Monthly Archives: October 2011

Current photos of Iraq’s archaeological sites

These days, I imagine there are few people who can really get around Iraq’s archaeological sites without difficulty, and even fewer who have the know-how to take the kinds of pictures that are high in quality and resolution, are useful and educational, and don’t feature themselves in foreground with their thumbs up like they’re standing in front of Cinderella’s castle at Disney World.

In short, there is a shortage of current pictures that show on-site archaeology in Iraq and the effects of the current events on those archaeological sites.

That is why when I came across this page of a photo album by an American who served in Iraq I felt I had to peruse the wealth of high-quality pictures that include archaeological sites, as well as the modern side of Iraq in recent years.

You can get a pretty good look at the Zigurrat at Ur, among other breathtaking photos:

Zigurrat at Ur.

Although the descriptions are very informal, the pictures are priceless.

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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Sumerian


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The first love poem is Sumerian

The tablet that holds the world’s oldest love poem, “Istanbul #2461” at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. (All Mesopotamia, 2012)

Love has been celebrated in song, dance and literature since humans set foot on Earth, but because nothing was put in writing for a while, the world’s oldest love poem only dates back to 2025 BC.

The poem is the celebration of a ritual that took place each Mesopotamian new year, an event that took place around the Spring Equinox. It was written on the tablet found for King Shu-sin (2037-2029 BC), the fourth ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur. The 29 lines are written in Sumerian and celebrate the sacred marriage between the Sumerian king and the Sumerian goddess of love and war, Inanna.

You can find a more detailed explanation of the ritual here, and an English translation of the poem here.

The tablet on which the poem is written is housed at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Turkey.

Sources & further reading:

“The World’s Oldest Love Poem”

“Inanna and the Sacred Marriage” by Johanna Stuckey:

Picture and another English translation:

*This post has been updated to reflect the latest information and links available online dealing with the subject.

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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Sumerian, Tablets


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What do you know about Ur?

What do you know about the ancient city of Ur?

Entrance to a tomb in the Royal Tombs of Ur. (Source)

Maybe you know that it is where the best-preserved zigurrat, which is one of the most famous historical monuments in the world, stands. Maybe you know that it is mentioned in the Bible several times as Ur of Chaldee. Maybe you know that it is the birthplace of Abraham.

There is a lot more, less common knowledge about the city that was once a capital of a great Mesopotamian civilization–the ancient civilization of Sumeria.

Actually, Ur is a word that means City in both the Sumerian and Akkadian languages. Ur’s prominence was between the 4th and 1st half of the 3rd millenium BC, during which it was ruled by three dynasties. It was also the hub of worship of the moon god, Nanna, for which the zigurrat was dedicated.

Today, Ur is an archaeological site marked by the same 70-foot zigurrat and Royal Tombs. The Royal Tombs are comparable only to the Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamen in their wealth of a most comprehensive collection of artifacts that paint one of the clearest pictures of an ancient civilization ever unearthed.

You can view pictures of jewelry, weapons, statuettes and other artifacts unearthed from the Royal Tombs at Ur here, with some great commentary and explanations from that website’s incredibly knowledgeable source.

If you live near, or are going to be in the area of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, you can see a number of these artifacts in person. Information available here.

The Ziggurat of Ur. (Source)

It’s hard to imagine that the above structure once stood on the banks of a flowing, almost gushing, river, but that very detail was what made Ur flourish. Though the river has long changed its course, Ur’s location along the Euphrates River in antiquity gave it access to the sea, bringing the city endless wealth.

A renaissance of Sumerian art and literature took place during the third dynasty, under the reign of Ur-Nammu, who is credited with writing the first law in history.

More details about the three dynasties and other information about Ur can be found here.

Below is a list of all the links I used to put this piece together. I hope you will visit them all, as they contain some great pictures and incredibly fascinating information I did not include in this piece.



Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Akkadian, Art, Sumerian


A more colorful way to learn

When I took my first ancient history class in high school here in the States, I was very disappointed to find that there was very little covered of Mesopotamia, if anything at all. The same thing happened when I took Western Civilization in college.

In fact, to this day, I know more about Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome than I do about Mesopotamia, and that is sad, but that is the reality of what parts of history the general masses are most exposed to, or even to which they are drawn.

Well, although what I’m about to show you is more of a bible study aid, it can be used as a tool to make Mesopotamian history as fun as ancient Egyptian or Greek or Roman history to anyone, especially those who are very visual and artistic, and if you’re homeschooling your child, you have a chance to give them a one-up on other kids by exploring Mesopotamian history.

Check out this Mesopotamia scrapbook kit:

Available through Heart of Wisdom Homeschool Store. (

You can also just make your own art to pay homage to the cradle of civilization!


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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Art


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What tickled Sumerians

I think the funnest part of history and archaeology is that even a silly joke told by a people and culture long gone can reveal the character of those people and humanize them, making us understand them better as human beings and cease to look at them as just textbook subjects.

In the case of the world’s oldest joke, which, surprise surprise, happens to be Sumerian, the similarities between what topics made ancient Mesopotamians laugh and what topics make us laugh today is uncanny.

I will warn you, the world’s oldest written joke, which dates back to 1900 BC, is a little on the gross side. It is also obviously written by a man:

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

Now, it’s not funny to me, and I doubt it’s funny to you in its form, but if you break it down to topics, it is something not too foreign as a topic of humor. To this day you hear men telling jokes that include passing wind, and the “old ball and chain” jokes run rampant in every male gathering the world over.

Now I have to wonder if Mesopotamian women laughed at the world’s oldest joke.



Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Sumerian


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A Mesopotamian treasure trove in New Haven

We all know about hieroglyphics and Egyptology, but very few of us know about even the existence of Assyriology, or the fact that there are more written documents from Mesopotamia than from all of antiquity combined.

We really need those who are passionate about the cradle of civilization; the birthplace of writing, the wheel and earthly law. We need that passion to bring Mesopotamia to the same level of popularity and common knowledge as Ancient Egypt.

Well, there are such people, tucked away in places where few people feel comfortable treading, but should.

I read a very interesting Q&A with such a person, an Assyriologist and expert on the long-extinct Akkadian language. Yale Daily News published an interview this month with Benjamin Foster, Laffan Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature, as well as the curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection. According to Foster, Yale’s collection is the largest Babylonian collection in the entire United States. He points out that the collection compares worldwide with those kept by the British Museum, the Louvre and even those in Baghdad!

In the interview, Foster says that despite the collection having 45,000 tablets with Akkadian writings that range in subject from law materials to the earliest women’s writings, many “Yalies” even are unaware that their school holds such a treasure trove of the world’s history.

Now we all know.

The interview ends on a lovely note with Foster’s passionate explanation of his favorite Akkadian word and its definition. You can find the full Q&A here.


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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Akkadian


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Pine Cones in Ancient Mesopotamia

With the holiday season coming up and those bags of cinnamon-scented pine cones hitting store shelves soon, I think it would make a great topic of conversation at your next holiday party to explore the significance of pine cones in Mesopotamian mythology and art.

Pine cones are symbolic in that they are where the life cycle of a pine tree begins, and conversely, where new life begins.

Many reliefs excavated at Mesopotamian sites depict gods or super beings holding a bucket in one hand and a pine cone in the other. It is clear that the pine cone was dipped into the bucket and used to sprinkle a substance, sometimes blood, as in this depiction of Tammuz, a winged Babylonian deity associated with regeneration:


Pine cones are representative of continuing life, and Tammuz represents regeneration.


The pine cone and bucket depiction was not reserved to deities. Super beings, genii, which are like gargoyles in that they ward off evil spirits with people as well as buildings are also depicted holding pine cones in Mesopotamian art. This Blessing Genius stood guard at the gate of the city of Khorsabad, providing protection and blessings to those who walked through the city’s gates:


The pine cone is used by the genii to sprinkle water on passersby, to bless them.


For further information on pine cones and their significance, here are the amazing links we used to prepare this piece:


Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Assyrian, Mythology


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In Chemistry, it started as a woman’s world

Chemistry might be boring when we’re talking about the Periodic Table of Elements and Hydrogen Carbon Dioxide, but the first documentation of a chemist and a chemist’s work was about something a lot more pleasant to the nostrils and imagination than the chemical makeup of Methane.

According to an article, “Who Was the First Chemist?” by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., a Chemistry Guide for the site, a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet dating to the second millenium B.C. tells us that a woman is the world’s first known chemist.

Tapputi was the woman’s name, and she did just what perfumers still do today, with flowers and other aromatic materials and the process of distillation, which was never documented before.

Tapputi made perfume for the palace where she was a perfumer and overseer, which is most likely the only reason why her efforts were recorded. Nonetheless, the tablet brands Tapputi the world’s first known chemist, as well as the first to use the process of distillation.


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Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Science, Women


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A Snippet of a Mesopotamian Invention

There is no denying that Mesopotamia was a land where a lot of big, crucial things to the advancement of mankind took place.

That’s why when I was watching a rerun of The Big Bang Theory one evening, and as the intro song played, curiosity struck me about whether it mentioned anything about the cradle of civilization.

The song is so fast, I thought maybe I was missing something about Mesopotamia, so I looked and listened closely.

The bad news is that there is nothing in the lyrics pertaining to Mesopotamia, just the Egyptian Pyramids. The good news is that in the midst of the flashing images there is one of a Mesopotamian and most crucial invention, a contribution second only in importance to writing: the wheel.

Here is a video of the The Big Bang Theory‘s intro song by the Barenaked Ladies. Can you catch the image of the wheel? (Hint: It’s in the first 12 seconds.)

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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Video


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Ancient Mesopotamian Bread Recipe

Ancient Mesopotamia Bread


14 oz. flour
1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt


Mix the water, flour, and salt together slowly. Then knead the dough and form it into flat round patties.
Cover the dough with a cloth and let it sit overnight. The next day, bake it in an oven at 350°F for 30 minutes.



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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Recipe


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