The Tell Sabi Abyad Project
The Tell Sabi Abyad Project
Since 1986 archaeologists work at Tell Sabi Abyad, meaning ' Hill of the White Boy' in Arabic. The project is supervised by Peter Akkermans of the National Museum of Antiquities Leiden, the Netherlands
The research focuses on the two main periods in the development of the Near East: The Late Neolithic and the Middle Assyrian Periods. Because of the enormous amount of new and unique data, Tell Sabi Abyad is widely regarded as one of the most important archaeological projects in the region. Here a short introduction is presented of the project. More detailed information can be found at the official Sabi Abyad website
The Late Neolithic: A prehistoric village
The first occupants settled at Tell Sabi Abyad around 6800 BC, during the so-called Late Neolithic (approx 6800 - 5800 BC). This period represents one of the least known, but very important , stages in Near Eastern archaeology. Many of the later cultural attainments find the origins between the 7th and 6th Millennium BC. Tell Sabi Abyad is one of the very few excavations that focuses itself on this interesting period.
Only a little is known from the earliest phases of the Late Neolithic, when people started to produce pottery for the first time. Excavations brought to light well preserved architecture dating from 6800 - 6400 BC, providing us with interesting new insights into the ordinary life of its inhabitants. For example, some sort of religious structure was uncovered in which the bodies of a number of deceased occupants were laid to rest.
The first occupants settled at Tell Sabi Abyad around 6800 BC, during
the so-called Late Neolithic (approx 6800 - 5800 BC). This period
represents one of the least known, but very important , stages in
Near Eastern archaeology. Many of the later cultural attainments find
the origins between the 7th and 6th Millennium BC. Tell Sabi Abyad
is one of the very few excavations that focuses itself on this interesting
An Assyrian border town.
Around 1200 BC the Assyrians built a fortified settlement on top of the old ruins. For Syria this represents a turbulent period in which Hittites, Egyptians and Assyrians struggled for power over this strategic region. The river valley in which Tell Sabi Abyad is situated is located at the western border of the Assyrian Empire.
The settlement is extremely well preserved.
Since 1991 the excavations focuses yearly on another part of this small border town in order to further complete the plan of the settlement; something unique in the study of the Middle-Assyrian period. Currently, the city wall and the moat and the domestic areas outside the city wall are being excavated.
Inside these walls the local Assyrian rulers responsible for this region and their civil servants had their living quarters. One of these rulers is known to us because of the many cuneiform tablets found inside the walled area: Tamitte. These cuneiform tablets contain unique details of the daily life in an Assyrian border town.
The End and a New Start.
Around 1175 BC the Assyrians hastily leave the settlement. Three thousand years later not much remained of this once bustling town. Locals still tell you about a ghost haunting the site at night: the 'white boy' of Tell Sabi Abyad.
The deserted ruins gradually change into a tell, Arabic for 'mound'. Most excavations in the Middle East occur at tells. The Syrian steppe contains thousands of them from all periods in history.
Since 1986 a international group of archaeologists occupies yearly the site of Tell Sabi Abyad. Besides Dutch and Syrian scholars and students specialists from over the entire world participate, ranging from pottery and flint specialists, restaurateurs, botanists, palaeozoologists, photographers and draftsmen to architects.
The excavation house contains some 20 to 25 persons. This house is built in a traditional Arabic still and is entirely constructed from mud bricks. It is located in the village of Hammam et-Turkman some 4 kilometres from the site. It is hard work: getting up before the sun rises and finishing your documentation late at night. The close cooperation between friends and colleagues from multiple countries and local Syrian workmen forms one of the most interesting aspects of working at Tell Sabi Abyad.