in January. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not mention a particular case, but said that some people were struggling to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been an uptick in the number
China on Thursday lashed out at the US at a high-level UN meeting over its criticism on the COVID-19 pandemic, with its envoy declaring, “Enough is enough.” Two days after US President Donald Trump used his annual address to the General Assembly to attack China’s record, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, also took an outraged tone — after which her Chinese counterpart showed palpable anger. “I must say, enough is enough. You have created enough troubles for the world already,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) told a Security Council meeting on global governance attended through videoconference