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Deployed Airmen find ancient artifacts at Iraqi air base

by Staff Sgt. Trevor Tiernan
U.S. Central Command Air Force Combat Correspondent Team

12/28/2007 - KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- An Airman and his team discovered fragments of pottery, possibly dating back as far back as 2,000 years during a recent job at Kirkuk Air Base. 

Tech. Sgt. Kelly Wayment, a heavy equipment operator with the 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron here, was carrying out a routine operation near a helicopter landing pad when he noticed something peculiar.

Sergeant Wayment was spotting for fellow 506th ECES member Staff Sgt. Michael Massey as he drove a grader over the area.

"I noticed something on the ground that looked kind of like a rock," said the NCO deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "I picked it up and saw it looked more like pottery. So we started looking around and found more."

Much more. At that one location alone, Airmen have found more than 100 pottery fragments.

There are three additional sites on the base where pottery fragments are being discovered, said 2nd Lt. Brian Wernle, 506th ECES environmental engineer.

"As construction continues around the base, people are coming to (us) saying 'we've found some more pottery,'" Lieutenant Wernle said.

The pottery fragments were brought to Lieutenant Wernle who sought the help of higher headquarters at U.S. Central Command Air Forces and a local historical expert to identify and date the pieces.

Historians recognize the area around Kirkuk AB as being home to many ancient civilizations. The Mesopotamian city of Nuzi was located just southwest of the current base. Excavations there in the early 20th century resulted in the finding of an archive of more than 4,000 clay tablets inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform script. To the east of the base lies Jarmo, long considered to be the first agricultural community dating back as far 7,000 B.C.

Sh. A. Ameen visited the base to assist Lieutenant Wernle in identifying the pieces and to assess whether construction could continue or if a more extensive excavation was in order. 

Under Saddam Hussein's regime, archaeologists and historians were not allowed onto the base and had no access to anything found there, Mr. Ameen said. Under the new relationship with U.S. forces, he said he sees the opportunity to work together in helping to preserve Iraq's history.

"All these things we've found belong to everybody," Mr. Amaan said. "When Iraqis and coalition forces work together we try to preserve the historical value of the items that we find in Kirkuk. We want to protect this area here so everybody can enjoy the historical artifacts. This way we can pass on this history to the next generation."

Lieutenant Wernle, deployed from Andrews AFB, Md., also looks forward to a closer working relationship with local historians and is trying to implement procedures to speed up the process of identifying any future pieces found. While remaining sensitive to the historical significance of the area, the 506th ECES Airmen also have to balance the mission requirements they are tasked to fulfill.

"What we're trying to do is expedite a procedure where we can have somebody come out, identify whether the objects in question are artifacts and then determine whether we can continue building on this site or halt construction and identify it as a new archaeological site," he said. "(Ultimately) our goal is to hand this area back to the Iraqis, so we'd like to preserve as much of their history as possible." 

The find has been a learning experience for Sergeant Wayment. Since discovering those first few pieces, he said he has found himself more aware of what could be under his feet.

"I've been more cognizant about looking on the ground, about looking for more pieces -- not knowing what I could find and what significance it could have," he said. 

As one of the first Airmen literally "on the ground" when the items were found, Sergeant Wayment said he recognizes the importance of learning a little more about the history of the country he's deployed to.

"History is important," he said. "This land has a lot of history. The people have been here for thousands of years. So anything that can help us learn more about their way of life is beneficial to everybody."

The hundreds of pieces the Airmen found are still being assessed locally. Once age and significance are determined, Lieutenant Wernle said he plans to get a team of experts to conduct further investigations on both the fragments and the site.

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