Al-Hira in Late Antiquity and the Early Islamic Era – Processes of Urban Transformation in a Trans-Regional Contact Zone

In the 5th and 6th century, the central-Iraqi city of al-Hira was an important hub in the region, as the capital of the Lakhmids and the seat of a metropolitan bishop. After being conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate, al-Hira flourished in conjunction with the newly founded city of Kufa nearby. While Kufa went on to evolve into one of the most important cities in Islamic Iraq, al-Hira's significance waned, and some time after the 10th century, was completely abandoned. Today, the historical settlement area is encompassed by the two rapidly growing cities of Najaf and Kufa in the northwest and Abu Sukheir in the southeast, and is in serious danger due to construction and infrastructure projects.

This archaeologically and historically based reconstruction of the settlement history and material culture of al-Hira is taking place as part of a German-Iraqi collaboration. It is focused on an investigation of pre-Islamic settlement and transformation processes that were triggered by broader political shifts in the 7th century. This includes questions related to changes in the use of space, land development, building types and functions, as well as their architectural features. Another focus is the production of a stratigraphically arranged based ceramics sequence.

This multidisciplinary research project involves magnetic prospection work, the evaluation of remote sensing data, surface analyses, archaeological probes excavations and architectural investigations, as well as comparisons between on-site findings and historical texts. On top of this, a new methodology has been developed in response to the fact that the project has access to a huge amount of high-quality prospection and remote sensing data. This database is being used for the development of a new evaluative approach utilising deep learning, incorporating concepts and methods from AI.


Cooperation partners: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut/Orient Department, Technische Universität, Berlin/Department of Building Archaeology, Masters programme in Heritage Conservation, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage; Eastern Atlas Berlin; Prof Dr Kasten Lambers/Digital Archaeology, Universiteit Leiden, TU BerlinDAI
Principal investigators: Martina Müller-Wiener (ISL), Martin Gussone (TU), Margarete van Ess (DAI)
Project team: Dr Catharine Hof, Dr Natascha Mathyschok, Dr Ibrahim Salman, Agnes Schneider MSc
Funded by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Project duration: 3 years (2020 to 2022)