The Urkesh Eco-Archaeological Park


Giorgio Buccellati, February 2014

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The awakening of consciousness
The Mozan "scholarly support group"
Recalling an expatriate
Monitoring as sharing

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The awakening of consciousness

     Mozan, as a hill, has always been there, for over three millennia. It has become Urkesh again thanks only to archaeology. The evidence is so fine and fractured that no one but an archaeologist would have been able to recognize the reality deeply hidden in the ground.
     The next question is how to preserve this fragile gift of time. Preserve it physically, so that is not destroyed by rain and snow. But preserve it morally as well, so that it is not destroyed by war.
     The answer is that the site has to be embedded in the consciousness of the people who are now the immediate heirs to this remote richness. We had been nurturing this consciousness, with a very explicit and concrete program long before the troubles started in 2011. This meant eliciting a sense of importance for a seemingly evanescent, and certainly very remote, past. It also meant training. For a patterned maintenance system is the indispensable human ingredient for the success of any such project.
     Here are our local collaborators, Kurds and Arabs, working on a common goal.

     What I find extraordinary is the complete lack of a sense of fatigue and disaffection.
     It is almost three years that there are no excavations at the site.
     A civil war has been raging in the country.
     And we get pictures upon pictures of damages to the mudbrick, of plastic that shrivels and needs to be replaced; of tarp covers that slowly disintegrate .
     All of this carefully documented on a floor plan, or with marks on a photograph to highlight the nature of the problem.
     And these are all pictures of 2013, not of 2010!
     It may seem either epic or surrealistic, depending on the point of view...
     And it is instead the result of a most admirable sense of commitment to a job well done, the sense of pride in their effort: “in order to see the hill Mozan of the most beautiful and the best archaeological sites in the world...” as our photographer, Diadin, writes in one of his reports.

     Motivation is one of the main ingredients of this whole enterprise. We had nurtured it while we could work together; we are nurturing it now from a distance with our intense correspondence. But it is ultimately nurtured by the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing the results.
     There is like a loud tone of victory in these pictures, with which they show us, and really show to themselves in the first place, how the site can continue to be managed and maintained in spite of all odds.
     The grass on the stone steps is removed and new mud plaster set in place to protect the stone joints from rain and snow. The mudbrick walls are protected again. The sun shows no fatigue when dawn comes again. Nor do our trusted Mozanians...

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The Mozan "scholarly support group"

     Our ambition was always to involve as directly as possible our “workmen” in the research activities of our project. Now that we are not able to interface with our Mozanians directly, this intent has been put to the test. And we have met our match.
     We have already seen Diadin at work as a skilled photographer and recorder. During the last three years we have logged in some 10,000 photos – and what mattered was not only taking good pictures, but documenting each and every one of them, processing them on the computer, and sending them to us via the Internet. We have already seen ample evidence of this in the way in which they have been monitoring the wall conservation project.
     But then there is the work on our old files that had not been digitized yet. Kameran goes through these records, scans them and sends them to us.
     We need measurements taken in the field? We get the figures (for instance, size and weight of a brick), and the photo that goes with it to show Ibrahim at work.
     And then there are the large quantities of pottery excavated in previous years. So here is Hammade, in the company of his chicken, measuring and classifying, transposing our sherds onto coded sheets – which are of course entered in the data base in Qamishli and sent to us via the Internet...

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Recalling an expatriate

     The reach of the Mozan spirit is ambitious. Here is one story that brings this home very vividly.
     The abi is one of the most significant structures: a deep shaft, lined in stone, where the sacredness the ancients felt still evokes our awe. It is also one of the best preserved religious structures of Syro- Mesopotamia. We had covered it with a dome-like trellis, covered in turn with carefully laid tarp material, which imitated the ancient corbelled vault that had in antiquity protected the inside for centuries. But, quite understandably, the two years since our last work at the site had wreaked more damage than the centuries had to the original dome. The tarps lay tattered, the trellis bare.
     Our faithful local collaborators sounded the alarm. And took what measures they could to protect this ominous abi: sheets of plastic, packed with earth at the base, to prevent rain and the first snow from drenching the shaft and undermine its stones.
     But clearly it was not enough. The response had an epic ring to it.
     Every one who had been on the excavations at Mozan knew Sabah Kassem, the smith and the poet of our project. He had in the meantime moved to Mardin, the city across the Turkish border from Mozan. Through many a phone call with our local collaborators in Mozan and with him in Mardin, it was agreed that the best was to entrust the saving of the abi to him.
     Every one who had been on the excavations at Mozan knew Sabah Kassem, the smith and the poet of our project. He had in the meantime moved to Mardin, the city across the Turkish border from Mozan. Through many a phone call with our local collaborators in Mozan and with him in Mardin, it was agreed that the best was to entrust the saving of the abi to him.

     In so doing, we were making a larger statement. Despite all the tragedy, we would not settle for temporary remedies. Through an intense, if often interrupted, telephonic and telematic dialog between the US, Italy, Turkey and of course Syria, we agreed to place a firmer protection than we had ever done while we were in Mozan. A metal sheet cover to our trellis! So, catching the right moment between heavy rainstorms and the first snowfall, Sabah was once more atop one of his fabulous constructions!

     It was spider man in Mozan. In fact, spider men in the plural, because our trusted Mozanians were obviously all there to lend a hand.
     Isn’t it beautiful, even from the inside? The sun came out just to mark the end of a well done job. But also to show that there were some fissures where the light shone through, to show where to inject some silicon.
     Some paint to give it the tone and feeling of the surroundings, and behold! A prodigious accomplishment, indeed.
     Not only, of course, because it can withstand the heavy snow (that promptly followed); not only because of all else that is otherwise happening in this martyred country.
     But also because it gives witness to the human will behind it. The will to accomplish something valuable surmounting all odds, all distances, all dangers.
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Monitoring as sharing

     The human will. That is the great bond that has kept us together, across the yawning gulf brought about by the events. One can tell from an accomplishment such as the abi dome that the Mozan chemistry is fully at work. We have a strong sharing of what the important goals are, and that is how we come to share as well, seamlessly, the necessary procedures.
     Another remarkable human dimension of this incredible adventure we are living together emerges from the way in which we correspond. We have a strict recording system, with detailed time sheets where every hour is accounted for. And we review them carefully. Not at all out of suspicion, because our mutual trust could not be greater. But because this gives the meaasure of our reciprocal commitment to professionality. It gives great dignity to our common endeavor.
     And so it is that the monitoring becomes often a very moving testimony to the real life that is lived behind the work, and makes work worthwhile and beautiful. Well beyond the financial remuneration, important (and of course welcome) though that is.
     The prize goes to this time sheet. We use them to record the hours spent on any given job, and to calculate thereby the compensation to be paid.
In this particular one, Kameran records zero hours for six days in a row.
     And the explanation is as terse as it is eloquent: I marry, my wedding.

     The few excerpts that follow, from June and December 2013, speak louder than any editorial ever could.
I've visited the hill: a lot of visitors and they marveled that the mission did not come two years ago but still keep excavations initial shape
12 need to jader new and very necessary
[twelve walls need tarps]
We hope to see you soon in Tall Mozan you are always in our hearts
Hello to Mr. Samer
Thank you
Temple Abe and as we told you earlier in dire need of jader new and expensive process of restoration and we need money for repair Otherwise, you will lose this magnificent archaeological site. [this accompanied the early photos of the damaged abi tarp covers]
We are pleased with our work with you until now, despite the difficult circumstances The work continues...
Thank you
Ibrahim Khalo
I told Diadan about the images [ the photographs he sends at the end of the month] He said the images ready but can not bring me the pictures because the road cut off by snow
He said when opening the way will bring me
Thank you
I am very happy to work with you so far, despite the distance between us We work in Mozan as a team in terms of our good work and like you are us exists in Mozan [as if you were with us here in Mozan]
We have some difficulties at work but still worked continuously Very interesting work and also tired because of the circumstances in which pass in Syria
But it remains always work with you interesting and nice to you wonderful people
Thank you
We have a lot of difficulties we are working and there is no one support us something Not financially or morally, but for the sake of Urkesh will bear all this in order to stay alive
Workers who work with you are the best workers and they are doing their duty by their potential
But the increase in salary was very little hope that aided them little
[we had provided a small increase, and this gave them some additional incentive]
We use old nylon and harvested over the palace walls and Alripan old cut of Jawader
[we use old plastic that we collect all over the palace excavations, and strips made out of the old tarps]
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