Normally when something gets lost the place to look is down the back of the sofa — but when the item in question is a whole city, the situation calls for a little out-of-the-box thinking.
The Darband-i Rania Archaeological Project did exactly that, and they have made a remarkable discovery. Darband-i Rania is a pass in northern Iraq, about 100 km from the Kurdish capital of Erbil.
The pass is highly significant in terms of ancient history, as Alexander the Great passed that way in 331 BC in hot pursuit of the Persian king Darius III after defeating him at the battle of Gaugamela. Yeah, that old yarn.
For this and other historical reasons the British Museum launched a project to explore the region and see what archaeological wonders it may hide. And boy, it was hiding a lot.
Using recently declassified spy satellite imagery from the 1960s, the team noticed something irregular at a site called Qalatga Darband. Scattered blocks of limestone were their first big clue that there might be “substantial remains” in the area, according to the British Museum press release.
Once they had a location they sent in a drone to get more images of the landscape and look for irregular contrasts in color. Dr John MacGuinness from the British Museum told the Times: “The drone yielded excellent information […] Where there are walls underground the wheat and barley don’t grow so well, so there are color differences in the crop growth.”
According to the Times article, suspicions that there was a lost city at Qalatga Darband have been circulating for a few years, but no one expected a city of this size. MacGuinness told the Times, “It’s early days, but we think it would have been a bustling city on a road from Iraq to Iran. You can imagine people supplying wine to soldiers passing through.”
Despite the excavations being at an early stage, according to the press release, “it appears that the city was founded by the Seleucids, the successors to Alexander [the Great].”
Excavations have already revealed the “remains of a monumental building” with Graeco-Roman statues of deities has been discovered, as well a walled fort at a nearby site located within the pass itself.
As well as being super cool in general, the discovery of the lost city could tell academics a lot about the effect of Alexander the Great’s legacy in Iraqi Kurdistan. Fingers crossed for some awesome finds!