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Shaduppum, A City Full of Surprises.

Shaduppum. Ain’t it a beauty?

In 1945, on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad, the ancient city of Shaduppum was discovered at Tell Harmal.

Excavations soon got underway, led by Iraqi archaeologist Taha Baqir, and Muhammed Ali Mustafa of the Iraqi Department of Antiquities. (Source) The excavations unearthed an Old Babylonian city with a collection of close to 3,000 tablets.

Now, with so many tablets in its hold, it’s no wonder Shaduppum’s patron god is that of writing and record-keeping, and that it was an administrative hub for Babylonia.

First Things First

Although it was established as early as the late third millenium BC, during the days of Sargon of Akkad, Shaduppum didn’t rise to prominence until the second millennium BC, when it served as a Babylonian accounting hub.The city’s name reflects this, by translating into “the treasury,” or “accountant’s office.”

Within Shaduppum’s walls, private homes, one administration building, and seven temples were unearthed, some reconstructed. Of the seven temples, a large one dedicated to Nisaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing and record-keeping, and her consort, sits just inside the city’s gates. That temple’s entrance was guarded by two roaring terra-cotta lions.

One of the terra-cotta lions at Shaduppum, on display at the Iraqi National Museum.

That Terra-cotta lion with his buddy guarding the temple of Nisaba in the city of Shaduppum. (Source)

 

Accountants aren’t all about numbers!

So, almost 3,000 tablets were unearthed at Shaduppum, but only a few weren’t of an administrative nature, and you’ll find that the nature of these non-administrative tablets is a little surprising.

I find it surprising, anyway, that a city with such a cut and dry purpose had a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest written work of literature, in its vaults. It was some nine decades after the standard Akkadian version of the ancient poem was discovered in Ashurbanipal’s library at Nineveh, that two tablets of it were unearthed at Shaduppum.

The next surprise is actually two surprises in one.

You see, Iraqi archaeologist Taha Baqir also discovered a set of laws some two centuries older than the Code of Hammurabi at Shaduppum. The Laws of Eshnunna were written in Akkadian on two tablets, marked A and B, dating back to 1930 BC. That’s the first surprise regarding this find. The second one might make you do a double take…

The Laws of Eshnunna, Eshnunna being the city north of Ur where they originated, were promoted by that city’s ruler, Bilalama. In 1948, a year after Baqir’s discovery, Albrecht Goetze translated and published the laws, revealing that though Bilalama had some two-hundred years on Hammurabi, he was a little more progressive than the man whose laws inspired the Ten Commandments. That’s right. Unlike Hammurabi, whose punishments usually featured maiming, if not death, Bilalama implemented a monetary, fine-based penal system. But don’t get too comfortable with Bilalama’s laws, because the more serious offenses, including sexual ones, were punishable by death. That’s pretty progressive!

Shamash: These aren’t the first laws. Hammurabi: What?! Wait–. Shamash: Shhh. Now smile for the chiseler! 

Poor Hammurabi.

Stealing some Greek thunder

Hammurabi was not the only one whose thunder is stolen by tablets at Tell Harmal. The one-upping found in Shaduppum’s collection of tablets didn’t even stop at Mesopotamia’s borders, for it extended all the way to the Greek realm, delivering the two bombshells I’m going to talk about now.

Now, even if you used math class (or history) as nap time, the names Euclid and Pythagoras should sound familiar to you. And if not (it’s okay), I’ll refresh your memory: Euclid of Alexandria is the father of geometry, and Pythagoras of Samos proved that a^2+b^2=c^2 in a right-angled triangle, aka, the Pythagorean Theorem.

The tablets that steal a bit of Greek mathematician thunder. Sorry, Bros.

Though the fact still remains that Euclid and Pythagoras gave us the official real deal, complete with proof and universal mathematical truths, two tablets dating to the early second millennium BC deliver the same newsflash Hammurabi got about his laws: Kinda’ been there, kinda’ done that.

The algebraic-geometry on one tablet (the one on the left in the picture above) features work similar to Euclid’s, dealing with the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle. The other tablet features a problem with a rectangle whose length and width are calculated using what is essentially the Pythagorean Theorem.

Pythagoras: *A long, deep, deep, deep SIGH*

Sorry, Bros.

Another look at Shaduppum

So, the first round of excavations at Tell Harmal was fruitful, but a second round in 1997 turned out to be all about details. The Iraqi Department of Antiquities and Heritage allowed more excavations at Tell Harmal that year, this time by a joint effort between Baghdad University and the German Archaeological Institute.

Because of Shaduppum’s relatively late rise to prominence, in the spring of 1997 and autumn of 1998, the collaborative project took a closer look at the rock layers of the city, confirming different ages in the multiple building layers.

Most interestingly, stratigraphy of the city’s walls showed it was not fortified until the rise of Babylonia in the second millennium BC, suggesting that its rise to prominence was quite significant–it went from being a city so inconsequential it lacked fortification, perhaps, to a city with pronounced walls. Evidence also suggested then that the city had been destroyed by fire and destruction around the time of Hammurabi, then rebuilt.

It’s a very interesting project that you can read more about here.

A city of consequence

There remains much we don’t know about Shaduppum, that we may never know, but one thing is clear: Shaduppum was a city that had a little bit of everything that made it a Mesopotamian city worth a look.

 

Sources and Further Reading

http://www.miglus.de/Themen/Harmal/harmal.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eshnunna

http://books.google.com/books?id=1C4NKp4zgIQC&pg=PA29&lpg=PA29&dq=tell+harmal+city+of+agade&source=bl&ots=Ss36wkEcA9&sig=sN53Fql2w0iVsHKZpsJrwvwwPpc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XS15U7bNK4iRqAb76YCQAQ&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=tell%20harmal%20city%20of%20agade&f=false

https://allmesopotamia.wordpress.com/?s=sargon+the+great

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/akka/hd_akka.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/o/old_babylonian_period.aspx

http://proteus.brown.edu/mesopotamianarchaeology/994

http://www.ezida.com/cats/lion%20t1.jpg

http://www.goddessaday.com/mesopotamian/nisaba

http://www.fofweb.com/History/HistRefMain.asp?iPin=MESP0046&SID=2&DatabaseName=Ancient+and+Medieval+History+Online&InputText=%22Nisaba%22&SearchStyle=&dTitle=Shaduppum&TabRecordType=All+Records&BioCountPass=0&SubCountPass=4&DocCountPass=0&ImgCountPass=0&MapCountPass=0&FedCountPass=&MedCountPass=0&NewsCountPass=0&RecPosition=3&AmericanData=&WomenData=&AFHCData=&IndianData=&WorldData=&AncientData=Set&GovernmentData=

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albrecht_Goetze

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euclid

http://cojs.org/cojswiki/index.php/Tell_Harmal_Mathematical_Tablets

http://www.miglus.de/Themen/Harmal/1997/1997.html

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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Babylon, Uncategorized

 

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Guest post: Where the world’s first literature was found

By Dr. Jane Moon

Since writing was invented, life has never been the same again. The ability to transfer something we want to say onto a physical object, which can be read in a place where we can’t be in person, makes a fundamental difference to human interaction. It is one of the basic features of civilization. And because written things can have a longer lifetime than humans, our words can be read even after we are dead, so that humans, uniquely, have a sense of their own past.

It’s a sad fact that writing was devised not to write poetry, or love letters, but to keep accounts. But the ever-resourceful Sumerians, who knew a bit about luxury and refinement, soon adapted it to better things. The earliest literature found so far comes from a Sumerian city not far from Nippur, now in the Maysan province of Iraq. We don’t know its original name, but today people call the mound that covers it ‘Abu Salabikh’, which means ‘father of clinker’. The mound is littered with potsherds, like most Mesopotamian ancient sites, and because of the severe salination of the ground (the downside of all that Sumerian irrigation), only the sherds that were accidentally overfired to clinker have survived.

Salt on the surface of the ground near Abu Salabikh.
Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Under this inauspicious surface, expeditions first from Chicago (1963-65) and then from the UK (1975-89) found a whole city, occupied from Uruk times and finally abandoned around 2,000 BC. Work concentrated on the Sumerian levels (c. 2,900 to 2,300BC), and in these were found about 500 clay tablets, including the world’s first literature. Among them were the earliest known version of compositions famous in later times, such as the list of proverbs and wisdom known as ‘The Instructions of Shuruppak’, written in the form of advice to the Flood hero Utnapishtim (also known as Ziusudra, and in the Bible as Noah) from his father Shuruppak. Some of it is a bit obvious: ‘Don’t make a field on a road’, and some of it absolutely ageless: ‘Don’t play around with a young married woman’. Other tablets had school exercises, hymns, and incantations.

This one is an incantation against digestion problems:

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Excavations revealed monumental public buildings as well as city quarters of narrow lanes and intersecting houses. High-tech methods for detecting buried architecture do not work well on sites like this, so much of the city layout was mapped by simply scraping away the top crust of earth, revealing wall lines and other features underneath.

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

The city was divided into different ‘quarters’ including an area where pottery manufacture was carried out. A potter’s workshop was found, with part of the wheel still discernible.

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

The citizens of Abu Salabikh liked to bury their dead under the floors of their houses, equipped for the afterlife with household goods and items of value. Under the potter’s house was the skeleton of an adult, perhaps the potter him/herself!

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

The contents of graves varied according to the status of the deceased, and sometimes even children were richly equipped.

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Child’s grave, as found (left) and the miniature vessels after cleaning. Note the double-compartment stone cosmetic jars on the right, and the shells in the foreground – also used to hold make-up.

The excavations at Abu Salabikh were a model of interdisciplinary research, using a whole range of different techniques to decipher the material remains left by hundreds of years of city life. The vast majority of the objects recovered were of everyday things, and the salty conditions meant that few were of spectacular museum display quality, but it is the painstaking research, still ongoing, on items such as these that really gives us insight into the world of early civilization.

The tablets and many of the objects from Abu Salabikh were destroyed when the Iraq Museum was looted, but the information they contain is preserved for us, meticulously recorded and published, thanks to that great Sumerian invention, the written word – with a little help from some later ones, such as photography and the internet!

It is my honor and pleasure to present a very special guest post. It is not only special because it is our first such post, but also because its author is an archaeologist with a background rich in Mesopotamian knowledge.

Dr. Jane Moon is co-director of the Ur Region Archaeology Project (URAP), and an honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, and one of those people who do wonderful things for Iraq, and in turn, humanity.

She was assistant director of the Abu Salabikh project in the 1970s and 1980s, and plans to return to Iraq for further excavations at Ur in January 2013. “We’ve all grown old waiting to get back to Iraq, but I certainly intend to take some youngsters with me, and especially to do what I can to encourage young Iraqis while I am there.” Good luck to Dr. Moon!

You can follow Dr. Moon on Twitter- @EaNasir. To learn a bit more about URAP, visit http://www.urarchaeology.org/.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Sumerian, Tablets, Writing

 

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What archaeologists can do for Iraq

I believe it takes a certain kind of person with a certain kind of passion to be an archaeologist. Just the sheer amount of red tape one must cut through to be able to wield a mere shovel anywhere there’s a government is enough to make most people say “Forget this. I’ll just sate my appetite for archaeology and adventure by watching Indiana Jones movies in my cubicle. (I’ll definitely skip that last one, though.)”

Aside from being cool, archaeology is one of the most important fields for the understanding of ourselves, in the past, the present and the future. Even more than passion, archaeology requires patience from start to finish.

Nowhere do these requirements become more important, however, than when the place you want to dig in is a place ravaged by war and chaos, where the red tape you must cut through is one of impossibility that only time and a changing world can eliminate, and where an entire world of humanity’s beginnings lies under your feet in every direction.

Jane Moon, an archaeologist, and, I’m proud to say, All Mesopotamia fan, pointed me toward this enriching video that introduces the first international dig team to work in southern Iraq in more than 20 years.

As the last American troops were exiting Iraq late last year, international scholars were entering. Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York is one such scholar and is leading a team bent on finding a window into the everyday lives of ancient Mesopotamians near where the Great Ziggurrat of Ur stands.

Stone’s team comprises of archaeology students, including an Iraqi PhD student studying under Stone in the United States, and locals, all who are learning new techniques and using the latest technology in excavation. The team sleeps, eats and works just a few yards from the commanding structure of the Ziggurat, racing against time to find artifacts and cataloging them before the season is over. You can hear the passion in all their voices, and see it in their eyes as they talk about this opportunity they’ve been afforded as archaeologists.

More than documenting how the team does what it does, however, I felt the video shows how an interest in the past, combined with involving those whose past it is being explored, can build a brighter and more united future for a country searching for its identity in a sea of different religions and ethnicities, all sharing a pride in the rich past of their land.

I repeat, archaeology is one of the most important fields for the understanding of ourselves, and better yet, the betterment of ourselves, so that we may have better and brighter futures.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Artifacts, Video

 

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How Queen Pu’abi and other royals got their servants for the afterlife at Ur

“During the burial of a king in the Royal Tombs of Ur, men and women were sacrificed to be the servants of royalty in the afterlife. They were arranged as shown, then they were given poison to drink.” (Source)

I originally wanted this to be one general post that covers tombs in Mesopotamia, but as I often find during my research, there is just too much to write about with due thoroughness in one post. So, in an attempt to give you my best for each of the two burial sites I wish to explore, this is post one of two that will explore the most interesting finds at two burial sites in Mesopotamia. It is pretty wild what those tombs have held for as much as 4,500 years…

When we think about extravagant burials and tombs, our brains are conditioned to immediately travel to Ancient Egypt, and mummy is the word.

But putting the mastery of preserving the dead for thousands of years aside, the Egyptians weren’t the only ones who buried their elite with extravagance, style and cast curses over those who disturbed such tombs. The Mesopotamians liked to go out with a bang too, and their most interesting and prominent tombs of that nature happen to be those of elite women.

Burial tombs have been unearthed throughout Mesopotamia, dating to different periods and containing all sorts of artifacts that provide glimpses into the ancient civilizations that rose and fell in the land between the two rivers, and the fragile skeletons of those who were part of such civilizations.

I’ve talked about the Royal Tombs of Ur, or rather touched on them, when I talked about the Golden Lyre of Ur Project, but I barely scratched the surface of what happened when an important person died in the ancient Sumerian city.

You remember I talked about British archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley finding the Golden Lyre of Ur in Queen Pu’abi’s tomb? Well, he found a lot more than that during his excavations in Southern Iraq, between 1922 and 1934. What I did not tell you is that Woolley and his workmen found over 1,850 burials at the site, and 17 of those were so elaborate, Woolley dubbed them the Royal Tombs of Ur.

Most of the burials there date as far back as 2600 BC. They are tombs of the elite of society, those who played big roles at the temples and palaces of Ur. Still, of the 1,850 burials there, 137 were private tombs of those who were simply wealthy residents, able to afford a burial in the Royal Cemetery.

Queen Pu’abi’s headdress, made of gold, carnelian and lapis lazuli.

Queen Pu’abi’s tomb is the most prominent of the Royal Tombs, because of how well it was preserved over the centuries, thanks to looters leaving it be, a courtesy they did not extend to the other surrounding tombs.

We know the woman whose remains were found atop an elevated slab is Pu’abi, because of the cylinder seal found with her, which bears her name. There is much debate over who Pu’abi really is, whether she’s a queen or a priestess–no one knows for sure, but Pu’abi is believed to have been 40 years old at the time of her death, and that she was Akkadian. Her name in Akkadian is Pu’abi and translates to “Commander of the Father.” In Sumerian, she is known as Shubad.

Inside Queen Pu’abi’s tomb was not only her skeleton adorned with extravagant jewelry, including an elaborate headdress made of gold, lapis lazuli and carnelian, but also the skeletons of  26 attendants, also adorned with gold and lapis lazuli jewelry.

Woolley also found what he dubbed “The Great Death Pit,” which had 74 skeletons believed to be servants.

The site map of the Great Death Pit. You can click on the blue items and read further details about those items at the British Museum’s excellent website.

Woolley thought all the servants buried with their masters at Ur were willing victims, but later scholars have debated this notion and found ways to prove otherwise.

In early 2011, with the help of CT scanners and forensics, Penn Museum Archaeologist Aubrey Baadsgard and her colleagues did some sleuthing work to find out what really happened to the sacrificial victims found in the Royal Tombs of Ur.

Baadsgard and her team analyzed six skulls taken from different royal tombs and what she and her team found was quite chilling. Results, published in the journal Antiquity, revealed that these individuals died of blunt force trauma, blowing Woolley’s idea that these people simply drank poison and lied down to die in peace right out of the water. The results revealed that these people were dealt lethal blows to the back of the head by what appears to be a bronze battle axe in some cases, the like of which was unearthed at Ur.

And if that’s not a wow-inducing find by itself, then what Baardsgard and her team found next should do the trick. The bodies of these sacrificial victims had been embalmed for preservation with mercury sulphide or cinnabar, and further treated by heat.

Baadsgard’s team interprets this find of body preservation as an indication of an even more elaborate ritual for the burial of royals at Ur than originally thought. The need to preserve these bodies, the Penn Museum team concluded, was to cater to schedule of elaborate pre-burial ceremonies and rituals that could’ve taken days to complete, causing untreated corpses to decompose. You can read in more detail about Baadsgard’s amazing findings here.

And it seems that that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how Queen Pu’abi and the other individuals who were laid to rest in the Royal Tombs of Ur got their servants to serve them in the afterlife.

Stay tuned for another set of tombs that are sure to make you shiver with excitement very soon!

(There has been a correction made to this article regarding the number of attendants found in Queen Pu’abi’s tomb. Please note that 26 attendants were found with her and not 74 as I originally wrote. Thank you, Jerald Starr.)

Sources:

http://archaeology.about.com/od/mesopotamiaarchaeology/ss/royal_cemetery_at_ur.htm

http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2011/04/29/sleuthing-around-the-great-deeath-pit/

http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/tombs/home_set.html

http://sumerianshakespeare.com/71412.html

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Sumerian, Tombs

 

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Let’s play Ur!

The Royal Game of Ur, housed and on display at the British Museum. (Source)

Okay, so I have an iPod Touch, and I’ve filled it with game apps, so it was only natural that when I found out there was an app for an ancient Mesopotamian board game I went straight to the app store and hit “install”.

Now, no form of amusement in antiquity is as fascinating (at least to me) as that of the board game. Board games are more fascinating to me than Gladiator games, because they prove further the intellectuality of a people who did amazing things with precious little in the way of resources and accessible technology.

The Royal Game of Ur on my iPod is a board game of chance and skill I’m still not sure how to play, and it dates as far back as 2600 BC. The game boards were unearthed in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Wooley, during his excavation of the Royal Tombs of Ur. One of the boards is housed at the British Museum today, and I strongly urge you to go stare at it, because it is simply beautiful. Other Mesopotamian board games were also found, but I’m focusing on the Royal Game of Ur, because it’s the one we know the most about, and it’s the one for which I can tell you with confidence “There’s an app for that!”

Mesopotamian game boards were generally made out of clay or stone, and bones of sheep or ox were used for the game pieces and dice. The rules of the game were found inscribed on a tablet of Babylonian origin years after the game boards was excavated, but there is still much about the way the game is played that remains a mystery. Even the app is a little vague on how to play the game.

Based on other game boards found that are crudely made, as opposed to the intricate Lapis Lazuli designs in the one at the British Museum, it seems that board games were not a strictly royal pastime. Palace guards, for instance, played board games when there was no drama at the palace. Can you imagine a travel version of a board game made out of clay or stone?

Anyway, here are some really cool links that provide more fascinating information about how Mesopotamians amused themselves when they weren’t busy shaping the future, along with where you can get The Royal Game of Ur onto your own device.

Sources:

http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/myths/texts/life/recreation.htm

http://www.gamecabinet.com/history/Ur.html

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/families_and_children/online_tours/games/the_royal_game_of_ur.aspx

http://users.skynet.be/fb015106/EN/indexur.html

http://games.talkingpyramids.com/iphone-app-the-royal-game-of-ur/

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Sumerian

 

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