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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:3, Summer 2020

Strata: Going, Going, Gone: Dammed to Die

In the name of energy production and economic advancement, Turkey has built the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River. The dam’s reservoir will flood 100 miles of the upstream riverbanks and valleys. Despite the obvious benefits, the dam comes with serious drawbacks. The reservoir will displace thousands of people and destroy the livelihood of many. It will also flood the historic site of Hasankeyf.

Situated on the Tigris River, Hasankeyf boasts thousands of years of history—from the Neolithic period (c. 9,500 B.C.E.) until the present day. During the Bronze Age, it was part of Mitanni, a Hurrian kingdom in southeastern Anatolia and northern Syria. During the Iron Age, Hasankeyf fell under Neo-Assyrian control, an empire of biblical fame known for conquering the northern kingdom of Israel, and then was ruled by the Medians.

The site’s strategic importance continued into the Roman and Byzantine periods, when it served as part of the Roman Empire's first line of defense against the Sasanians of Persia. After standing strong for centuries, though, it fell to Muslim Arab forces in the seventh century C.E. and was subsequently ruled by several Muslim dynasties, until becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Notably, in the 15th century, the site gained prominence as the resting place of Zeynel Bey, the son of Uzun Hassan, ruler of the Aq Qoyunlu dynasty.

Some of Hasankeyf’s well-preserved archaeological remains include a Roman gate, Byzantine citadel, 12th-century bridge spanning the Tigris River, 13th-century palace and bathhouse, 15th-century mosque, and the Zeynel Bey Mausoleum.

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