Rock Reliefs

Rock relief sculptures are a characteristic form of ancient Near Eastern monument found throughout the region from Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The rock reliefs of Mesopotamia have been less well known than those of neighbouring lands. In 2012 the Columbia University Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments project (MMM) initiated the systematic documentation of Mesopotamian rock reliefs on site as part of our larger monument field survey that depends on field walking, climbing, the close observation of contexts and environments, and the complex, multi-temporal affective experiences of monuments. Often carved in locations that are difficult to view or access, our position is that these rock reliefs are best understood in relationship to their setting in the mountainous terrain of northern Mesopotamia and the western Zagros, and at times, also to water sources of the region. Few archaeologists who have written about Mesopotamian rock reliefs in the past have in fact seen or studied them in situ. In contrast, our field method insists on situated study. It considers the rock reliefs as a material part of a landscape, space and environment, as materially encountered forms that are experienced in a particular terrain. The rock reliefs of Iraqi Kurdistan span several centuries, beginning with the mid third millennium BC sculpted rock reliefs at Gunduk, and with the most recent dating to the Parthian- Arsacid dynasty in the first centuries AD.

The MMM team, working with the Directorates of Antiquities of Dohuk and Suleymaniyeh, and the State Board of Antiquities in Baghdad, has documented and assessed the conditions of the recorded rock reliefs in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Some Mesopotamian rock relief sites have only one rock carved monument while others have many, with the best-known examples being the Neo-Assyrian reliefs at Khinnis dating to the reign of king Sennacherib of Assyria (705-681 BC). While studies of Mesopotamian rock reliefs have traditionally been decontextualized readings of iconography and political ideology, without the close analysis that fieldwork permits, the work of the Columbia project has instead focused on field studies that use new technologies in combination with theories of landscape and monuments to understand these reliefs. At all these sites, we have documented the rock reliefs using the latest digital methods and models, and mapped them contextually, including the documentation of what is visible in the surrounding landscape from the vantage point of the monument, its environment, and the embodied encounter, through processes of ascent or approach as part of the experiential aspect of their locations.


Zainab Bahrani




Batas Harir  


Darbandi Belula

Darbandi Gawr








Shiru Malikhta


Rock cut tombs:


Kur-u kich



Tigris Tunnel