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 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
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
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
|Eleanor Robson, All Souls, 22 June 2004
from the Worcester College Record
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
civilisation and for the Iraqis as people worthy of such inheritance. He
was so precise and exacting in his writing and lecturing. He easily
love of his subject to his students and to his audience. I already miss him
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
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
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
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
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
(“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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
of both David and Joan. It was almost like a divine intervention, guidance
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,
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.
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
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
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.
(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.)
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
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.
This is the building where the tablets were found in
a room in 2002 and 2003. Opening up a square to the west
were at first puzzled by our inability to detect any lines
of mud brick walls until it became clear that we were coming
a cobbled surface with a difference - a second checkerboard
pavement filling almost the entire trench. The pavement measures
across and is predominantly composed of squares divided by
crosses into alternating triangles of black and white stones.
But there are many irregularities. For a start the ''squares''
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.
also areas where the squares are just black or white, and
also some that are divided into two triangles rather than
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,
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.
areas all measure approximately 150 x 80 cm. Our best guess
is that they were graves. A fourth feature was a pit cut
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
the centre. A large part of a clay tub was found overlying
this drain. Part of a bath tub coffin? Or an actual bath
future excavation will hold the answer.
The first task was to resume excavation of a room
originally uncovered in 2003 which had a well preserved baked
with a layer of painted plaster. After careful excavation
of the plaster, which appeared to have been painted in concentric
and white rectangles, we lifted part of the pavement itself
to reveal an excellently preserved drainage system ending
approximately two metres deep and filled with stones to the
greater part of its depth. Excavation in the square to the
exposed a complex of rooms all of which showed signs of multiple
with doorways blocked, floors relaid and walls repaired and
rebuilt in a manner clearly inconsistent with the original
the building. In a long (12.6 x 3.7 m) room on the east side
of the upper floor exposed a cobbled area measuring 2.9 x
1.4 metres. The function of the feature is unknown but an
is the occurrence of a baked clay ''hand of Ißtar''
(sadly uninscribed) in amongst the other stones. All these
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
cm2. An unusual feature is the remains of a staircase built
out of mud brick but with baked brick treads preserved to
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.
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
shovelled into the pit subsequently; that, at any rate, is
the scenario which seems to best account for the layers of
clay packed to a depth of more than a metre below the floor
preserved. However we do not rule out other interpretations,
and in particular we hope to invite a specialist to come
the remaining half of the kiln in a future season.
Soundings were carried out in two locations in area
G this year. The first of these, Sounding D, was in a square
side of Building 1 first dug in 2003 and de-backfilled
this year in order to clarify some details. In this location
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
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,
E, was put down through the floor of the tablet room of
Building 2. This came straight down onto a lower floor
layer of mudbrick collapse / infill with a giant pithos
(1.40 m tall) set into it. Below this was evidence of two
phases with Neo-Assyrian pottery associated.
We continued excavation in Operation K, the
trench across the city wall opened last year. The constructional
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
transactions of a real-estate magnate and his descendants,
this archive focuses on the earlier generations and is biased
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
safe-keeping in the temples of Ishtar and Teššup.
Like archives found in similar locations at Emar and Tell al
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
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
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.
Christianity in Iraq Seminar Day, 3rd
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.