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Fakhariyah, Tell

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

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Fakhariyah, Tell

site, whose modern Arabic name means “mound of sherds,” located immediately south of the modern town of Ras al-῾Ain (“fountainhead”) in Syria (40°01′ N, 36°09′ E), 65 km (38 mi.) northwest of the modern city al-Hasakah (Hasseke) and about 100 km (62 mi.) west of the modern town of Qamishli (Nisibin). Hundreds of springs in the environs form the headwaters of the Khabur River. This part of Syria is called Jezireh (“island”) and is equivalent to Upper Mesopotamia.

Tell Fakhariyah was first observed by Baron Max von Oppenheim In 1899, during his visit to the source of the Khabur. Von Oppenheim worked at Tell Halaf from 1911 to 1913, In 1927, and In 1929, searching for the Mitanni capital, Waššukanni. However, his work indicated that Halaf was the ancient city of Guzana (Aram., gwzn). He moved to Tell Fakhariyah In 1929, to supervise a survey of the tell, which produced a contour map but no excavation.

Later, In 1940, the Oriental Institute of Chicago decided to change the focus of its research from the ῾Amuq region in Syria to Mesopotamia. Its goal was to clarify the cultural relationship between the ῾Amuq basin and Upper Mesopotamia in the second millennium BCE, in the belief that Waššukanni, the capital of Mitanni, was located at Tell Fakhariyah.

In 1940, the institute received permission to excavate from the French High Commission of Syria. The expedition consisted of Calvin W. McEwan and his wife, the former as director; Harold D. Hill as architect; and Abdullah Said Osman al-Sudain as superintendent. The American expedition came to an unexpected halt when von Oppenheim protested to the Vichy French government about its presence. Although the Americans withdrew from the field, the baron did not excavate the site himself. In 1955, Anton Moortgat received a license to excavate Tell Fakhariyah in the name of the Oppenheim Foundation. [See the biography of Moortgat.]

In the short time they were in the field, the Americans were able to make nine separate soundings, distinguishing eight levels: the upper four yielded Arab/Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, and Hellenistic remains. The fifth level belongs to the Aramaic period (or Iron Age, 900–600 BCE), the sixth to the Middle Assyrian period (thirteenth century BCE); and the seventh to the Mitannian period (fifteenth-fourteenth centuries BCE). So-called Khabur ware was found in level eight (first half of the second millennium BCE). Moortgat made similar observations. The results from both excavations are described here.

The tell was settled in the Umayyad period. In the preceding Byzantine and Roman levels, the settlement was fortified. Sections of a double city wall were unearthed: two limestone walls running roughly parallel to each other. The inner wall was clearly the more important, as it contained a series of curtains with projecting towers and buttresses.

In level five, in sounding IX, the American expedition partially exposed a palace dated to the Aramaic period (Iron Age II, sixth-seventh centuries BCE). It is essentially a ḫilani (or pillared) type of structure. In 1979, at the southwestern edge of the tell, a tractor turned up a basalt statue (1.65 m high) of the Aramean king Hdys῾y, King of gwzn, skn, and ῾zrn. It was consecrated to the god Hadad of Sikani (Aram., Hadd zy skn).

The most important level at Tell Fakhariyah is level six, the Middle Assyrian period. Many small objects, among them ivory pieces and seal impressions, were found in this level. The ivories were recovered in sounding IX, from floor 6, below the Iron Age palace. They are very fragmentary and appear to have been ornamental inlays for furniture or boxes. Only five pieces are undecorated; the majority are decorated with geometric designs, flower patterns, animal and human figures, Hathor heads, winged sun disks, and a griffon/demon. In a building dated to the thirteenth century BCE, twelve cuneiform tablets, ten with 116 seal impressions on them, were found. The style of most of the seal designs is exactly that of the Middle Assyrian seal impressions on tablets from Aššur dated to the thirteenth century. The repertoire of designs is relatively small: recurring elements are ritual scenes, heroes and animals, monsters and animals in conflict, and animals in tranquil settings. In addition to these seal impressions, there were an old Babylonian cylinder seal, thirteenth-century BCE stamp seals, and typical Late Assyrian (Iron Age) scaraboids and bulla bearing the impression of a scarab. Of the twelve tablets and tablet fragments found at Fakhariyah in sounding VI, four are letters and eight are legal/economic documents. Four of the legal documents bear names of Limmu: of these four eponyms, one belongs to the reign of Shalmaneser I (1272–1243 BCE) and one to the reign of his son, Tukulti-Ninurta (1242–1206 BCE).

In level seven, there were traces of the Mitanni at Tell Fakhariyah, as well as of earlier periods. These remains, represented mainly by pottery sherds, were not as well attested as the quantity of Assyrian remains from the following period.

The American and German expeditions expected to find Waššukanni at Tell Fakhariyah. Instead, they found Sikani, an identification confirmed by the inscription of King Hadys῾y, who placed his statue in the Temple of Hadad at Sikani, the statue found at Tell Fakhariyah.

[See also Mitanni.]


  • Assaf, Ali Abou, et al. La statue de Tell Fekheryé et son inscription bilingue assyro-araméenne. Paris, 1982.
  • McEwan, Calvin, et al. Soundings at Tell Fakhariyah. Oriental Institute Publications, 79. Chicago, 1958.
  • Moortgat, Anton. Archäologische Forschungen der Max Freiherr von Oppenheim-Stiftung im nördlichen Mesopotamien 1955. Cologne, 1957.
  • Moortgat, Anton. Archäologische Forschungen der Max Freiherr von Oppenheim-Stiftung in nördlichen Mesopotamien 1956. Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Forschung des Lands Nordrhein-Westfalen, Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, vol. 7. Cologne, 1957.

Ali Abou Assaf

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