Kneeling goat

British School of Archaeology in Iraq

(Gertrude Bell Memorial) Registered Charity No. 219948

Kneeling goat

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Newsletter 14 - Nov. 2004

ED Statue

Jeremy Black 1952 – 2004

Jeremy took a B.Phil. in Oriental Studies at Oxford under Oliver Gurney. There he discovered Sumerian — along with Egyptian one of the earliest known languages in the world, and related to no other known. He chose as his D.Phil. topic ‘Sumerian grammar in Babylonian theory’ — that is, an examination of clay tablets written by ancient Babylonian scribes from the early second millennium BC onwards as part of their attempts to understand, teach, and learn the Sumerian language. It was later published as Sumerian Grammar in Babylonian Theory (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1984; 1991). He did postdoctoral work on the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary in 1980–81, where he contributed to the monumental three-part Sh volume, which came out in the course of the 1990s. (Assyrian was the nineteenth-century term for the ancient language now called Akkadian, of which Babylonian is the southern dialect and Assyrian the northern.)

In 1982 he became Assistant Director and then Director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq (BSAI). This British Academy-funded body was then based in Baghdad, where Jeremy worked extensively on the cuneiform tablet collection of the Iraq Museum. One outcome was Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud, IV: Literary Texts from the Temple of Nabû (London: BSAI, 1996), written with Donald Wiseman. In Baghdad Jeremy fell in love: with Iraq itself, deeply and irrevocably; and with the archaeologist Ellen MacAdam who soon became his wife. They divorced in the early 90s but remained in contact, bound by their shared passion for the culture and history of the country in which they had met.

Jeremy returned to the UK in 1988, taking up a new post as University Lecturer in Akkadian at Oxford with a fellowship at Wolfson College. He was an extraordinarily generous and motivating teacher, and his circle of students and protégés soon extended far outside Oxford. Jeremy made Sumerian seem, if not simple (for it isn’t), at least not impossible, and its difficulties the endearing idiosyncrasies of a much loved friend. He initiated an international Sumerian Grammar Discussion Group (SGDG), which met in Oxford throughout the 1990s. Over the years Jeremy came to apply linguistic and grammatical theory more and more to Sumerian, writing productive and lucid scholarly articles on subjects from adjectives to idiophones. His and Gábor Zólyomi’s edited volume of the last SGDG, Diachronic and Synchronic Variations in the Phonology, Morphology, and Syntax of Sumerian, is currently in press.

In the summer of 1996 he dreamed up the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. It began as an idle wish for a standardised literary corpus on which to test theories about Sumerian grammar — and grew into an international project with a six-figure budget and several staff, which is still going strong. Jeremy’s book Reading Sumerian Poetry (London: Athlone, 1998) was a pioneering application of modern literary theory to ancient Sumerian. The literature of ancient Sumer (Oxford: OUP, 2004), with Graham Cunningham, Eleanor Robson and Gábor Zólyomi, written for a wider audience, includes seventy translations of works from the ETCSL project.

Collaborative working was the essence of Jeremy’s professional life. In 1992 he and the archaeologist Tony Green published Gods, Demons and Symbols of ancient Mesopotamia (London: British Museum Press), illustrated by Tessa Rickards. The Concise Dictionary of Akkadian (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999), which he edited with Andrew George and Nicholas Postgate, was the first affordable and portable dictionary of the language. Both books were instant and lasting successes, each continuously in print and constantly in demand.

Jeremy was also an efficient and good-humoured administrator, serving on almost every committee at Wolfson and in the Faculty of Oriental Studies over the years. He was Chairman of the Faculty Board in 2000–01, and edited the Wolfson College Record from the early 90s until his death. In 1995–96 he was elected to the post of Senior Proctor, responsible for all graduate examinations and discipline across the university.

Iraq remained top of Jeremy’s agenda. He remained closely involved with the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. Throughout the 90s he arranged for Iraqi scholars to visit the UK and to work with him in Oxford and returned to Iraq for a brief visit in March 2001. At the time of his death he was planning to go back again, as part of a USAID-funded project to retrain Iraqi archaeologists and historians.

Eleanor Robson, All Souls, 22 June 2004
Return to the top

Gratefully Reprinted from the Worcester College Record


Remembering a very dear friend: the late Professor David Oates

I have known the late Professor David Oates since the autumn of 1969 when I started working on my PhD research thesis at the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) under the title “A Comparative Analysis between Oriental (Traditional or Indigenous) Courtyard Houses and the Modern Non-Courtyard Houses (the Villa Type) of Baghdad.” At the suggestion of my supervisor, the late Professor Otto Koenigsberger, I spent most of the first year trying to research the historical and archaeological background and context for such types of houses in Iraq and its immediate geographic region. I was first sent to the library of the Warburg Institute; when I almost exhausted the relevant references, its librarian suggested that I could also use the library of the Institute of Archaeology. Here, the librarian directed me to see Professor David Oates for discussion and permission to use the library. He was giving a lecture that afternoon which I attended.

From our first meeting, there was an immediate rapport; he was generous with his time and spent a while showing me the various sections of the library and told the librarian that I should be given a ticket to use it despite the fact that I was not registered as a student with the Institute. I had free and easy access to him whenever he was in his office to discuss references and sites of ancient houses and their archaeological reports.

To me, David was like an older brother and a dear friend; he was very kind, considerate, sensitive, helpful, generous, warm, and hospitable. I liked him very much for all his superb human and humane qualities, for his professional dedication and intellectual prowess, as well as for his affection for Iraq as the cradle of civilisation and for the Iraqis as people worthy of such inheritance. He was so precise and exacting in his writing and lecturing. He easily conveyed the love of his subject to his students and to his audience. I already miss him enormously.

In the autumn of 1970, David very kindly asked me to spend a weekend with him and his family at Barton, Cambridge. On the Saturday evening, I went with him to Trinity College Cambridge where I was entertained to dinner at the high table, sitting next to the Master of Trinity College. (Sadly, Joan could not join us because of the University Rules at the time! How things have changed!) This was such an honour, which I have always valued; it was a measure of the true kindness one felt from this most generous of men. On Sunday, David, Joan and the family went on a car trip round the various Colleges and their new buildings.

While I was carrying out the fieldwork of my PhD research thesis in Baghdad in 1971 and 1972, David was excavating in Tell Al-Rimah. I located David in Baghdad through the late Professor Fuad Safar, the head of the Department of Antiquities, to deliver a personal verbal message from Joan. He was in the BSAI house in what I know now to be the Agatha Christie’s house in Karradat Maryam. Out of sheer courtesy and respect, as well as concern for him and his staff (and for myself), I refrained from asking him whether I could measure and photograph it and produce measured drawings of it. My position and theirs were even more acute because there were security men outside it keeping a constant watch on the house. I was fortunate not to be stopped by them because they thought I was English (“He is wearing socks with his sandals”)! No Iraqi does that! However, I had rented an empty house (Bayt Falih Al-Qassab) a few hundred metres away along the same bank of the Tigris for the purpose. I still regret not to have measured that house, particularly knowing now its historical significance and its demolition (after being struck by a rocket during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988) as well as the house I had measured, later on by the Iraqi authorities for the purpose of a riverside promenade street (corniche)! I saw David twice in Baghdad: once when I first saw him at the BSAI house, and the second time when I went to collect him to come to dinner in our house in Al-Yarmouk with a few close friends and relatives.

Through him, I began to appreciate, value, and adore Mesopotamian architectural archaeology, and through that I expanded my research to the same in other parts of the world. Additionally, through reading (in the early 1990s) the second edition of the marvellous book on “Babylon” by his dear wife Dr Joan Oates, I also began to appreciate and value the cultural aspects of Mesopotamian archaeology. Therefore I owe both David and Joan a lot in opening the door widely for me to the understanding and appreciation of the archaeological heritage of my own country.

It is impossible to talk about David without including Joan and vice-a-versa. To me, they are the equivalent to the late British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, with whom I (and other colleagues) had the pleasure and honour to co-operate as a climatic design consultant on their master plan for Kuwait Old City. They were inseparable from their student days in intellectual thoughts and ideas about modern architecture in theory and in practice. I believe that the same can be said equally about David and Joan with their utter and sincere dedication to Mesopotamian archaeology in digging, surveying, drawing, analysing, appraising, evaluating the importance of sites, as well as in teaching, lecturing and writing.

To me as an architect, I believe that one of the most interesting discoveries that David had made was the unearthing in Tell Al-Rimah 1968 of a series of “pitched-brick vaulted” roofs, only one of which was completely preserved; it was totally in tact as a perfect example of a “pitched-brick vault” roof covering the whole area of a small chamber measuring only 1.50m by 1.80m and dating back to about 2100BC. In the 1970s, David had kindly given me a copy of his paper about it saying that it might interest me. It is the earliest form of construction of its type. Here, from each of the four corners of this rectangular room, slanting mud bricks formed a contiguous series of pitched arches until they met near the centre where the key bricks were inserted to complete the vault. It was also remarkable that this should have been achieved in a rectangular rather than a square room. This form of construction was so remarkable in a country with little wood or timber for construction, that the world-renowned magazine Scientific American published it in 1984 as part of an article on arcuate construction. I came across it when I was a Visiting Fellow with the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and MIT for the whole academic year 1987-88.

In 1998 I attended a seminar on the Use of Brick in Architecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects as part of a series on Advances in Technology. The chairman, a former senior engineer with the famous engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners declared that one cannot build arches or vaults without centering (namely, wooden or timber framework used to support arch and vault construction; it is removed or “struck” when the mortar has set and hardened). I stood up to disagree saying that my father, who was a master builder, used to build “Jack Arching” in brickwork without centering in the 1940s and 50s in Baghdad; also, the late Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy had built mud-brick “pitched arches” and “pitched vaults” in Al-Qurna village in the 1950s. But I said the best and earliest example is that discovered completely in tact by Professor David Oates in the 1970s in Tell Al-Rimah in northern Iraq, which comprised a series of pitched arches emanating from the four corners of a rectangular room, and which dates back to the year 2100BC! With the mentioning of that date the participants exploded with thunderous applause! How I wished that David were present in that hall. Two years ago, I told David that and he was very pleased.

I am not quite sure whether David and Joan began to love the Iraqi people through their love of Mesopotamian archaeology or vice-versa or whether both loves were mutually coexistent and compatible in their hearts and minds. No matter what, their love was equally appreciated, highly valued and deeply requited by the Iraqi people.

At the age of 15, while at secondary school in Baghdad, I hated the history of ancient Iraq because of the way it was taught, having to memorise all the facts and figures, as well as names of kings and dynasties, rather than telling it as stories about people and their lives. There was not a single visit to any archaeological site despite their abundance in Iraq!

David changed all that for me; he infected me with the love of architectural archaeology, and in the 1990s, when I read the second edition of the book “Babylon” by Joan Oates, she did the same to me regarding other cultural aspects of Mesopotamia. Therefore, I owe a lot to both David and Joan in opening the door widely to the archaeological heritage of my country, in understanding it, in appreciating it, and in evaluating it in the context of world civilizations, both ancient and modern.

To us the Iraqis, David was one of us, and we all miss him enormously. Mesopotamia, Iraq and the Iraqis have been divinely blessed by the love and dedication of both David and Joan. It was almost like a divine intervention, guidance or inspiration that both should travel to Iraq separately, to fall in love with each other (and both with Iraq) and to dedicate their life to the study of its ancient civilization and culture.

It is both appropriate and fitting that David should have been referred to, by the Iraqi diggers and labourers engaged on archaeological sites, as “Shaykh Daoud.” By being called a “Shaykh” is a sign of respect and endearment for a knowledgeable man who commands such qualities, as well as love and affection (especially for a non-Iraqi Arab). As for being called “Dawood,” which is the Arabic version for David, is in fact a reference to the Prophet David. Surely, those Iraqis knew in their heart of hearts that he was blessed by unique qualities, and therefore deserved both accolades for the marvellous man he was.

Subhi Al-Azzawi
Return to the top

The School is extremely pleased to report that we will be reprinting David Oates’ out of print monograph "Studies in the Ancient History of Northern Iraq" with the generous support of the Bonham Carter Trust and the kind permission of the British Academy (original publishers 1968). David Oates' festschrift "Of Pots and Plans" edited by Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, John Curtis, Augusta McMahon, Harriet Martin, Joan Oates and Julian Reade, is available from Oxbow Books.


Report from Baghdad

There is good news and bad news of the antiquities in Iraq and the Iraq Museum.

Pillaging of the archaeological sites particularly in southern Iraq continues, sometimes leading to tragedy, a police convoy bring confiscated antiquities from Nasiriyah to Baghdad was ambushed on the way and all were killed. An antiquities police force is now being formed to protect the sites. Seventy five policemen have been trained in Jordan sponsored by UNESCO and the Italian Carabiniari.

A project to establish an integrated system for cultural heritage inventory and assessment in Iraq sponsored by the World Monument Fund and the Getty Conservation Institute now has fifteen archaeologists being trained in Amman.

Two Christie Mallowan scholars are now in England on an eight weeks work experience programme, Sinan Rabi' al-Qaissi on museum exhibition design, and Khalid Mutlak on archaeological photography. The training programmes have been the best achievement of the last year. Twenty-three young archaeologists went to the United States for an introduction to museums course. Another fifteen are on a similar training in France, four are going to Heidelberg to study.

The laboratory is back in working order with donations from the Italian and Japanese governments. Three conservators who were on three months training at the British Museum are back in Baghdad, and ten new recruits have joined them. They worked in restoring many of the damaged objects, foremost is the Warka vase, Hatra statues and the Nimrud ivories. The cuneiform tablets collection which fortunately escaped the hands of the looters is in need of much conservation, every tablet is being examined by Dr. Bahija Khalil Ismail and with the help of the assyriologists at the museum.

The proximity of the Museum to the centre of disturbances in Baghdad has compelled Dr. Donny George the Director not only to close the museum to the public, but now the galleries and storerooms have been sealed off as well. An inquiry into what went wrong in April 2003, and the precautionary measures taken before the war is ongoing and its findings will be published in the very near future.

The Iraq Museum Library is now open to the public and there is a new addition, one room has devoted to the cuneiform studies books, it has been refurbished and furnished with a donation from the British Academy from its private endowment (facilitated by the BSAI). However, because of lack of funds the library still lacks most of the new publications.

The violence and the unstable situation in Baghdad had had its toll on the activities of the State Board and contact with the other cities is very difficult. The Nasiriyah Museum though empty of any antiquities was burnt and the books from the Library were looted. The Baqouba Museum has suffered much damage being next to the main police station, which has been constantly under attack. The military will vacate the camp situated within the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon after very lengthy negotiations with the United States and the Polish military authorities. At Hatra, munitions from the former Iraqi army were being exploded just eleven kilometers from the ruins, damaging one of the temples' arches. This also has been halted.

Lamia Al Gailani Werr
Return to the top

(Editor’s note: The BSAI would be pleased to act as a means of sending academic books to Iraq but asks that any donations be of appropriate calibre.)


Tell Brak Update

The most recent Brak project is an intensive survey, begun in 2002, with Professor David Oates as Project Director and Professor Henry Wright, Field Director. The survey has been made feasible by the recent availability of LANDSAT images, modern GIS software and, most importantly, the cooperation of the Directorate-General in Damascus. In autumn 2003 we were able to extend this survey to a radius of 20 km from Brak itself. Using the new satellite imagery we were able to identify a further 132 sites, making a total of 283 sites examined and recorded over the two seasons. In 2003 an intensive field-walking investigation of the immediate area round Brak was also begun, during which further small settlements were identified (now constituting a total of 15) and the Byzantine/early Islamic settlement around the Roman castellum further examined. Of particular interest were observations south of the tell of a possible third millennium ‘city wall’, a low ridge approached by a number of ‘hollow ways’ which seem to be converging on what appear to have been gates in this wall, features to be investigated in the coming season. Close examination of this area suggests an extension of settlement in the third millennium to an area of some 76 ha.

A final excavation and study season for the current series of projects took place in spring 2004, with Joan Oates as Project Director and Helen McDonald as Field Director for the study season and with particular responsibility for Area TC, where the aim was to retrieve more of the plan of the so-called Oval building and the Akkadian Cut-in building (CIB). This required the removal of the walls of the later Pisé building (excavated in 2002) and a substantial levelling fill. In the northwest part of the CIB one new room had a quantity of smashed pottery on the floor. A continuation of the curving Oval wall to the south of the CIB was identified, but the actual rooms of the Oval proved to have been severely damaged by the overlying building and both the latter and the Oval had been damaged by large post-Akkadian pits.

Excavation was continued in Area TW which substantially expanded our knowledge of the late 5th/early 4th millennium occupation. Of particular interest was the discovery of small ‘guardrooms’ or ‘offices’ associated with the unusual monumental building of Level 20, and the presence nearby of a number of small structures with associated ovens, in which there were large numbers of bone and stone tools, that is, what seemed to have been a ‘manufacturing’ area.

Joan Oates & Helen McDonald
Return to the top

Report on Excavations in the Lower Town of Ziyaret, 2004

From July to early September 2004 a fifth season of excavation was conducted in the lower town at Ziyaret, continuing work in Operation G, the area of Late Assyrian occupation where work commenced in 2001, as well as resuming work in Operation K, the area on the southern city wall where work commenced in 2003. In these operations a total area of 500 m2 was opened up. The following participated as site supervisors: Celine Beauchamp, Mary Shepperson and Carl Hayward in Operation G, and Kemalettin Koroglu and Gulay Dinckan in Operation K. This work was supported by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara, the University of Oxford Wainwright Fund, and the University of Cambridge McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, the British Academy and the Headley Trust.

Operation G Building 1

This building, where we first found the checkerboard mosaic pavement, has now been almost entirely excavated, the exception being a part of the southeastern corner. In this area the structure is too eroded and too close to the surface to yield good results in excavation, but the resistivity survey was extended to the relevant squares and we look forward to the results from this.

Building 2

This is the building where the tablets were found in a room in 2002 and 2003. Opening up a square to the west of that room we were at first puzzled by our inability to detect any lines of mud brick walls until it became clear that we were coming down onto a cobbled surface with a difference - a second checkerboard pavement filling almost the entire trench. The pavement measures 11 m across and is predominantly composed of squares divided by St. Andrew's crosses into alternating triangles of black and white stones. But there are many irregularities. For a start the ''squares'' vary widely in size and most are in fact rectangles: some examples of measurements are 88 x 60 cm, 63 x 63 cm and 88 x 82 cm. There are also areas where the squares are just black or white, and also some that are divided into two triangles rather than four. Secondly there is a curious feature where four baked bricks have been let into the pavement forming the corners of a rectangle measuring 1.9 x 1.1 metres. We do not know what this is, but possibilities would be supports for a table, bed or even throne base. Thirdly, there are three areas where the pavement has been cut into and the area then relaid with much larger and rougher blocks. These areas all measure approximately 150 x 80 cm. Our best guess is that they were graves. A fourth feature was a pit cut into the pavement 30 cm wide and 40 cm deep and lined with bitumen - possibly a fixture for a water jug. Finally, there was a shallow gutter running across the pavement ending (of course) in the baulk where it ended in a drain capped by a baked brick with a hole 10 cm in the centre. A large part of a clay tub was found overlying this drain. Part of a bath tub coffin? Or an actual bath tub? Perhaps future excavation will hold the answer.

Building 3

The first task was to resume excavation of a room originally uncovered in 2003 which had a well preserved baked brick pavement overlaid with a layer of painted plaster. After careful excavation of the plaster, which appeared to have been painted in concentric black and white rectangles, we lifted part of the pavement itself to reveal an excellently preserved drainage system ending in a sump approximately two metres deep and filled with stones to the greater part of its depth. Excavation in the square to the southwest exposed a complex of rooms all of which showed signs of multiple phasing with doorways blocked, floors relaid and walls repaired and rebuilt in a manner clearly inconsistent with the original layout of the building. In a long (12.6 x 3.7 m) room on the east side removal of the upper floor exposed a cobbled area measuring 2.9 x 1.4 metres. The function of the feature is unknown but an interesting curiosity is the occurrence of a baked clay ''hand of Ißtar'' (sadly uninscribed) in amongst the other stones. All these rooms were grouped around a courtyard - yet another checkerboard pavement! This one is the best made so far. The squares are neatly and evenly laid and all measure fairly consistently in the region of 55-58 cm2. An unusual feature is the remains of a staircase built out of mud brick but with baked brick treads preserved to a height of three steps on the northern side of the courtyard.

Immediately to the north of this area are the remains of a kiln, initially identified last year but not excavated until this year. It is a substantial structure, measuring approximately five metres long and two metres across, and preserved to a depth of 1.6 metres. Cleaning of the upper part revealed a network of at least fourteen plastered flues, averaging 10-15 cm in diameter. The cutting of a section through the kiln revealed that it was built into a large pit lined with clay and that a number of firings took place, with a new platform being constructed for each firing and the remains shovelled into the pit subsequently; that, at any rate, is the scenario which seems to best account for the layers of burnt clay packed to a depth of more than a metre below the floor as currently preserved. However we do not rule out other interpretations, and in particular we hope to invite a specialist to come and excavate the remaining half of the kiln in a future season.

Soundings

Soundings were carried out in two locations in area G this year. The first of these, Sounding D, was in a square on the eastern side of Building 1 first dug in 2003 and de-backfilled this year in order to clarify some details. In this location we found that the floor of the building was laid on a substantial floor packing of clay some 25 cm thick. This in turn was above a cobbled surface (a street?), which was itself above a layer of mud brick collapse and a band of redeposited natural clay, together approximately 1 metre thick. Finally, at the bottom of the sounding we found a white plastered surface. This was as far as we were able to go but it has demonstrated the existence of an earlier level of occupation in this area. Unfortunately there was very little in the way of datable material on this surface. Our second sounding, Sounding E, was put down through the floor of the tablet room of Building 2. This came straight down onto a lower floor constructed on a layer of mudbrick collapse / infill with a giant pithos (1.40 m tall) set into it. Below this was evidence of two previous architectural phases with Neo-Assyrian pottery associated.

Operation K

We continued excavation in Operation K, the trench across the city wall opened last year. The constructional history of the wall was further elucidated and the excavated area of housing built up against the inner side expanded.

Geophysical Survey and Operation M

Progress has continued with geophysical mapping of the lower town. In previous years we have used magnetometry. The advantage of this is that it is relatively quick - up to 2,000 square metres can be covered in a day - and a major portion of the lower town has been surveyed. However, the processing and interpretation of the data can be quite an art and the results indistinct. Nevertheless, magnetometry did play a part in the identification and selection of both operations D and G as areas for excavation. This year we experimented with resistivity. The major drawback to this method is that it is far slower to carry out (a maximum rate of around 400 square metres per day) but this has been offset by the quality of the images achieved. We concentrated the resistivity survey in an area west of Operation K and the results show a clear pattern of mudbrick walls of what must surely be a city gate as well as a complex to the north. The potential for future mapping by resistivity thus looks highly promising. Most of the area covered by the resistivity survey this year has also been mapped by magnetometry in previous seasons and one linear feature running across the site showed up clearly in both. In order to groundtruth our understanding of these anomalies we opened up a 10 x 1 m trench across the feature and at a depth of 1.5 metres discovered a superbly preserved road in exactly the location predicted. The road was made of cobbles, approximately 2m wide and accumulated to a thickness of nearly 1 metre. It had evidently been relaid many times. The successful identification of this feature bodes well for the long term aim of using remote sensing as a tool for understanding the layout and composition of the lower town. This above work was all carried out by Ann Donekin.

As a final addition to our remote sensing portfolio, Kathleen Nicoll and Tim Demco arrived late in the season to experiment with the use of ground penetrating radar. This too has given good results, though possibly more in the way of understanding the geological background to the site than in identifying archaeological features.

Publication and Future Plans

This season's work is currently being written up for preliminary publication in Anatolica. Thereafter we are planning to have two study seasons (2005 and 2006) with the aim of having a manuscript for the final publication of the work in the lower town undertaken up to 2004 completed by December 2006. All being well the possibility of initiating a second phase of excavation in the lower town will then be considered.

John MacGinnis
Return to the top

The Archives from Nuzi (Iraq)

Joint Publication of Texts and Seal Impressions -2 week study trip to Harvard (10-24 July 2004)

The joint publication of texts and seal impressions needs no justification. Apart from helping to restore missing names, dates and contexts, these two complimentary sources of information often enable us to “read between the lines” and pick up subtle nuances in political affiliations, socio-economic trends and religious traditions that might not be apparent from either source on its own. Despite these merits, joint publications are still comparatively rare. The traditional division of our field into Near Eastern archaeology and philology is partly to blame for this deficiency, as is the lack of suitable material from controlled excavations, but the success of collaborative studies on texts and sealings depends on the existence of a final excavation report and lists of personal names, professions and family relations that can take many years to compile. Few corpora of sealed tablets meet these prerequisites. One such exception is presented by the Late Bronze Age archives from Nuzi near modern Kirkuk, in northeastern Iraq.

The Nuzi archives are the product of excavations that began as a joint Iraqi-American venture in 1925. More than 5000 tablets were found in discrete locations of the palace, temple, municipal buildings and private houses, both on the citadel and in the lower town. This unusually large and coherent corpus of sealed texts records many aspects of public and private life over a critical period between ca. 1430 and 1330 BC, when the Mittanian hegemony began to fragment and decline, leaving its eastern frontier, including Nuzi, exposed to a power struggle between the lowlands and the highlands. The details of this situation are only beginning to emerge through a systematic study of the Nuzi archives that have been reassembled on the basis of findspot, prosopography and seal impressions. Each archive has its own character and contributes a different perspective on life at Nuzi during the Late Bronze Age. But the cumulative results not only pertain to a small provincial town on the fringes of Mesopotamia at a particular point in time, namely, the Mittanian-Middle Assyrian interface, they highlight a recurrent pattern of realignment in the political and cultural affiliations of northeastern Iraq that traces back to prehistoric times and continues up to the present day.

So far, only three of the many Nuzi archives have been the subject of text/sealing analysis. The Tehip-tilla archive (Maidman/Porada) provided the sequence of five scribal generations that serves as a reference for the relative dating of other family genealogies and all diachronic developments in lifestyle and iconography. With its concentration on records relating to the legal and business transactions of a real-estate magnate and his descendants, this archive focuses on the earlier generations and is biased towards the social and professional elite. The archive of Prince Šilwa-teššup (Wilhelm/Stein) links the Nuzi chronology with the succession of Mittanian kings via the royal family of al Ilani (modern Kirkuk), thereby also providing a wider context for the textual and glyptic material from the site. This younger archive composed of mainly administrative records that were sealed by people from many walks of life, sheds light on the changes in political relations that accompanied an increasingly desperate socio-economic situation in the decades prior to Nuzi’s final destruction. The Pula-hali family archive (Lion/Stein) extends this picture of the last few decades by adding information from a small minority group based outside Nuzi with commercial ties to the east.

The current project concerns the publication of two more groups of Nuzi texts: the so-called Temple archives (Lion/Stein) and the lists of charioteers (Dosch/Stein). The first comprises a heterogeneous collection of 63 records that were deposited for safe-keeping in the temples of Ishtar and Teššup. Like archives found in similar locations at Emar and Tell al Rimah and reminiscent of Babylonian kudurrus that were likewise stored in temples, these documents record the legal and commercial affairs of private individuals. In some cases, the individuals come from outside Nuzi; in others, they seem to lack the means or a place to safeguard their own texts. The seals of those who witness these records present a contrast to those connected with the larger private archives studied previously. The charioteer lists were overseen by high ranking officials or military commanders, who sometimes impressed their seal. The assembled corpus of 70 lists span several generations, from early in the Nuzi sequence, when control of the army appears to have been in private hands, to the end, when it had shifted to the state.

With a travel grant from the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, I spent the first two weeks in July 2004 at the Harvard Semitic Museum in Cambridge, MA., where all 133 tablets had been sent for conservation and publication before some of them were returned to Iraq in the 1980s. Plaster casts had been made of most of the impressions on the tablets returned to Iraq, so the glyptic corpus at the Semitic Museum is fairly complete. The charioteer lists are well-preserved, but many tablets from the Temple Archive are in poor condition; their seal impressions difficult to discern. During my ten days at the museum, I was able to record and photograph half of the 380 seal impressions on the tablets. These are currently being inked, catalogued and studied in their archival context. Both publications of Nuzi texts and seals are to appear in forthcoming volumes of Studies on the Culture and Civilization of Nuzi and the Hurrians edited by G. Wilhelm and D. Owen. In order to meet the publication deadline in August 2005, I hope to be able to return to the museum for another study trip next spring.

Diana L. Stein
Return to the top

Christianity in Iraq Seminar Day, 3rd April, 2004

The Brunei Lecture Theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London was the venue for the Christianity in Iraq Seminar Day that was held on Saturday 3rd April, 2004. The principal aim was to promote the rich Christian heritage of Iraq, by investigating not only the history and archaeology of the various Churches, but also the modern situation of the communities. The day was held under the aegis of the Dept. for the Study of Religions, SOAS where Dr. Erica C.D. Hunter is Teaching Fellow and Research Associate in Eastern Christianity.

Sir Terence Clark, British Ambassador to Baghdad between 1981 - 1990, opened the morning session that explored historical and archaeological aspects. Prof. John Healey (University of Manchester), The early history of the Church of the East, and its mission in the Gulf discussed the activities of the Church of the East and its various settlements along the Gulf. Southern Iraq was the focus of the talk by Dr. Erica C.D. Hunter (University of Cambridge and SOAS), The Christian communities of Hira and southern Iraq which drew attention to the monasteries of Hira and the overall presence of the Church of the East in the regions around Kerbala and Najaf. Moving north, Prof. Amir Harrak (University of Toronto), The Christian archaeology of Tekrit, showed slides of Syriac inscriptions that came to light during the excavations in the 1990's which were conducted by the Dept. of Antiquities at Tekrit. Dr. Heleen Murre Van Den Berg (University of Leiden) Formulating Christian identities in the Ottoman period highlighted the development of Syriac consciousness and nationalism that emerged in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

After a Moroccan-style luncheon, the afternoon session, under the chair of Dr. Erica C.D. Hunter, focused on modern Iraq, with clergy of the Syriac Churches profiling the current situations of their communities after a brief introduction by Dr. Suha Rassam. The Rev. Khoshaba Georges represented the Assyrian Church, The Rev. Habib Al-Nawfali represented the Chaldaean Church, The Rev. Toma Daood represented the Syrian Orthodox Church and The Rev. Safa' Habash representing the Syrian Catholic Church. All clergy imparted much valuable information about their communities which showed, despite the great difficulties of the last years, a great reservoir of hope and also the longstanding working relations with the Muslim communities. The major perceived threat was from 'Born Again' Christian evangelists whose activities undermine the communities and their relations with Muslims. The final talk, The Christian Neo-Aramaic Dialects of Iraq by Prof. Geoffrey Khan FBA (University of Cambridge) outlined his project to map the Neo-Syriac dialects of the Christian communities of the Nineveh plain.

Sir Harold Walker, the last representative of the British government in Baghdad before the 1990 Gulf War, concluded the day with a stirring speech. The interest generated by the Seminar Day, which was attended by more than one hundred people, including many Iraqis (both Christian and Moslem) as well as representatives of the Foreign Office and media persons, was most gratifying. Donations by The British School of Archaeology in Iraq and The Anglican and Eastern Churches Association helped to defray costs and made this day possible. Such was the success that another Seminar Day, focusing on the international dynamics of the Church of the East, is being planned for April 30th, 2005 under the auspices of 'The Centre for Eastern Christianity' which is currently being established under the aegis of the Dept. for the Study of Religions, SOAS.

Erica C.D. Hunter
Return to the top


� BSAI. This site is edited by Joan Porter MacIver. Web design by David Thomas and Abigail Cooke, Web Content Manager, The British Academy.

"Sumerian Male Dress, Early Dynastic Votive Statue" drawn by Kate Morton. Source: "Sumer and the Sumerians" by Harriet Crawford (Cambridge 1991 – reprinted 2004).