Excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad (Syria)

Excavation teamExcavation team
Excavation siteExcavation site
Restored objects, found at Tell Sabi AbyadRestored objects, found at Tell Sabi Abyad

The project

Since 1986, Dr. Peter Akkermans, curator of the museum’s Near East collection, has been the supervisor of an archaeological research project in the north of Syria. Initially, the project was carried out under the auspices of the University of Amsterdam, but since 1990, the museum has been in charge. These excavations are internationally recognised as among the most significant archaeological projects in the Near East.


The goal of the project is to find out more about the background and history of the museum’s collection. This is done by gaining knowledge about the habitation history of Tell Sabi Abyad, a mound covered in ruins, with an average height of ten metres and an area of 50,000 m².
During the last few years, some spectacular finds were made: the remains of a prehistoric village of at least 8000 years old, an Assyrian fortress dating from 1200 B.C., hundreds of clay tablets with texts in cuneiform and a gold treasure. All excavated objects are kept in Syria. The main finds were only temporarily displayed in the Netherlands, in the exhibition ‘Sources of Inspiration from Ancient Syria’.

Tell Sabi Abyad

Tell Sabi Abyad is in the north of Syria, at thirty kilometres from the Turkish border. The local villagers are convinced the site is haunted: a ‘white boy’ is said to wander round the mound at night. Hence its name, Tell Sabi Abyad, which means ‘Mound of the White Boy’. So far, the excavation team has searched about 10% of the total area. Two smaller hills next to it have also been searched.

The team

The excavation team works at Tell Sabi Abyad each year, from the end of August until the end of October. The team of field workers usually consists of twenty or more archaeologists, scientific experts and students from various countries. They are backed up by a group of Syrians who help to do the digging. The endless number of finds is meticulously registered and researched. The research results are published in various scientific publications.

The mound

At the foot of the Tell Sabi Abyad mound is the prehistoric village. The fortress and buildings belonging to it, which have been built by the Assyrians in later times, sits on top. On the hillocks next to it are the remains of two other prehistoric villages. The surrounding area, the Balikh Valley, is also being searched, to form a picture of human habitation through the ages. Therefore, the archaeologists map ancient fields, dried-up irrigation canals and trading routes between cities that have long disappeared.

The supervisor of the excavations is the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of the Arab Republic of Syria in Damascus. The excavations are funded by the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, and supported by Syria Shell Petroleum Development B.V. Incidental financial support is given by the University of Leiden, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands Museum for Antropology and the Prehistory Foundation, and a number of private persons. The project is supported by the Dutch Embassy in Syria and the Dutch Institute for Academic Studies in Damascus.