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It is the area of the Tigris- Euphrates River System largely corresponding to modernday Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires. In the Iron Age it was controlled by the Neo-Assyrian and Neo Babylonian Empire.

Mesopotamia comes from the ancient greek root words (meso) middle" and (potamia) "river" and literally means "(Land) between rivers". The history of ancient Mesopotamia begins with the emergence of urban societies during the Ubaid period (ca. 5300 BC) and ends with either the arrival of the Achaemenid Empire in the late 6th century BC, or with the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia and the establishment of the Caliphate in the late 7th century BC, from which point the region came to be known as Iraq. Mesopotamia housed some of the world's most ancient highly developed and socially complex states. The region was famous as one of the four riverine civilizations where writing was first invented, along with the Nile valley in Egypt, the Indus Valley in the Indian subcontinent, and Yellow River valley in China

Archeological cultures
Pre-Pottery Neolithic Boreal Period (ca. 7200 BC) Jarmo (ca. 7000 bcca. 6000 BC) Pottery Neolithic: Hassuna(ca. 6000 bc? BC), Samarra (ca. 5700 BC4900 BC) and Halaf(ca. 6000 BC5300 BC) Chalcolithic or Copper age: Ubaid period (ca. 5900 BC4400 BC) Uruk period (ca. 4400 BC3200 BC) Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3100 BC2900 BC)

Early Bronze Age

Early Dynastic Sumerian city-states (ca. 2900 BC2350 BC) Akkadian Empire (ca. 2350 BC2193 BC). Third Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2119 BC2004 BC) Middle Bronze Age Early Babylonia (20th to 18th c. BC) Early Assyrian kingdom (20th to 18th c. BC) First Babylonian Dynasty (18th to 17th c. BC) Late Bronze Age Kassite dynasty, Middle Assyrian period (16th to 12th c. BC)

Iron Age
Neo-Hittite or Syro-Hittite regional states (11th to 7th c. BC) Neo-Assyrian Empire (10th to 7th c. BC) Chaldea, Neo-Babylonian Empire (7th to 6th c. BC)

The first few years of the 20th century saw the beginnings of the serious German Excavation in Mesopotamia under the direction of Deutsche OrientGesellschaft. From 1899 until the war of 1914 the Germans led by Koldewey and Andrae excavated thoroughly two sites: Babylon and Ashur. The aims of these excavations were twofold: 1.To excavate completely the Babylonian town and 2.To reveal the stratigraphical sequence. Koldeweys book The Excavation at Babylon (1914) These excavations were dealing mainly with the Neo Babylonians period of the 6th and 7th century B.C. but still they were of great interest to the student of prehistoric archaeology as they were the first complete and scientifically conducted excavation of a large Mesopotamian site.

Ruins of Babylon

Exploration of the site of Ashur began in 1898 by German archaeologists. Excavations began in 1900 by Friedrich Delitzsch, and were continued in 1903-1913 by a team from the German Oriental Society led initially by Robert Koldewey and later by Walter Andrae between 1913-1914. More than 16,000 tablets with cuneiform texts were discovered. Many of the objects found made their way to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

More recently, Ashur was excavated by B. Hrouda for the University of Munich and the Bavarian Ministry of Culture in 1990.During the same period, in 1988 and 1989, the site was being worked by R. Dittmann on behalf of the German Research Foundation.

Ernst Emil Herzfeld

Walter Andrae

Ruins of Ashur

Ashur Royal Grave

In 1903 E.J. Banks, United States Consul at Baghdad, dug at Bismaya, the ancient Sumerian city of Adab near Nippur. His work, in which he adapted and copied the methods tried out by Koldewey and Andrae was undertaken on behalf of the University of Chicago and is summarized in his Bismaya the lost city of Adab(1912).

Male bust, perhaps Lugal-kisal-si, king of Uruk. Limestone, Early Dynastic III. From Adab (Bismaya).

A French archaeological team under Henri de Genouillac excavated at Kish, an ancient city of Sumer between 1912 and 1914, finding 1400 Old Babylonian tablets which were distributed to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum


Later a joint Field Museum and Oxford university team under Stephen Langdon excavated from 1923 to 1933, with the recovered materials split between Chicago and the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford Excavations at Kish were led initially by E. MacKay and later by L. C. Watelin More recently, a Japanese team from the Kokushikan University led by Ken Matsumoto excavated at Kish in 1988, 2000, and 2001

One of the interesting find from the site was a new kind of Polychrome pottery consisting of elaborate lattice work or check patterns in black and yellow on red

Ur was an important city state in ancient Sumer. The city's patron deity was Nanna the Sumerian moon god. Before 1918 Campbell Thompson began excavating at Ur. But it was Sir Leonard Woolley who excavated the remains between 1920-1930.
The site is marked by the ruins of the Great Ziggurat of Ur, which contained the shrine of Nanna, excavated in the 1930s. The temple was built in the 21st century BC , during the reign of Ur Nammu and was reconstructed in the 6th century BC by Nabonidus


Reconstructed facade of the ziggurat.

U.S Soldiers climb the steps of the ziggurat in 2010

A total of about 1,850 burials were uncovered, including 16 that were described as "royal tombs" containing many valuable artifacts, including the Standard of Ur

The Standard of Ur (also known as the "Battle Standard of Ur," or the "Royal Standard of Ur") is a Sumerian artifact excavated from what had been the Royal Cemetery in the ancient city of Ur.

It has been reconstructed as a hollow wooden box measuring 8.50 in wide and 19.50 in long, inlaid with a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli
There are three panels each representing a scene The two mosaics have been dubbed "War" and "Peace" for their subject matter, respectively a representation of a military campaign and scenes from a banquet

The splendid treasures found at the royal tomb at Ur caused a sensation comparable with Schliemann's discoveries at Myceane and those of Carter and Carnavon of Tutankhamen tomb. As a result the ruins of the ancient city attracted many visitors. One of these visitors was the already famous Agatha Christie

In 1900 few people knew about Sumerian Culture but by 1930, everyone knew something about Sumerians. This was due partly of the sensational nature of Ur Excavation and also because of Woolleys Publication: 1. The Sumerians (1930) 2. Ur of the Chaldees (1929) 3. Abraham, Recent Discoveries and Hebrew Origins (1936)

Al Ubaid
The site was first worked by Henry Hall of the British Museum in 1919. Later, Woolley excavated there in 1923 and 1924,followed by Setan Lyod and Pinhas Delougaz in 1937, the latter working for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The lower level of the site featured large amounts of Ubaid pottery and associated kilns, as well as a cemetery and some finds from the Jamdet Nasr. The temple of Ninhursag at the summit was on a cleared oval. The wall surrounding the temple was built by Shulgi of the Ur III Empire.

Woolley excavated a limestone foundation tablet at the temple which bore an inscription:

A-anni-padda King of Ur, son of Mes-anni-padda, has built a temple for NinKhursag

This discovery for the first time led Sumerian building to be associated with a historical figure. In another part of the mound handmade pottery with designs painted in black on grey -green was found.

In 1931 the 18th International conference of Orientalists at Leiden discussed the various Mesopotamian finds since 1918 and agreed to distinguish three dynastic period: Al Ubaid the earliest- 4000-3500 B.C. Uruk period- the second- 3500-3000 B.C. Jamdet Nasr- the third 3200-2800 B.C.
Though Leiden Conference had this classification of phases, however by no means this scheme did accurately provide for the whole prehistory of Mesopotamia

Tell Halaf
Further north in the fertile crescent discoveries of great importance had been made. Tell Halaf was excavated by Baron Max von Oppenheim between 1911-1914 and then resumed in 1929 It was a find of a chalcolithic culture, subsequently dubbed the Halaf Culture, characterized by glazed pottery painted with geometric and animal designs

Hunting scene from tell halaf (800-850 B.C.)

Samarra and Arpachiyah

Comparable pottery have been found at Samarra by Ernst Herzfeld in his excavation in 1912-1914 and same sort of pottery and culture was also found by Mallowan in his excavation in Arpachiyah in 1933

The Samarra culture is dated to 5500 B.C to 4800 B.C and is considered as the precursor of the Ubaid Period. Though the present archaeological site covered by mudbrick ruins. evidence of irrigation establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known by its finely-made pottery decorated against dark-fired backgrounds with stylized figures of animals and birds and geometric designs
The site of Arpachiyah is close to Nineveh and was occupied in the Halaf as well as Ubaid period. It was excavated by Max Mallowan on behalf of the British School ofArchaeology in Iraq along with Agatha Christie

Tepe Gawra
The mound at Tepe Gawra was 120 meters in diameter and 22 meters high. A brief exploratory dig was performed by Austen Layard before 1850.The site was formally excavated in 1927, 1931 and 1932 for a total of 8 months by archaeologists from a joint expedition of the University of Pennsylvania and the American Schools of Oriental Research, led by Ephraim Avigdor Speiser
Excavations at Tepe Gawra revealed 16 levels showing that the Tepe Gawra site was occupied from approximately 5000 B.C. to 1500 B.C. They include the earliest known temple to be decorated with pilasters and recesses At Tepe Gawra and Arpachiyah, the Halafian period could be accurately dated below Al Ubaid and seemed to take the prehistory of Mesopotamia yet further back, into the 5th millennium B.C.

From 1931 onwards, Thompson was digging at Kuyunjik and he cut a section down to the virgin soil from foundations of an Assyrian Temple and his section went through the following strata Assyrian, Babylonian, Akkadian, Sumerian, Jamdet Nasr, uruk, AlUbaid and Halafian. Thus giving a complete cross section of the Mesopotamian prehistory and protohistory.

At the very bottom of this section, 70 feet below the surface, Thompson found 11 potsherds decorated with curious scratched designs. Which were classified as Pre- Halafian or Neolithic .

Speiser collating Mesopotamian materials with other finds from the Near East proposed to add two more periods in the Leiden stages and distinguish the following five periods in Mesopotamian Prehistory that has been widely accepted.

1. Sakje-Geuzu or Neolithic
2. Halaf- Samarra 3. AlUbaid 4. Uruk 5. Jamdet Nasr

In 1929, J.H. Breasteds Oriental Institute of Chicago began work in Iraq and the following year excavated the site of Tell Asmar and Khafaje. These excavations on the east of Baghdad were continued till 1937 under the direction of Henri Frankfort and Conrad Preusser. Diyala site, Tell Agrab was excavated by the Oriental Institute between 1934-36. The French in 1929 presumed excavation at Telloh. These were directed first by the Abbe- de- Genouillac and later by Andrae Parrot

Limestone, Khafaje, Early Dynastic II (c. 2700 BC),

It was at Telloh (ancient Girsu) that the fragments of the Stele of the Vultures were found. The Stele of the Vultures is a monument from the Early Dynastic III period (26002350 BC) in Mesopotamia celebrating a victory of the city-state of Lagash over its neighbour Umma. It shows various battle and religious scenes and is named after the vultures that can be seen in one of these scenes. Fragment of the Stele of the Vultures The stele was originally carved out of a single slab of limestone but only seven fragments are known today and are now on display in the Louvre

The site has suffered from poor excavation standards and also from illegal excavations. About 50,000 cuneiform tablets have been recovered from the site

An account of barley rations issued monthly to adults and children written in Cuneiform on clay tablet, written in year 4 of King urukagina (circa 2350 BC).

The French and British field expedition transferred their activities to Syria. Parrot began work in 1934 at Tell Hariri in Syria

A depiction of the ancient city of Mari, located in present-day Syria

Tablet of King Zimri-lIn of Mari, ca. 1780 BC, Louvre Museum

Mallowan continued his work in the Khabur district but excavated the Tell Chagar Bazaar and Tell Brak, in Syria, while Woolley transferred his attention to Atchana in the Plain of Antioch

The first excavation undertaken directly by the Iraq govt. were those in the Omayyid capital of Wasit and the Abbasid capital of Samarra. In 1936 the Iraq govt undertook its first prehistoric excavation at Tell Uquair, 50miles south of Baghdad and discovered a fine temple of the uruk period. At Tell Hassaunah, 20 miles south of Ninneveh, the Iraq department of antiquities under Seton Llyod and Sayyid Fuad Safar discovered a small settlement of Pre-Halaf times with the same pottery as had been found at the bottom of the great shaft of Ninneveh with its full evidence, these site complete the picture of the five prehistoric periods of Mesopotamia1.Prehalaf or Ninneveh/Hassunaha, 2.Halafian, 3.Alubaid, 4.uruk and 5.Jamdet Nasr.

Who were the Sumerians?

Frankfort argued that there was no real break in the Mesopotamian sequence from Al-ubaid to dynastic times and that the Sumerians were the Obeidians Jordan and Contenau argue that the uruk people were the Sumerians and that they arrive in Mesopotamia and impose themselves on the Pre Sumerian Obeidians

Speiser argue for a break in the sequence in uruk B times while others see no possibility of labeling any levels as Sumerians until early dynastic times
Mallowan- the whole rest on Speculation rather than proof Speiser- to identify the individual ethnic elements which cooperated in producing the civilization of preliterate Mesopotamia is a more hopeless task today than it appeared to be?