Dailaija Relief

Alternative Names

Darband-i Basara Relief, Darband-i-Basara, Darband Basahrah


Late 3rd–early 2nd millennium BC

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2017
Site Type
Rock Reliefs and Tombs
Sulaymaniyah Governorate

    Rock Formation with Dailaja Relief

    Landscape Surrounding the Darband-i Basara

    This curious relief is found near the modern village of Dailaija, about 25 km east-southeast of Sulaymaniyah/Slemani in Iraqi Kurdistan. The village is set into the slopes of the Qara Dagh, one of the western ranges of the Zagros Mountains. Streams flowing from Dailaija and the village of Sola, to its north, converge about 3.5 km to the west into the larger stream of the Basara. Right beyond this point of confluence, the river crosses through a high hill and flows through a gorge called the Darband-i Basara. The image has been carved on the rough northern face of this pass (see the panorama). 

    Due to its highly worn state, small size, and relatively remote location, the relief remains little known outside of Iraq and even outside of the Sulaymaniyah/Slemani region’s archaeological community. The current condition of the work renders interpretation of its subject matter and chronology challenging, but it can be dated with some certainty to the centuries around the turn of the 2nd millennium BC.

    The Dailaija relief has been carved on the northern face of the gorge of Darband-i Basara. This face is heavily layered with thickly separated diagonal facets of sedimentation; the relief is placed on an especially large facet set above eye level. The rectangular field of the relief is relatively small (see the photogrammetric reconstruction). Its edges are neatly carved, but it otherwise lacks a border. The figural design is extremely worn and has been further damaged by significant cracking running diagonally across the composition. The hole near the center of the design seems to result from the natural porousness of the rock (several similar holes can be seen nearby). It should also be noted that the relief was covered with graffiti at the time of its documentation by MMM in the spring of 2017.

    The central element of the design is certainly a standing figure occupying almost the entire height of the compositional field. The figure’s head has almost entirely chipped away, but the shape of the cracking suggests the pointed headdress of a divinity. The figure’s feet, facing left, as well as the bottom of the robe at the ankles, can be made out clearly. The figure’s upper arm extends almost horizontally behind the back, bending 90 degrees at the elbow such that the forearm is held vertically downward. The area behind the divinity is occupied by what appears to be an additional figure rendered at a smaller scale. The head can be made out near the point where two large cracks converge. This figure is probably kneeling and his arms may be held out before him. A thin line, most likely representing a rope, runs between the divinity’s hand and the head of this figure, who must thus be a captive. 

    In this motif, the composition can be compared to a number of other rock reliefs in the region in which a divinity holds prisoners by a rope.1 This is often the goddess Inanna/Ishtar, which may also be the case at Dailaija (though the condition of the relief precludes a definitive identification of the figure). The closest parallel is probably to be found in the Annubanini relief at Sar-i-pol Zohab, in which the goddess holds her arm in a similar way, with a rope stretching back toward two smaller captives behind. In this relief and several others, the divinity is confronted by a ruler standing with his foot on another prostrate victim. However, this does not seem to be the case in the Dailaija relief. The area in front of the divinity is the least legible portion of the image. Although the heavily damaged contours here are suggestive of a human figure—perhaps a ruler—there is no obvious iconographic parallel for the placement of the ruler-divinity pair in such close proximity, even to the point of overlapping. Toward the relief’s left-hand border, there are a few slight irregularities in the rock surface, but it is largely smooth, and it is not clear that anything was carved here. It is anticipated that future study will reveal more about this tantalizing image. 

    • 1. These reliefs are illustrated and discussed as a group in J. Nicholas Postgate and Michael D. Roaf, “The Shaikhan Relief,” Al Rāfidān 18 (1997): 143–156. See also the cylinder seal of Shu-iliya of Eshnunna (Ur III period), in which a male divinity stands upon a captive bound to the rope by a nose ring (see the illustration and discussion in Burchard Brentjes, “Zum Vorbild des Annubanini-Reliefs,” Das Altertum 12 (1966): 131–135).

    On the basis of its iconography and style, the Dailaija relief can be roughly dated to the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium BC. A number of rock reliefs of this era, found in the general vicinity, revolve around the theme of the triumphant ruler (e.g., Darband-i Gawr and Darband-i Belula, among others); several others include the ruler in a relationship with a divinity, as may be the case at Dailaija. Presuming it was commissioned by a ruler, its wide chronological window and lack of inscription prevent its attribution to any particular personage. It could have been commissioned by a dynast from the Mesopotamian heartland, perhaps during a campaign in the area; it is more likely, however, that as with the Annubanini relief, it was carved by a Lullubi king or another local ruler. It is anticipated that future study will reveal more about this tantalizing image. 

    Content Manager
    Matthew Peebles (2020)