Tell Mozan, located in northeast Syria in the Khabur River plain, is the site of ancient Urkesh, a place associated with the Hurrians, a Bronze Age people of Upper Mesopotamia. Its origins are lost in time, but are currently thought to extend to the early fourth millennium B.C. An important religious site, the city drew its prosperity from the copper-rich highlands to the north, in modern-day Turkey. Excavations at Tell Mozan began in the 1980s, but it took almost a decade of work before the archaeologists were able to announce the discovery of Urkesh, in 1995. Hundreds of clay seals with depictions of the life and lore of the royal family, discovered during excavations, yielded precious information about the site’s history. Today, the uncovered remains of this fabled ancient city include a palace, a temple, an open plaza, and a large underground structure related to religious rituals.
2006 World Monuments Watch
Archaeologists excavating Tell Mozan have been mindful of preserving the site for the long term. However, the encroachment of a nearby settlement threatened the site, prompting a successful nomination to the 2006 World Monuments Watch. The attention the Watch created for Urkesh led to the formal establishment of a park area enclosing the archaeological boundaries of the site. The archaeologists have always strived to integrate conservation into excavation work, and as a result of this approach they have been able to prevent the rapid deterioration that often plagues newly excavated archaeological sites, and to avoid the need for heavy physical intervention. Over many years, the archaeologists have designed and perfected a simple and lightweight system of shelters that protect the ancient mud-brick walls from heavy rain and wind. Metal frames covered with mud roofs on top and synthetic fabric or burlap on the sides enclose the excavated wall sections, and also recreate the original sense of space with their volume. In 2009, WMF sponsored an initiative to expand this unique site protection technique and to improve interpretation, within a well-established strategy for long-term stewardship.
Excavations at Tell Mozan have revealed most of what is known today about the early culture of the Hurrian people. Previously, knowledge about the Hurrians was limited to myth and to scant artifacts of unknown origin. In addition, due to its extreme antiquity, the site is important for the understanding of the development of human culture in the entire region of Mesopotamia. The work at Tell Mozan meets the highest international standards, and in 2011 the excavations received the inaugural Best Practices in Site Preservation Award by the Archaeological Institute of America. Today, much remains to be uncovered at this exciting and significant site.