Home > Culture > A New Atlas maps for the Archaeological Sites in Iraq

A New Atlas maps for the Archaeological Sites in Iraq

Abdulameer al-Hamdani

The State Board of Antiquities and heritage



Documenting and registering cultural heritage in places that have witnessed armed conflicts and wars are fundamental to safeguarding the heritage of humankind. Iraq is one of the countries in the Middle East with a heritage that is endangered by a combination of looting, armed conflict and terrorist operations in the last four decades. It was within this context that we developed a GIS (a digital map with an associated database) recording the location and date of all of the known archaeological sites.  This was especially important since the current Iraqi Archaeological Atlas has not been updated since 1971, was published in a short run book form making it hard to find, does not cover the entire country, and only records less than7,000 sites, many fewer than the total number of sites in Iraq.

In 2013, I had the opportunity to develop an updated, digital version of the Iraqi Archaeological Atlas and database when I was working on my PhD. at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.  The project aimed to gather all the available data that are existed in English, but mostly in Arabic, and digitize them for both keeping them safe and use them to create the database. This project was supported by grants provided to my advisor, Elizabeth Stone, by the Cultural Heritage Center at the State Department, and supported by John Russell.

The sources and methods

The backbone for the data was the 1971 Atlas maps of Archaeological Sites in Iraq, which has 136 maps covering almost 60% of the country, but has only 6692 archaeological sites.

Fig. 1: Atlas maps shows archaeological sites in Iraq since 1971.

The second were maps of the former Iraqi Army; the 209 maps were made by the Department of Military Survey and updated in 2002. They cover the entire country, and the goal for the army, specifically during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, was to find mounds to install military installations and weapon beds; therefore ,archaeological sites were preferred to be marked on maps in order to be used for military proposes.

Fig. 2: UTM military maps of Iraq

The two sets of maps were needed to be digitized and georeferenced. However, maps of the Atlas of Archaeological Sites in Iraq have very limited data of geographic coordinates that are fundamental for georeferencing. The majority of the distinctive natural and artificial features that happen to be seen in the atlas maps that can be essential for georeferencing have been changed and shifted in the real world. For instance, roads and their intersection were changed to new routs away from those whose drown on the original maps, whereas canals and secondary rivers were shifted their courses and beds. Therefore, with this circumstance, it was not easy to find ground control points in order to georeference these maps without high considerable attention and concentration.

The third source were the previous archaeological surveys carried out by foreign survey expeditions in Iraq: for southern Iraq were Robert Adams (1981), and Henry Wright (Adams 198: Appendix), for Central Iraq and the Diyala River basin were the surveys of McGuire Gibson (1974), and Robert Adams (1984), and for the north-west part of Iraq From Tell Afar towards Sinjar Plain was the survey of Tony Wilkinson in the North Jazira of Iraq (1995).

The fourth source was the new surveys that I and my have conducted after 2003 in areas in southern Iraq that have been never surveyed including the southern marshes, the plain between the Tigris and Shatt al-Gharraf, and the plain between Ur and Lagash. The surveys identified some 1200 new archaeological sites which had not been included in the original Iraqi Atlas (Al-Ḥamdani 2008, 2014 a, 2014b).

The fifth sources were Corona and Digital Globe satellite imagery that were used to identify the locations of the sites. Satellite imagery has proven to be a tremendously valuable tool because many undocumented sites now appear with great clarity. Two remote-sensing datasets were used to identify traces of possible surface architecture. The base map for the project was derived from the Digital Globe Quick Bird satellite image of the settlement complex. The Declassified American CORONA intelligence satellite program was used to map areas of mounding. Elizabeth Stone and Jason Ur provided me with digital versions of these data which made them easy to incorporate into the database.

The Atlas was developed through the digitization and georeferencing of all of these sources. The GIS pointfile locates each site and includes data for each site, including coordinates, historical periods, and archaeological, ethnographic and geographic data.

The result

As a result of this project, a database for more than 15,000 archaeological sites has been created, and the final product is shown in digital and paper maps (Map 1). Sites were divided based on provinces so that antiquities inspectors and archaeologists from each province can edit, modify, and add the results of new fieldwork. Permission to access the GIS shapefiles will be made available to institutions and individual researchers upon application to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. These data can be useful for anyone seeking to select sites to be excavated. In addition, it can be used by the central government and local governorates in Iraq when they plan development projects in the countryside so they can avoid damage to archaeological sites as they develop the initial plans for such projects.

Map shows the result of the project; more than 15,000 archaeological sites in all over Iraq have been documented.


Adams, Robert McC.

  1. Land behind Baghdad: A History of Settlement on the Diyala Plains. The University Press of Chicago, Chicago and London.
  2. Heartland of Cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Al-amdani, Abdulamir.

  1. Protecting and Recording our Archaeological Heritage in Southern Iraq. Near Eastern Archaeology 71:221-230.

2014 a. Kingdom of reeds: the archaeological heritage of southern Iraqi marshes. The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) Newsletter, No. 9: 15-20.

2014 b. Dirasa Maidaniya lil mawaqei al-Athariya fi Hawr al-Hammar [A field study for the archaeological sites in Hawr al-Hammar]. Sumer 59:63-115.

Gibson, McGuire

  1. The City and Area of Kish. Field Research Projects, Miami.

Wilkinson, T.J. and Tucker, D.J.

  1. Settlement Development in the North Jazira, Iraq: A Study of the Archaeological Landscape. British School of Archaeology of Iraq, London, and the Department of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, Baghdad.

Wright, Henry T.

  1. The Southern Margins of Sumer: Archaeological Survey of the Area of Eridu and Ur, in R. McC. Adams (ed.), Heartland of Cities: Surveys of Ancient Settlement and Land Use on the Central Floodplain of the Euphrates. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. pp. 295–338.