Since 2015, the Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism and Archeo have decided to pay homage to archaeological discoveries with an annual prize awarded in collaboration with international magazines: Antike Welt (Germany), Archéologia (France), as. Archäologie der Schweiz (Switzerland), Current Archaeology (United Kingdom), Dossiers d’Archéologie (France); since 2020 also with AiD Archäologie in Deutschland (Germany) and British Archaeology (United Kingdom).

 International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad”

The Award is devoted to Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist of the site of Palmyra who paid with his life the defence of cultural heritage.

The remembrance of the archaeologist Paolo Matthiae: “For forty years, Khaled al-Asaad has been the Director of the archaeological excavations of Palmyra. He was the archaeologist of the city, he worked with missions from every country: from France to Germany, from Switzerland to Netherlands, from United States to Poland, and in the last years from Italy too, with the mission from Università Statale of Milan. He was a complete scholar, but mostly he had the peculiar feature of a member of the families of the cities of the desert. These people, like the ancient Bedouins, are lovely, kind and very hospitable, in a completely natural way, not excessive but very measured and discreet fashion. Khaled al-Asaad was a very lovely man, measured and with a kind soul. Even archaeologists who didn’t specialize in that period – Roman antiquity – often came to Palmyra to visit him and Khaled’s friendliness was total. He was a man deeply rooted in the city, and yet, for the international character of the site he oversaw, he was a citizen of the world, too. In various occasions his name was suggested for the position of General Director of Antiquities in Damascus, but I believed he preferred to remain in Palmyra, a city he identified himself with. Khaled was so certain he was just doing his job that he didn’t think he needed to escape. And as I remember him, he wasn’t a man who feared for his own life. Even if in retirement and almost 82, he preferred to stay in his city, precisely because he had understood its antiquities were in ranger. And probably, he imagined his undisputed moral authority could protect what Palmyra held and still holds today: the ruins of an absolutely extraordinary archaeological site, for all the Mediterranean area and for the whole world”.

The International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” is the only global prize awarded to archaeologists, who with sacrifice, dedication, competence and scientific research live their job, both as scholars of the past and as professionals working for their territory.

The Director of the Exchange Ugo Picarelli and the Editor in Chief of Archeo Andreas Steiner shared this common path, aware that “today, civilizations and cultures of the past and their relations with the surrounding environment are more and more important to rediscover the identities, in a global society which is dispersing its values”. The Award, therefore, aims to spread the exchange of experiences, represented by international discoveries, also as best practices of intercultural dialogue.

Therefore, the sixth edition of the International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad”, according to the indications provided by the above – mentioned magazines, goes to the discovery of “ten Assyrian rock reliefs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”.

The Award will be assigned to Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, Director of the Italian Archaeological Mission to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Art History of the University of Udine, during the 23rd Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism.

The rock reliefs of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq also win the “Special Award”, assigned to the archaeological discovery with the greatest consensus from the general public through the Facebook page of the Exchange.

The five archaeological discoveries of 2019 candidates for the victory of the sixth edition:

  • Cambodia: the lost city of Mahendraparvata capital of Khmer Empire in the forest on the hills of Phnom Kulen north-east of Angkor;
  • Iraq: in the Kurdistan region at the site of Faida, 50 km from Mosul, ten Assyrian rock relief, the gods of ancient Mesopotamia;
  • Israel: in Motza 5 km north-west of Jerusalem a Neolithic metropolis of 9.000 years ago;
  • Italy: in Rome the Domus Aurea discloses a new treasure, the Sphinx Room;
  • Italy: in the ancient city of Vulci a statue of Etruscan origin of a VI Century BC winged lion.


l’antica città di Mahendraparvata dell’Impero Khmer ritrovata nella fitta foresta

The ancient city Mahendraparvata of the Khmer Empire

Cambodia: the lost city of Mahendraparvata capital of Khmer Empire in the forest on the hills of Phnom Kulen north-east of Angkor

Thanks to Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology and to field expeditions, an international research team led by London’s ADF Archaeology & Development Foundation scientists managed to reveal in its entirety the spectacular lost city of Mahendraparvata, that in the IX Century AD expanded for 50 sqm, tracing a detailed map and discovering other hidden sites.
Since 2008 the Foundation has been working on the “Phnom Kulen Program” alongside with the National Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA National Authority) and the colleagues of the Ecole Française d’Extreme-Orient of Paris. Jean-Baptiste Chevance with Damian Evans of the University of Sydney’s Overseas Research Centre in Siem Reap-Angkor was the first the discover it, buried under the forest of Cambodia for centuries nested in the hills of Phnom Kulen, north-east of the archaeological site of Angkor.
The ancient lost city was one of the first capitals of the mighty Khmer Empire, which ruled Southeast Asia between IX and XV Century. Its influence spanned beyond modern Cambodia, covering also an ample part of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Despite being flourishing, Mahendraparvata didn’t last long as the capital of Khmer Empire. Indeed, the rulers decided to swiftly move the capital to Angkor, which was in a flatter location, making it more favourable for the plantation of food products and the breeding of cattle.

Kurdistan:a 50 km da Mosul tornano alla luce gli dei dell’antica Mesopotamia, scoperti rilievi rupestri d'epoca assira

The Assyrian rock reliefs

Iraq: in the Kurdistan region at the site of Faida, 50 km from Mosul, ten Assyrian rock relief, the gods of ancient Mesopotamia

At the archaeological site of Faida, 50 km from Mosul the team of archaeologists “Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project”, coordinated by Daniele Morandi Bonacossi of the University of Udine with the Directorate of Antiquities of Duhok led by Hasan Ahmed brought to light 10 Assyrian rock reliefs of the VIII-VII Century BC. They are big panels, 5 m high and 2 m wide, sculpted along a 8,5 km long rock-cut irrigation ancient canal, fed by a series of karst springs, today buried under deposits eroded from the side of the hill. But in ancient times several offtakes diverted water from the canal into smaller canals to irrigate the neighbouring fields making the countryside in the hinterland of Nineveh, the last capital of the Assyrian Empire, even more fertile. The Assyrian mythology depicted on the rock is a significant example of gods and sacred animals. The divine figures represent Ashur, the main Assyrian god, on a dragon and a horned lion, his wife Mullissu sitting on a decorated throne supported by a lion, the Moon god Sin on a horned lion, the god of Wisdom Nabu on a dragon, the Wun god Shamash on a horse, the Storm god Adad on a horned lion and a bull, and Ishtar, the goddess of Love and War, on a lion.

A Motza, in Israele a 5 km a nord-ovest di Gerusalemme, la scoperta di una metropoli neolitica di 9.000 anni fa

The Neolithic metropolis of 9.000 years ago

Israel: in Motza 5 km north-west of Jerusalem a Neolithic metropolis of 9.000 years ago

It is the first time that a site of this size, about 4.000 sq. m, that has been discovered in Israel. It dates back to the Neolithic time and with its 2/3.000 inhabitants it could be considered a true metropolis. It featured big residential buildings with chalk floors, public structures, spaces dedicated to cult and to burials, with the presence of alleys, proof of an advanced and airy architectural and urbanistic planning. The houses were built with clay bricks, disintegrated long ago, but the foundations of the buildings made with big stone bricks are still visible. It is clear from the artifacts that the inhabitants had commercial and cultural relations with the people of Anatolia, Egypt and Syria. Burials were also discovered, inside and between the houses, with different funerary offers, useful or precious instruments: obsidian (black volcanic glass) objects from Anatolia or shells from the Mediterranean and Red Sea, bracelets made with calcareous stone and mother-of-pearl, 2,5 cm alabaster medallions and jewels probably from nearby ancient Egypt. The remains of the village also show the presence of warehouses containing large amounts of legume seeds, especially lentils in good state of conservation, that demonstrate the use of practices of intensive agriculture. The bones of domestic animals, essentially goats, show that the local population had more and more specialized in farming, to the detriment of hunting. The discovery of the site happened during important road works, so the project has been financed by Israeli National Transport Infrastructure Company “Netivei Israel”, with the direction of Hamoudi Khalaily and Jacob Vardi of IAA Israel Antiquities Authority.

A Roma la Domus Aurea svela un nuovo tesoro: dopo 2.000 anni riemerge la Sala della Sfinge

The Sphinx Room

Italy: in Rome the Domus Aurea discloses a new treasure, the Sphinx Room

Lavish and fully decorated, it returns to the light after 2.000 years, during the restoration works of the vault of Room 72 of the Domus Aurea, one of the 150 halls of the immense diffused palace whose construction was ordered by Nero in 64 AD after the great fire that devastated Rome, on the model of Ptolemaic royal palaces, from one hill to another of the capital city of the Roman Empire.
The discovery is the fruit of the strategy that focuses on preservation and scientific research, developed by the Director of the Archaeological Park of Colosseum, Alfonsina Russo. A large part of the new room, which has a rectangular plan and it is closed by a finely decorated barrel vault, is still underground, buried under quintals of soil by order of the architects of Trajan (who right there, over the palace of despised Nero, ordered the building of a thermal complex) and in some ways it is destined to remain so, since for reasons of stability the removal of the soil is not scheduled for the time being. What has emerged tells the story of this big hall, that probably also at the times of Nero was not very lit and for this reason it was decorated with a white bottom with elegant figures in squares with red or golden yellow frames. One of the square features the god Pan, another one a character with sword, quiver and shield fighting against a panther, another one a little sphinx on a pedestal. Other elements are stylized aquatic creatures, real or fantastic ones, traces of architectures according to the fashion of the moment, vegetal wreaths and branches with delicate green, yellow and red leaves, flowers and fruit garlands, posing little birds. This kind of decorations, also present in the Domus of Oppian Hill and in other halls and spaces of the royal palace of Nero like the Cryptoporticus 92, leads experts to attribute the Sphinx Room to the so-called A Workshop, which operated between 65 and 68 AD.

Vulci, dalla terra affiora statua di leone alato del VI secolo a.C.

The statue of a VI Century BC winged lion

Italia:in the ancient city of Vulci a statue of Etruscan origin of a VI Century BC winged lion

Vulci, one of the biggest Etrurian city-states with a significant maritime and commercial development in the territory of Canino and Montalto di Castro, in the province of Viterbo, in the Maremma of Lazio, gives us a new sculpture during the last campaign of digging at Osteria necropolis. Archaeologists found a statue of a winged lion dating back to VI Century BC. The discovery happened during the phase of the highlighting of the horizontal stratigraphy of the land, in proximity of some funerary structures buried in the necropolis. For Etruscan people the lion was considered to be noble, strong and apotropaic, it had the function to keep defilers, hostile gods and fate away from the tombs.
The sculpture is a fine example of a peculiar tradition of VI Century BC Vulci artistic production. In that period the workshops of Vulci carved sphinxes, lions, panthers, rams, centaurs and sea monsters, alert guardians of the eternal rest of dead people. But already around 520 BC the production of these statues stopped, maybe in the attempt to limit displays of luxury that by the time were considered inappropriate.
The digging works directed by Simona Carosi of the Superintendence for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan area of Rome, the province of Viterbo and southern Etruria took place at the area of the Osteria necropolis, where at the end of 2011 the Sphinx of Vulci was discovered.

International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” 2015 (1st edition)
International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” 2016 (2nd edition)
International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” 2017 (3rd edition)
International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” 2018 (4th edition)
International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” 2019 (5th edition)