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Italian-Kurdish Team Wins World Archaeology Award for Rare Assyrian Carving Find
By Shahla Omar
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Assyrian rock relief discovered by the Kurdish-Italian Faida Archaeological Project (KIFAP) in Faida, 20 kilometres south of Duhok, in autumn 2019. ( University of Udine)
The discovery of ancient Assyrian rock carvings at a site in Duhok province by an Italian-Kurdish team has won two international awards, an archaeological association announced on Tuesday.

Ten Assyrian reliefs dating back some 2,800 years were found at the Faida archaeological site in autumn 2019, by the Kurdish-Italian Faida Archaeological Project (KIFAP). The finding at Faida, located roughly 50 kilometres north of Mosul and 20 kilometres south of Duhok, won the Khaled al-Asaad International Archaeological Discovery Award, given by the Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism.

"We are very happy and proud of this important acknowledgment of our work in Duhok and of the archaeological cultural heritage of Kurdistan," Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, the project's Italian lead told Rudaw English on Wednesday.

The Khaled al-Assad International Archaeological Discovery Award is given to archaeologists working in at-risk areas around the world, "who with sacrifice, dedication, competence and scientific research live their job, both as scholars of the past and as professionals working for their territory," the Exchange said in their Tuesday press release.

The discovery at Faida beat out nominees from Cambodia, Italy and Israel to win the accolade. The award is dedicated to the memory of archaeologist Khaled al-Assad, who had been director of antiquities at the ancient site of Palmyra, Syria for forty years before he was beheaded by Islamic State (ISIS) militants in August 2015.

Panels five metres high and two metres wide are sculpted along a rock-cut irrigation ancient canal at Faida. The carvings on the panels depict gods and sacred animals of Assyrian mythology, and the canal served as an irrigation system for neighbouring fields towards the end of the Assyrian Empire era.

"Assyrian rock reliefs are extremely rare monuments," Bonacossi told National Geographic in January. "With one exception, no such panels have been found in their original location since 1845."

Bonacossi, an archaeology professor at Italy's University of Udine, lauded the "fantastic cooperation" with Kurdish project leads, namely Dr Hasan Qasim, Director of the Antiquities of Duhok and Co-Director of the project, as well as Kaifi Mustafa Ali, the Director-General of Antiquities in Erbil.

"This achievement was only possible thanks to the durable and robust cooperation between Kurdish and Italian institutions working together since 2012 in the Governorate of Duhok," Bonacossi said.

The Italian-Kurdish team also won the Exchange's 'Special Award', through a popular vote conducted on the Exchange's Facebook page.

The importance of the Faida site has since been recognized by the ALIPH Foundation, a Switzerland-based global fund for the protection and rehabilitation of cultural heritage in conflict zones and post-conflict areas.

The ALIPH-funded Faida Salvage Project will "work on the documentation of the Assyrian reliefs of Faida and the development of a conservation and protection project for this monumental rock art complex, seriously threatened by vandalism and the expansion of the productive activities of the nearby village," Bonacossi said.

Work at the site has ground to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Bonacossi's team is "eager" to resume work at the site once the outbreak subsides.

"We hope to be able to resume our work in Duhok next spring if the condition will permit this," Bonacossi said.

Asked about the involvement of Assyrian people in the excavation, Bonacossi said the project does not yet have contacts.

Bonacossi will be presented with the award by Khaled al-Assad's daughter, also an archaeologist, on November 20 during the 23rd Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism in Paestum, Italy.

Rudaw English contacted Kaifi Mustafa Ali for comment, but has yet to receive a response.

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