Category Archives: IRAQ

Ritual Site Dedicated to Mesopotamian War God Discovered in Iraq

Ritual Site Dedicated to Mesopotamian War God Discovered in Iraq

At the site of Girsu (also known as Tello) in Iraq, archeologists recently uncovered a 5,000-year-old cultic region that hosted fiery feasts, animal sacrifices and ritual processions dedicated to Ningirsu, a Mesopotamian warrior-god.

Archeologists excavated over 300 broken ceremonial ceramic cups, bowls, pots, and spouted vessels along with a large number of animal bones in an area of Girsu known as the Uruku (a name which means “the sacred city”).

The sacred plaza, seen here, was at the heart of Girsu. A cultic area that had over 300 broken ceremonial objects was recently uncovered near its entrance.

The items were within or near a “favissa” (ritual pit) that was 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) deep, said Sebastien Rey, director of the British Museum’s Tello/Ancient Girsu Project, and Tina Greenfield, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Saskatchewan who works on the project.

Greenfield presented the team’s findings at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting held in San Diego in November 2019. 

One of the most striking objects the archaeologists found was a bronze figurine shaped like a duck, with eyes made out of the shell.

The object may have been dedicated to Nanshe, a goddess associated with water, marshlands and aquatic birds, Rey and Greenfield told Live Science in an email. The researchers also uncovered a fragment of a vase that has an inscription dedicated to Ningirsu.

Rey and Greenfield said that the cups and goblets they found were probably used in a religious feast before being ritually discarded in the pit, while the bones — which were from sheep, cow, deer, gazelle, fish, goat, pig and birds — were likely the remains of animals that were either consumed or killed for ritual sacrifices. 

The area has a thick layer of ash that was likely leftover from large ritual fires. The team also found eight ash-filled oval structures that were likely the remains of lanterns or floor lamps. 

Archaeologists believe that the cultic area was in use during a time period called the “early dynastic,” which lasted between 2950-2350 B.C. 

Details of the favissa and its objects and animal bones can be seen in this picture. The cultic area that it’s in dates back almost 5,000 years.

Festivals and processions

A large number of ceremonial ceramics, as well as the burnt floors and a favissa strongly, connects the recently uncovered cultic area to the place “where according to the cuneiform texts religious festivals took place and where the population of Girsu gathered to feast and honour their gods,” Rey and Greenfield said in the email.

Cuneiform tablets found at Girsu in the late 19th and early 20th century describe the religious feasting and processions that the cultic area was used for.

The tablets say that a religious feast in honor of Ningirsu was carried out twice a year and lasted for three or four days, Rey and Greenfield said. 

During the festival, a religious procession began at the center of Girsu and crossed the city’s territory before arriving at the “Gu’edena,” an area that may have been located just outside Girsu — and then turned back and ended at Girsu’s center. 

Archaeological work is ongoing at Girsu, and the researchers will continue to publish new findings in the future.

3000-year-old Nimrud lens could rewrite the history of science

3000-year-old Nimrud lens could rewrite the history of science

The lens of Nimrud is a rock crystal object, 3000 years old, which Sir John Layard found in 1850 at the Assyrian Nimrud Palace in modern Iraq.

The Nimrud lens is kept at the British Museum.

Since its discovery over a century ago, scientists and archaeologists have been discussing how the lens has been used as part of a telescope by one famous Italian professor who believed that the ancient Assyrians knew so much about astronomy.

The Nimrud lens (also referred to as the Layard lens), dated between 750 and 710 BC, is made of natural rock crystal and is a slightly oval in form. It was roughly ground, perhaps on a lapidary wheel. It has a focal point about 11 centimeters from the flat side and a focal length of about 12 cm.  

This would make it equivalent to a 3× magnifying glass (combined with another lens, it could achieve much greater magnification). The surface of the lens has twelve cavities that were opened during grinding, which would have contained naptha or some other fluid trapped in the raw crystal. The lens is said to be able to focus sunlight although the focus is far from perfect.  

There has been much debate over the original use of the Nimrud lens.  Some speculate that it was used as a magnifying glass, or as a burning-glass to start fires by concentrating sunlight, while others have proposed that the lens was part of a telescope. 

However, if we are to believe the British Museum’s description, the Nimrud lens “would have been of little or no practical use”, and while they acknowledge that “this piece of rock crystal has been carefully ground and polished, and undoubtedly has optical properties”, they reach the unusual conclusion that the optical properties were “probably accidental”.  

I wonder if the British Museum also maintains that the hundreds of other carefully crafted and polished lenses found throughout the ancient world were also “accidental”?

The British Museum finished by saying that: “There is no evidence that the Assyrians used lenses, either for magnification or for making fire, and it is much more likely that this is a piece of inlay, perhaps for furniture.” However, many disagree with this claim.

Sir John Layard suggested that Assyrian craftsmen used the lens as a magnifying glass to make intricate and minuscule engravings, such as those that have been found on seals and on clay tablets using a wedge-shaped script. But experts on Assyrian archaeology are unconvinced. They say that the lens is of such low quality that it would have been a poor aid to vision.

An example of the minuscule text engraved on clay tablets

Another hypothesis is that the lens was used as a burning-glass to start a fire. Burning-glasses were known in the ancient world. Aristophanes refers to “the beautiful, transparent stone with which they light fires” in his play The Clouds (424 BC). Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) describes how glass balls filled with water could set clothes on fire when placed in line with the sun. However, there is no clear evidence to support the theory that this was the purpose for which the Nimrud lens was created.

Italian scientist Giovanni Pettinato of the University of Rome has proposed that the lens was used by the ancient Assyrians as part of a telescope.  According to conventional perspectives, the telescope was invented by Dutch spectacle maker, Hans Lippershey in 1608 AD, and Galileo was the first to point it to the sky and use it to study the cosmos. But even Galileo himself noted that the ‘ancients’ were aware of telescopes.

While lenses were around before the Nimrud lens, Pettinato believes this was one of the first to be used in a telescope.  The earliest lenses identified date back around 4,500 years ago to the 4 th and 5 th Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (e.g., the superb `Le Scribe Accroupi’ and `the Kai’ in the Louvre), where it appears they were used as schematic eye structures (iris/pupil inserts) associated with funerary statues.

Latter examples have been found in Knossos dated to around 3,500-years-old.  In total, there are several hundred reported lenses now on record from around the ancient world, so it appears that the ancients knew a lot more about lenses than some, like the British Museum, give them credit for. 

One of the reasons Pettinato believed that the Assyrians used the Nimrud lens as part of a telescope is that some of their knowledge about astronomy seems impossible to have acquired without a telescope. 

For example, the ancient Assyrians saw the planet Saturn as a god surrounded by a ring of serpents, which Pettinato suggests was their interpretation of Saturn’s rings as seen through a telescope.

However, other experts say that serpents occur frequently in Assyrian mythology, and note that there is no mention of a telescope in any of the many surviving Assyrian astronomical writings.

Whatever its purpose, as an ornament, as a magnifying lens, a burning glass, or part of a telescope, the Nimrud lens certainly appears to be more than an “accident”.  But exactly how it was used, we may never know.

Ancient rock carvings that escaped the wrath of ISIS discovered in Iraq

Ancient rock carvings that escaped the wrath of ISIS discovered in Iraq

After being attacked by ISIS, ancient carvings of an Assyrian king honoring the gods and surrounded by mythical beasts were safely uncovered in Iraq.

In 2014, ISIS captured Mosul city and archaeologists were forced to leave Faida’s archeological site, as the militant group was just 15 miles away. The ten rock reliefs were found in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and are believed to be the first of their kind discovered in 150 years.

In 2012, the site was surveyed by archeologists and it was not until late last year, with the self-proclaimed caliphate overthrown, that archaeologists were able to return and excavate the treasures left behind. 

Ancient carvings menaced by the advance of ISIS have finally been revealed after the terror group’s defeat, in the first discovery of its kind for more than 150 years
The ten rock reliefs depict Assyrian gods riding mythical creatures in procession with the king (pictured)

Ancient carvings menaced by the advance of ISIS have finally been revealed after the terror group’s defeat, in the first discovery of its kind for more than 150 years. Italian and Iraqi archaeologists uncovered the reliefs 12 miles (20km) south of the Kurdistani city of Duhok.  Expedition leader, Daniele Morandi Bonacossi of the University of Udine in Italy, said nothing like the carvings had been found since 1845. 

‘Assyrian rock reliefs are extremely rare,’ he said. 

‘There is no other Assyrian rock art complex that can be compared with this one, with the only exception being Khinis, in the north-eastern part of the region.’ ISIS, or Islamic State, was remorseless in destroying antiquities it felt were idolatrous, though it also looted artifacts to sell. At the height of its powers, its fighters were only 15 miles from the dig site.  But even now, with ISIS defeated, the rock carvings face fresh threats. 

‘The most serious threats are vandalism, illegal excavations and the activities of the nearby village that are literally besieging the site,’ said Professor Bonacossi. 

‘One of the reliefs was illegally excavated and thereby damaged in May 2019, and the owner of one farmstead has partly destroyed one of the reliefs in order to expand his cow stable.

‘The only way to protect the site is to fence it off and guarantee a constant security service controlling the area. 

‘The Duhok Governorate is committed to guaranteeing the protection of the reliefs.’ 

Archaeologists surveyed the site in 2012 and it was only late last year, with the self-proclaimed caliphate overthrown, that archaeologists were able to return and excavate the treasures left behind
The reliefs (pictured) once decorated the banks of the Faida irrigation canal, which was part of a vast network that brought water to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. The canal was likely built during the reign of Sargon II
Among the deities depicted is Ashur, the main Assyrian god, his wife Mullissu, the moon god Sin and the sun-god Shamash. They are shown astride mythical beasts including dragons and horned lions (pictured)

The reliefs once decorated the banks of the Faida irrigation canal, which was part of a vast network that brought water to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh.   The canal was likely built during the reign of Sargon II, whose successor, Sennacherib, is believed to have incorporated it into the wider network.

Both kings are named in the Bible for their military exploits, with the former conquering the Kingdom of Israel. The figures on the panels are shown in profile, facing left, in the direction the water would have flowed.  Among the deities depicted is Ashur, the main Assyrian god, his wife Mullissu, the moon god Sin and the sun-god Shamash.  They are shown astride mythical beasts including dragons and horned lions. 

‘The reliefs tell us that the construction of this local irrigation system was celebrated by royal power through the carving of rock reliefs,’ said Professor Bonacossi. The excavation of impressive irrigation systems across the core region of the Assyrian empire changed the economic foundation of the regions involved.

‘It transformed them from extensive dry-farming regions into highly-productive irrigation agriculture areas. 

‘But it also profoundly modified the space and settlement patterns in the core of the Assyrian empire.’  

Professor Bonacossi believes the site could hold more secrets still. 

‘During the excavation of one relief, we found another which was not visible at the surface,’ he said. 

‘This means that probably many other reliefs are still to be found and that this rock art complex is larger than we expected. 

‘This explains why the Faida archaeological site is so important.’ 

Archaeologists surveyed the site in 2012 (pictured), following up on an earlier British excavation in 1973, but the project ground to a halt when ISIS captured the nearby city of Mosul in 2014

A Stunning Neanderthal Skeleton Was Just Unearthed at a Famous Burial Site

A Stunning Neanderthal Skeleton Was Just Unearthed at a Famous Burial Site

A skeleton uncovered in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of Neanderthal species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead – and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.

The remains, consisting of a crushed but complete skull, upper thorax, and both hands, were recently unearthed at the Shanidar Cave site 500 miles north of Baghdad.

Scientists said on Tuesday they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual – dubbed Shanidar Z – was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

On Tuesday scientists discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual – dubbed Shanidar Z – was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals – seven adults and three infants – were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior, and diet of this species.

Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.

That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries. Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.

But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials. The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.

“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyses,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.

Shanidar Z’s bones are believed to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960.

“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.

Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.

“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries – or even millennia – apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said University of Cambridge archeologist and study co-author Graeme Barker.

Neanderthals – more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows – inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.

The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.

Shanidar Z was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.

This 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths

This 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths

The Babylonians developed trigonometry 1,500 years before the Greeks and were using a sophisticated method of mathematics which could change how we calculate today, which makes it a 3,700-year-old clay tablet.

The tablet, known as Plimpton 332, was discovered in the early 1900s in Southern Iraq by the American archaeologist and diplomat Edgar Banks, who was the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

This 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths
The tablet is broken and probably had more rows, experts believe

The true meaning of the tablet has eluded experts until now but new research by the University of New South Wales, Australia, has shown it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, which was probably used by ancient architects to construct temples, palaces, and canals.

However, unlike today’s trigonometry, Babylonian mathematics used a base 60, or sexagesimal system, rather than the 10 which is used today. Because 60 is far easier to divide by three, experts studying the tablet, found that the calculations are far more accurate.

“Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” said Dr. Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science.

“It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius.

Dr. Daniel Mansfield with the 3,700-year-old trigonometric table

The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.

“This means it has great relevance for our modern world. Babylonian mathematics may have been out of fashion for more than 3000 years, but it has possible practical applications in surveying, computer graphics, and education.

“This is a rare example of the ancient world teaching us something new.”

The Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived around 120BC, has long been regarded as the father of trigonometry, with his ‘table of chords’ on a circle considered the oldest trigonometric table.

A trigonometric table allows a user to determine two unknown ratios of a right-angled triangle using just one known ratio. But the tablet is far older than Hipparchus, demonstrating that the Babylonians were already well advanced in complex mathematics far earlier.

Babylon, which was in modern-day Iraq, was once one of the most advanced cultures in the world

The tablet, which is thought to have come from the ancient Sumerian city of Larsa, has been dated to between 1822 and 1762 BC. It is now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York.

“Plimpton 322 predates Hipparchus by more than 1000 years,” says Dr. Wildberger.

“It opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education. With Plimpton 322 we see a simpler, more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over our own.

“A treasure-trove of Babylonian tablets exists, but only a fraction of them have been studied yet. The mathematical world is only waking up to the fact that this ancient but very sophisticated mathematical culture has much to teach us.”

The 15 rows on the tablet describe a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles, which are steadily decreasing in inclination.

The left-hand edge of the tablet is broken but the researchers believe that there were originally six columns and that the tablet was meant to be completed with 38 rows.

“Plimpton 322 was a powerful tool that could have been used for surveying fields or making architectural calculations to build palaces, temples or step pyramids,” added Dr. Mansfield.

The new study is published in Historia Mathematica, the official journal of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics.

Ancient Assyrian rock carvings in Iraq show a procession of gods riding mythical animals

Ancient Assyrian rock carvings in Iraq show a procession of gods riding mythical animals

Ancient Assyrian reliefs of a king in a procession of gods and goddesses riding on animals and mythical creatures have been uncovered by archaeologists.

The Assyrian carvings are nearly 3,000 years old and were discovered late last year by Italian and Iraqi archaeologists excavating in the district of Faida, south of Duhok city, about 300 miles (480 kilometers) north of Baghdad, in the region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Dr. Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, from the Italian University of Udine and with the help of archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities, is responsible for the land of Nineveh Archeological Project.

According to the university’s excavation chief at Faida, with the exception of the carvings at the archaeological site of Khinnis discovered near the city of Mosul in 1845, there exists “no other” comparable Assyrian rock art.

Dating back about 2,800 years ago, the story of Assyrian King Sargon II on both sides of a procession of the seven major Assyrian gods and goddesses was cut off from the rocks in relief over an ancient irrigation canal in a time of expanding in the Assyrian Empire.

The excavation site where the Assyrian relief carvings were found, cut into the bedrock above an ancient irrigation canal in the Faida district of Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

All gods and goddesses are riding animals and mythical creatures, including horses, bulls, lions, and dragons, each facing the direction that the water once flowed under them into the ancient canal.

The unearthed Assyrian relief carvings showing a procession of the seven main Assyrian gods and goddesses, standing or seated on mythical animals, and the Assyrian king Sargon II.

According to an article in Live Science, Dr. Morandi Bonacossi said the carving feature: the sun god Shamash on a horse and the moon god Sin is on the back of a horned lion. Furthermore, the god of wisdom is mounted on a dragon, while the weather god is on a horned lion and a bull.

Ishtar, the goddess of love and war sits on a lion and Ashur, the chief Assyrian god, is perched upon a dragon and a horned lion, while his wife Mullissu sits on a decorated throne supported by a lion.

The famous Assyrian king Sargon ruled from 722 BC until 705 BC and according to the Hebrew Bible, he invaded and defeated the  Kingdom of Israel. It was under his rule that the canal had been built for local irrigation.

His son and successor, Sennacherib, ruled until 681 BC and rebuilt the ancient city of Nineveh alongside the Tigris River, on the outskirts of modern Mosul. He integrated his father’s canal into a much more expansive irrigation network that transformed the Assyrian Empire into an agricultural giant.

Close up of the Assyrian relief carvings showing some of the gods and goddesses standing or seated on a mythical creature.

In a National Geographic article about the new discovery, Hassan Ahmed Qasim Duhok from the Directorate of Antiquities said the carvings were first seen in 1973 by a British team who noted the tops of three stone panels but tensions between Kurds and the Baathist regime in Baghdad prevented further work.

Then, in 2012, Dr. Morandi Bonacossi identified six more reliefs but all archaeological work was abandoned in 2014 when ISIS captured nearby Mosul. However, a full scientific excavation resumed in 2017 after the terrorist organization was finally driven out of the region.

You would think such an incredible discovery would more than satisfy archaeologists, but it only seems to have peeked their exploratory natures, as they now suspect more might lie beneath. Dr. Morandi Bonacossi told Live Science that the 4-mile-long (6.5 km) canal, which once carried water to farmland in the Faida district during the eighth century BC, had been filled in a long time ago.

However, the archaeologist says it’s “highly probable” that more reliefs and maybe monumental celebratory cuneiform inscriptions are still buried under the soil debris that filled the canal, waiting to be uncovered.

The Faida archaeological site has traditionally been the focus of vandalism and looting caused by rapid and urban expansion, including the construction of a modern aqueduct nearby, which now threatens the site, according to Dr. Morandi Bonacoss.

However, Faida is currently undergoing a major salvage and restoration project, and a new archaeological park is being created nearby, which will help protect the site from further incursions. 

The very first city ever established in human history recorded

The First City in Recorded History

It is the oldest city in ancient Mesopotamia. It was located in the southern region of Sumeria (now Warka, Iraq) to the northeast of the Euphrates River. Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and Babylon at one time.

The ruins of what once used to be the great city of Uruk show thousands of clay tablets that indeed it was a religious and scientific center. The oldest texts of the world were written here, according to Archeology Magazine.

A massive ziggurat at the entrance of Uruk.

A series of wedge-shaped symbols pressed into wet clay using reeds was developed around 3200 B.C. The writing system is known as cuniform. By Sumerian scribes in Uruk.

The combination of shapes represented different sounds, so the system could thus be adopted by scribes who spoke different languages. The script was used by multiple cultures for around 3,000 years.

Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11.

Uruk is also well known as the city of Gilgamesh. The mythological Sumerian hero-king was made famous in the modern world with the discovery of a collection of stories — known as the “Epic of Gilgamesh” — in 1853. The 12 cuneiform tablets on which the stories were written were discovered by archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam at the site of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.

According to Professor John Maier of the State University of New York College at Brockport, “Ancient writings point to the existence of an actual, historical person we now call Gilgamesh. He lived, according to our best estimate, about 2600 B.C.”

It is also believed that Uruk is the biblical city of Erech, the second city of the kingdom of Nimrod in Shinar (Genesis 10:10). Archaeologists distinguish nine different periods in the rise of the city from a simple settlement to the first urban center of the world.

The foundations of the first settlements on the site date somewhere around 5000 B.C., the Eridu period. According to the Sumerian King List (an ancient stone tablet which lists all the kings of Sumer, in Sumerian language), Uruk was founded by King Enmerkar around 4500 B.C. This was during the Ubaid period (5000–4100 B.C.)

Pottery jar from Late Ubaid period.

After 4000 B.C., Uruk rose from small, agricultural villages to a significantly larger and more complex center. This has been attributed partly to a period of climatic change; the area saw less rainfall and so people living in the hills migrated to the river valley of the ancient Euphrates. The course of the Euphrates has since shifted, an important factor in the decline of the city.

Nestled in the lush and fertile river valley, the population of Uruk continued to grow throughout the Early Uruk period (4000–3500 B.C.), Middle Uruk period (3800–3400 B.C.) and Late Uruk period (3500–3100 B.C.). Farming and irrigation techniques were refined, providing a surplus of food for the community.

By around 3200 B.C., the city of Uruk was the largest settlement in southern Mesopotamia, and probably in the world. It was an urban center with a full-time bureaucracy, stratified society, and a formal military. It was also a major hub of trade and administration.

The organization of Uruk in this period set the blueprint for cities ever since. There is evidence of social hierarchies and coercive political structures that would be familiar to most of us today. Clay tablets containing a “standard professions list” have been found, listing around 100 professions. As the city became more affluent, those at the top sought ways to display their wealth and power. Luxury goods were acquired by conquest or trade with lands as far as the Egyptian Nile Delta.

Uruk was a city of extraordinary architecture and works of art. The remains of monumental mud-brick buildings, the walls of which were decorated with mosaics of painted clay cones, pressed into the mud plaster — a technique known as clay cone mosaic — have been excavated. The most impressive creations discovered to date of this Sumerian craft are the two large temple complexes in the heart of Uruk.

Part of a relief from the Inanna Temple.

One was dedicated to Anu, the god of the sky, and the other, known as the Mosaic Temple of Uruk, to Inanna (or Ishtar), the goddess of love, procreation, and war. There was a clear division of the city into the Anu and Eanna Districts.

Another famous piece of artwork, “The Lady of Uruk,” or the Mask of Warka, was discovered in 1939 by the German Archaeological Institute in Uruk. Dating from 3100 B.C., it is most likely that the mask was part of a much larger work from one of the temples and it is considered to represent of Inanna. The marble sculpture is one of the earliest representations of the human face.

The Mask of Warka was stolen during the Battle of Baghdad in April 2003. She was recovered in September 2003 – buried in a farmers field – and returned to the Iraqi National Museum.

To this day, the mask is the most significant artifact found on the site, and it is part of the collection of National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. It is also called “The Sumerian Mona Lisa.” Uruk continued to expand and, as the center of luxurious materials and possessions, it demanded greater protection.

Zodiacal calendar of the cycle of the Virgo Clay tablet Seleucid period, end of 1st millennium BC, copy of an older original Warka, former Uruk, Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Although it was traditionally believed that the great wall of Uruk was built by King Gilgamesh himself, as it is written in the Epic of Gilgamesh, it was possibly created during the reign of King Eannutum who established the first empire in Uruk during the Jemdet Nasr Period (3100-2900 B.C.) By the time the wall was raised, it protected an area of 2.32 square miles and a population of almost 80,000.

During the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 B.C.), Mesopotamia was governed by city-states whose rulers gradually grew in importance and power. Starting circa 2004 B.C. the struggles between the Sumerians in Babylonia and the Elamites from Elam, the Pre-Iranian civilization rose to serious national conflicts.

Possible representation of Gilgamesh as Master of Animals, grasping a lion in his left arm and snake in his right hand, in an Assyrian palace relief from Dur-Sharrukin, now held in the Louvre.

Uruk was still a prominent center during this time but suffered severely. There are recollections about the conflicts in the Gilgamesh epic. Sometime after 2000 B.C., Uruk lost importance, but it wasn’t abandoned.

The city remained inhabited throughout the Seleucid (312–63 B.C.) and Parthian (227 B.C.–224 A.D.) periods. The last people living there left Uruk after the Islamic contest of Persia in 633–638 A.D. The remains of probably the oldest city in the world laid buried until 1850 when archaeologist William Loftus led the first excavations on the site and identified the city as “Erech, the second city of Nimrod.”

A drought revealed a palace thousands of years old submerged in an Iraq reservoir

A drought revealed a palace thousands of years old submerged in an Iraq reservoir

As the waters of the Mosul dam reservoir in northern Iraq receded last fall, they revealed a stunning sight: a Bronze Age palace, many of its mud-brick walls and carefully planned rooms remarkably preserved.

The discovery of the ruins in the Mosul Dam reservoir on the banks of the Tigris River inspired a spontaneous archeological dig that will improve understanding of the Mittani Empire.

One of the least-researched empires of the Ancient Near East, the Kurdish-German team of researchers said in a press release.

A drought revealed a palace thousands of years old submerged in an Iraq reservoir
The Mittani Empire is one of the least researched civilizations of the Ancient Near East.

“The find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades,” Kurdish archeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim said in a press release.

The palace would have originally stood just 65 feet from the river on an elevated terrace. A terrace wall of mud bricks was later added to stabilize the building, adding to the imposing architecture.

Ivana Puljiz, an archeologist from the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies, describes the palace, known as Kemune, as a carefully designed building with mud-brick walls up to two meters (6.6 feet) thick.

Some of the walls are more than two meters high, and various rooms have plastered walls, she added.

The team also found wall paintings in shades of red and blue, which were probably a common feature of palaces at the time but have rarely been found preserved.

“Discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation,” she said in a press release.

“Kemune is only the second site in the region where wall paintings of the Mittani period have been discovered,” Puljiz told CNN in an email.

Photos of the clay tablets found at the site have been sent to Germany for translation.

Ten clay tablets covered in cuneiform, an ancient system of writing, were also discovered. High-resolution photos of the texts have been sent to Germany for translation.

“From the texts, we hope to gain information on the inner structure of the Mittani empire, its economic organization, and the relationship of the Mittani capital with the administrative centers in the neighboring regions,” Puljiz told CNN.

Archeologists first became aware of the site in 2010 when water levels in the reservoir were low, but this is the first time they have been able to excavate.

However, the site was submerged shortly after the dig, Puljiz said, adding: “It is unclear when it will emerge again.”

Qasim also worked on another project with the University of Tübingen, uncovering a Bronze Age city in northern Iraq in 2016.
The team unearthed the city, which lies beneath what is now the small village of Bassetki in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, close to territory that was held by ISIS.

Days after the dig was completed, Iraqi security forces began their push to take Mosul back from ISIS.

Measuring a kilometer in length and 500 meters across (about 1,000 yards by roughly 550 yards), the ancient urban area features grand houses, a palace, an extensive road network, and a cemetery.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where and how the text on the clay tablets would be analyzed.