Jerwan Expedition

Sennacherib's Aqueduct at Jerwan

Jerwan is a small Yezidi village, which is 10km from Ain Sifni. The site is also part of the larger canal and aqueduct built by the Assyrian king Sennacherib between 703 and 690 BC. During the early 1930s, an archaeological team of the Chicago University visited and examined the place. The campaign of archaeological survey was supported by Yezidi laborers.

The photos are published on the Yezidi Photo Archive with the kind permission of of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

First visit

From: Documents from Jerwan by The University of Chicago

In April, 1932, while the writer was spending some weeks in Khorsabad his attention was called to a curious story told by one of the workmen. This man had found work the previous summer among the foothills of the mountains in a small village where, he affirmed, not only had inscribed stones been used in building the houses but others also inscribed were placed as seats outside the doors. We were tempted at first to be incredulous, owing to the number of such stories which had previously been brought to us and on investigation had resulted in sad disillusionment. Sometimes these had spoken of subterranean chambers lined with marble slabs, and often of inscriptions. But the former usually proved to be natural formations, and the latter to be cracks on the face of a stone. This time, however, the story teller went so far as to produce a sketch he had made of various signs from the inscriptions. This at once made it clear that his story was genuine, since the characters were definitely cuneiform.

Leaving Khorsabad in the morning we took the main road to Ain Sifni, where we turned right, following a mule track which ran among the foothills. The track crossed several wadies, but as it had been a rather dry spring they presented no serious difficulties. About midday we reached our destination. A turn of the road showed us a long narrow valley descending from the mountains behind. Across this valley like a barrier stretched a low wall of stone so completely covered with grass that it was only recognizable as such in a few places where the stones projected above the turf. In the center of this wall was a breach through which flowed a small brook; and on the left bank of the latter, partly overlapping the stone structure, appeared a cluster of about eighteen mud houses which constituted the village of Jerwan.

Mir Said Beg of the Yezidis visiting the dig. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

On our arrival the village came suddenly to life, and we were met by the mukhtar, Ali, an impressive old man of pure Yezidi type, who showed us round the place. The houses were indeed built partly of mud brick and partly of pieces of hewn stones many of which bore cuneiform characters. When the inscriptions on these wall stones had been compared and put together, they proved to be fragments of various copies of a single short inscription  recording the name and titles of Sennacherib. But there were traces of still another inscription. In front of the gate to the mukhtar’s house was a bench formed of a row of stone blocks, each about 52X 52X 52 centimeters in size, two of which were inscribed. When questioned as to where these inscribed blocks had come from, the mukhtar answered that together with the stones in the walls they had been taken from the old stone dam against which the village was built. He admitted the existence of other, similar stones still in place, but said they were now covered with turf. Later, however, he offered to have some villagers clear them; and while this work was in progress we followed him to the village guestroom, where a delicious meal of curds, honey, and the crisp bread baked by the Yezidis had been prepared for us. During the meal conversation flagged a little, partly because the mukhtar and the villagers knew only a few words of Arabic and partly because of our preoccupation with the art of balancing curds and honey on pieces of bread which served temporarily as spoons. It was therefore not until later, when pipes had been lighted and coffee brought around, that we were able to obtain information concerning the curious stone wall behind the village. Hussein, who spoke the Yezidi dialect and Arabic equally well, proved a rather skilful interpreter. With his help we learned how once long ago the whole of the plain below Jerwan had been a great lake and how a man by the name of Suliman Titi had built an enormous stone dam and stemmed the water so that the lake dried up and its bottom became a fertile plain.

Jerwan Details: View from the east. Yezidis at work. Excavating the aqueduct. Excavation of the aqueduct of Sennacherib, earliest known aqueduct. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.




The place where the inscription was found evidently served the villagers as a dunghill, and in the scorching sun the hole-half full of filthy waterwas anything but inviting. Nor did the actual process of copying pass off as quietly as might have been expected. Tired of watching, some of the onlookers had discovered the tail of a snake projecting from the wall of the neighboring house. Around this they quietly tied a piece of string, and by pulling hard four or five men endeavored to extract the snake from the wall. The snake, which later proved to be over a meter long, put up a good fight; and when in the end it came away men and snake together fell backward into the hole. By a sheer miracle no one was bitten, and after the snake had been duly killed we were able to continue copying. When our copy was finished we photographed the inscriptions and, by pacing out the distances, made a rough sketch of the bridge. Then we bade the mukhtar and the villagers goodbye and returned to Khorsabad.

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