Kur u Kich Tomb

Alternative Names

Ishkewt-i Kur i Kich; Ashkawt-i Kur i Kich; Kur u Kič; Kurh u Kich


ca. 600–330 BC

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

    Tomb Viewed from the Exterior

    Tomb Antechamber: Interior Views and Details

    Details of the Tomb's Surroundings

    Surqaushan Gorge near Kur u Kich

    Historical Photographs

    Supplementary Images

    Ishkewt-i Kur u Kich (“Cave of the Boy and Girl”) belongs to a typology of rock-cut tombs conventionally known as “Median,” though these are now generally ascribed to the Achaemenid era. It is one of two such tombs sited in Iraqi Kurdistan, along with the better known example of Ishkewt-i Qyzqapan, 2–3 km to the north; more specifically, it is found in Sulaymaniyah/Slemani province near the village of Shornakh, south of the Sar Sird hills and along the Banzad cliffs (see the plan of the area). The tomb, apparently left unfinished, is carved above a narrow natural terrace of the cliff face, overlooking the Charmaga valley with Mt. Piramagrun in the distance (see the panorama).

    The Kur u Kich tomb comprises two main spaces, an antechamber and a burial chamber (see the plan). It is accessed through a rectangular opening in the cliff face (6.75 m wide x 4.05 m high) leading directly into the antechamber. The antechamber extends 2.4 m in depth toward the rear wall, which serves as a facade for the inner tomb chamber (see the panorama).  

    The antechamber’s ceiling is marked by two rock-carved projections simulating wooden beams, roughly evenly spaced and 0.5 m high. These were once “supported” by two freestanding columns, also integral with the rock fabric, set toward the rear wall. Most of the columns, which would have stood 3.55 m tall from the floor to the beams, have been lost. A column base formerly documented on the left-hand side, including a plinth and torus, is no longer in the tomb (see the historical photograph and drawing); the capital preserved on the right-hand side is very weathered, though it can probably be identified as Ionic in form (as with the engaged columns of the nearby Qyzqapan tomb; see the comparandum). Unlike the antechamber at Qyzqapan—with its elaborate relief imagery—the facade of Kur u Kich lacks any sculptured decoration; this may be due to its unfinished state or because it was designed to be painted.

    A small rectangular door, 1.2 m high x 0.8 m wide, is set centrally in the rear wall of the antechamber. The considerable depth of its carved doorjambs, along with a peculiar widening on the left hand side, may suggest that (unlike Qyzqapan) the tomb chamber was meant to be sealed with a slab.1 In plan, this tomb chamber is a slightly irregular rectangle (1.5 x 0.9 m). The floor on the right side has been dug about a half meter deep, forming a sunken rectangular compartment presumably designed to receive the remains of the tomb’s occupant. As at Qyzqapan, the compartment is too small for an outstretched adult body, and it may have served as a type of ossuary known as an astodan (Persian sotodan).

    • 1. Von Gall 1988, 582.

    “Description & Iconography” general sources: Edmonds 1931, 190–191; von Gall 1966, 25–27 (no. 5); von Gall 1974, 142; von Gall 1988, 580–582; Bahrani 2017, 300–302.

    The period to which the Kur u Kich tomb should be assigned has aroused considerable discussion. In the decades after its discovery by western scholars in the early 1930s, it was placed into the Median phase of Ernst Herzfeld’s chronology of rock-cut tombs (late 7th–early 6th century BC).1 However, since the 1960s, this scheme has been strongly challenged by Hubertus von Gall, who would rather date this and most other such tombs to the Achaemenid era; according to his view, the tomb would have been built for a local, semi-independent ruler within the territory of the empire.2 It is not clear why it was left unfinished or whether it was ever used.

    It is not only the circumstances surrounding the tomb’s creation that are obscure; its ensuing history is entirely unknown. However, it was familiar to the local Kurds by the time of Cecil J. Edmonds’ first visit to the site in the 1930s. According to Edmonds, its name (Kurdish for “Boy and Girl”) derives from the legend that the tomb was created for a young prince who loved a princess beyond the stream of the Tabin.3 She had built him a bridge to facilitate his visits, but the romance ended in tragedy when the bridge collapsed and the youth was drowned.

    • 1. Herzfeld 1941, 203–204; the author dates Qyzqapan to the late Median period and assumes Kur u Kich is earlier than this. See also Edmonds 1957, 211–212.
    • 2. Von Gall 1966; von Gall 1988.
    • 3. Edmonds 1934, 190–191.

    The cave was known to the local Kurds before it was documented by Western explorers (see “History”). In 1931, Ahmad Beg-i Taufiq Beg, the mutasarrif of Sulaymaniyah, alerted Cecil J. Edmonds—at this time the Director of Antiquities in Iraq—to both Qyzqapan and Kur u Kich; Edmonds published his study of both tombs, including diagrams and photographs, in 1934.1

    • 1. Edmonds 1934; cf. Edmonds 1957, 211–212.

    Bahrani, Zainab. 2017. Art of Mesopotamia. New York: Thames & Hudson.

    Edmonds, Cecil J. 1934. “A Tomb in Kurdistan.” Iraq 1: 183–192.

    Edmonds, Cecil J. 1957. Kurds, Turks, and Arabs: Politics, Travel and Research in North-Eastern Iraq. London: Oxford University Press.

    Herzfeld, Ernst. 1941. Iran in the Ancient East. London: Oxford University Press.

    Mahdi, A. 1950. “Archaeological Sites in the Surdash Region of Sulaimaniyah Province.” Sumer 6: 231–243 [in Arabic].

    Von Gall, Hubertus. 1966. “Zu den ‘medischen’ Felsgräbern in Nordwestiran und Iraqi Kurdistan.” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 19–43.

    Von Gall, Hubertus. 1974. “Neue Beobachtungen zu den sog. medischen Felsgräbern.” Proceedings of the IInd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, edited by Firouz Bagherzadeh, 139–154. Tehran: Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research.

    Von Gall, Hubertus. 1988. “Das Felsgrab von Qizqapan: Ein Denkmal aus dem Umfeld der achämenidischen Königsstrasse.” Baghdader Mitteilungen 19: 557–582.

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    Matthew Peebles (2019)