Other Archaeological Sites / The Neolithic of the Levant (500 Page Book Online)
Ancient Kish Including Tell Uhaimir and Tell Ingharra in Sumer
Kish is the collective name for at least 40 tells (mounds) arranged in an oval measuring 1.5 by 5 miles. The important mounds are called Uhaimir and Ingharra. Occupations span the period from circa 3000 BC to AD 650. The major excavation was the joint Oxford-Field Museum Expedition of 1923-1933.
Situated on an ancient branch of the Euphrates River 80 kilometers south of Baghdad in Iraq, Kish was one of the city-states of the Sumer civilization. Occupation began in the Jemdet Nasr Phase and the city was of major importance in the early 3rd millennium BC. It declined in importance later but remained in occupation until the Sassanian Period (224–651 AD). One of the most important monuments excavated is an Early Dynastic palace, one of the earliest indications anywhere in Sumer of the growing power of kings which was to challenge and eventually over take that of the Temple [religious] organizations during the course of the Early Dynastic Period. Important remains extant (still in existence) at Kish include two temples of the Neo-Babylonian Period perhaps built by Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) [AHSFC].
Kish was one of the most important cities of
ancient Iraq, the site of crucial political developments
in the late fourth and early third millennia
BC in what is generally acknowledged to be one
of the oldest literate urban civilizations in the
world. Even after its political supremacy passed its
geographical position ensured a continuing role in
the history of Mesopotamia to the Islamic conquest.
The excavations of the joint Oxford-Field Museum of Chicago Expedition from 1923-33 were on a very
large-scale, never likely to be repeated, and were
never fully published. A final report only exists for
one of the six major areas of excavation. This book
seeks to fill the gap as far as is now possible by
offering a comprehensive survey of the results
integrated with information from other excavations
in Iraq. A concluding essay attempts a history of
Of particular interest are the results of studying
the archaeological remains contemporary with the
very early secular kingship exercised from Kish
circa 3000-2500 BC, including the 'chariot graves'
and two very early palaces; a well equipped
cemetery of the Persian occupation of Iraq in the fifth to fourth centuries BC; [and] a series of large
Sasanian buildings, two with a unique group of stucco decoration.
Topography and Terminology: The archaeological site of Kish in central Iraq lies
about 12 kilometres due east of ancient Babylon and about
14 kilometres north-east of the modern town of Hillah
on the Euphrates. Here, about 2 kilometres north of
the modern cut of the Shatt An-Nil canal, are at least
forty tells extending in oval formation over an area of
about 8 kilometres from west to east and 2 1/2 kilometres
from north to south. Some are large and grouped in
major clusters, some tiny, some isolated. Archaeologists
and ancient historians now refer to them all as
Kish, ancient name of the city whose primary shrines
lay about the standing ruin of an eroded ziggurat known
locally as 'Tell Uhaimir'. Until the ancient topography
of the whole area is much better known from
documentary sources, Kish suffices as a short-hand
description for many closely related settlements
extending back in time long before the use of writing
and running down to the Mongol invasion, long after the
name of Kish had passed from record. It is vital to
emphasize at the outset that the name is only
conventional. From at least the Third Dynasty of Ur
circa 2100 BC the area of 'Tell Ingharra' and 'Mound W'
east of 'Uhaimir' was known as Hursagkalama. It has
always to be borne in mind that the Early Dynastic
buildings uncovered on 'Mound A' on 'Tell Ingharra' and
in 'area P' may not have lain in the city of Kish
mentioned in the earliest Sumerian records. That may
well have been confined to a much more restricted area
around 'Tell Uhaimir'.
Of particular interest are the results of studying the archaeological remains contemporary with the very early secular kingship exercised from Kish circa 3000-2500 BC, including the 'chariot graves' and two very early palaces; a well equipped cemetery of the Persian occupation of Iraq in the fifth to fourth centuries BC; [and] a series of large Sasanian buildings, two with a unique group of stucco decoration.
Topography and Terminology: The archaeological site of Kish in central Iraq lies about 12 kilometres due east of ancient Babylon and about 14 kilometres north-east of the modern town of Hillah on the Euphrates. Here, about 2 kilometres north of the modern cut of the Shatt An-Nil canal, are at least forty tells extending in oval formation over an area of about 8 kilometres from west to east and 2 1/2 kilometres from north to south. Some are large and grouped in major clusters, some tiny, some isolated. Archaeologists and ancient historians now refer to them all as Kish, ancient name of the city whose primary shrines lay about the standing ruin of an eroded ziggurat known locally as 'Tell Uhaimir'. Until the ancient topography of the whole area is much better known from documentary sources, Kish suffices as a short-hand description for many closely related settlements extending back in time long before the use of writing and running down to the Mongol invasion, long after the name of Kish had passed from record. It is vital to emphasize at the outset that the name is only conventional. From at least the Third Dynasty of Ur circa 2100 BC the area of 'Tell Ingharra' and 'Mound W' east of 'Uhaimir' was known as Hursagkalama. It has always to be borne in mind that the Early Dynastic buildings uncovered on 'Mound A' on 'Tell Ingharra' and in 'area P' may not have lain in the city of Kish mentioned in the earliest Sumerian records. That may well have been confined to a much more restricted area around 'Tell Uhaimir'.
Chapter 1 --- THE EXPLORATION OF KISH 1811-1933
I. Early Exploration: 1811-1923 (1)
It was a quest for the eastern limits of ancient Babylon in the early nineteenth century that turned the attention of travellers to a group of mounds northeast of Hillah later to be identified with the site of the ancient city of Kish (2). Early in the seventeenth century Pietro della Valle had been the first to point out that the real site of Babylon lay not at Aqar Quf nor at Birs-Nimrud, as earlier visitors had supposed, but in the vicinity of Hillah (3). This identification was generally accepted in the eighteenth century by such scholars as d'Anville and Niebuhr, though the latter's misplaced location of the remnants of Herodotus's 'Temple of Belus' at Birs-Nimrud probably did more than anything else to stimulate the abortive quest for 'Greater Babylon' which so pre-occupied travellers for the next hundred years. It was inevitable that these men should start from the evidence for the topography of Babylon available in classical sources. Unfortunately the oldest and most important source, that of Herodotus (4), offered an enormous figure for the circumference of the city, 4 x 120 stades or about 95 kilometres, which long bedevilled discussions about the city's size and dictated the widely ranging travels of scholars trying to relate this description to the mounds of the Hillah region (5).
The mound of Uhaimir first appeared in the literature of the subject as a distant landmark on Babylon's eastern horizon noted by C.J. Rich (1787-1821) on December 20th 1811 as he returned from his first visit to Babylon. '... All along the road to Mohawil Khan are vestiges of ruins: in particular I observed three mounds. Al Hheimar is three hours from Mohawil upon the same line. It is a high conical mound with bricks like those found at Babylon' (6). Rich, Resident of the East India Company in Baghdad since 1808, laid the foundations for the systematic study of Babylon by his thorough examination of the site including mapping and primitive excavations and by rapid publication of his conclusions which were to have a remarkable impact (7). Although Rich does not appear to have visited Uhaimir, at least not before 1818, his reports of the site were based on information from men who had such as Dr. Hine, the physician to the Residency and Captain Lockett of the Royal Navy, whom Buckingham records were the first to visit Uhaimir (8). His fuller description called attention to a feature of the mound which has persistently intrigued visitors: 'The base is a heap of rubbish on the top of which is a mass of red brick-work between each layer of which is a curious white substance which pulverizes on the least touch. I have not yet visited Al Hheimar but those who have conjectured ... that it must originally have been layers of reeds' (9).
Rich's official position in Baghdad offered him excellent opportunity not only to pursue his own researches but also to promote those undertaken by others; a responsibility he magnificently sustained (10). He assisted J.S. Buckingham (1786-1855), the first European traveller both to visit Uhaimir and write an account of it himself. Buckingham left the Residency to visit the neighbourhood of Babylon disguised as the Arab guide of Bellino, the Residency's secretary, on July 24th 1816. Two days later on July 26th he explored the ruins of Babylon and set out for Uhaimir to the east (11). Langdon (12) believed that there was a deficiency in the dates of Buckingham's published diary at this point; but there are no grounds for this assumption. Buckingham was clearly a tenacious and inexhaustible, if not impatient traveller. Early on July 26th he explored Babil and the other local mounds, then about 9 a.m. he left for Uhaimir, returning to Hillah at sunset. July 27th was spent at Hillah recovering and July 28th in visiting Birs-Nimrud. In planning his ride to Uhaimir he may well have been misled by Rich's ignorance of the actual distance from Babil and the nature of the intervening terrain. The journey to Uhaimir was as eventful and unpleasant as might be expected at such a time of year in this part of Iraq. Indeed Bellino abandoned the quest before Uhaimir was actually reached and even the intrepid Buckingham, accompanied belatedly by his Kurdish escort, spent only a few minutes on the mound in the worst possible conditions of heat and dust which he graphically relates. Consequently his description of the site was not made on the spot: 'But though I did not make the same copious notes upon the spot as I had done on every other part of the ruins of Babylon, I was enabled on the following day at Hillah in a quiet apartment of the khan at which we lodged to reduce to writing what was then fresh in my recollection' (13). In such circumstances Buckingham's report is naturally rather superficial and only its main points need detain us here before passing to the fuller and virtually contemporary account by Ker Porter. Buckingham described with estimates of its dimensions, the shape and form of the mound 'Al Hheimar', the brickwork visible on the summit, the layers of white matter in the brickwork and the surrounding mounds. In his brief visit he saw no inscribed bricks though he dug into the mound for 'fresh bricks with their white cement' (14). He concluded that 'The ruins of Babylon may be said therefore to terminate at this spot which marks the extreme eastern boundary of the city' (15) and presented a detailed argument to support the view that 'this mass of Al Hheimar was part of the ancient city wall' (16).
There may be no doubt that Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777-1842), artist by training, traveller and lecturer by inclination was the most observant of the early visitors to the site of Kish (17) which he was to exclude from the area of Greater Babylon. Porter rode over to Uhaimir from Hillah on November 22nd 1818. The excellence of his description of the site at this time may best be left to speak for itself:
'Having ridden an hour (from Hillah) we took a direction due east crossing at different distances three other canals in a course from north to south; the last of the three was very wide and not more than a mile from Al Hymer, the whole of which intervening space is covered with broken bricks, pottery, glass and all the other usual relics of Babylonian ruins. When we reached the great mound itself which had long been a conspicuous object above the horizon I found it to be pyramidal with numerous dependant smaller mounds. Its base was nearly circular; in circumference 276 yards and in height about 60 (presumably feet). One third of its elevation is composed of unburnt brick, the rest of the pile of that which has passed through the fire. A large and solid mass of the latter surmounts the whole, standing clear from any of the loose rubbish which so abundantly encumbers its base. The fire-baked bricks on the outside by some cause have become extremely soft; and I should ascribe that effect to their complete exposure to the external air, they there break with ease on the slightest force; but on penetrating into the solid building I found them as hard as any others of Babylonia. In broad square surface they exceeded those of the Birs and the Kasr, nearly three quarters of an inch; but the thickness was not more than in those of the Birs. The whole of this mass as it stands on its rounded ruin-encumbered foundation presents four straight faces but unequal and mutilated looking towards the cardinal points. That to the south measures 39 feet, the north 37, the east 48 and the west 51. Through them all the usual air-channels traverse each other. The courses of the bricks differ in this building from any I had hitherto remarked, a layer of clay only seeming to be their cement; though at the unequal distances of four, five, six or seven bricks a bright white substance appears in some places an inch thick as if spread between them (this is discussed with a chemical analysis and adjudged to be 'the common bed of reeds') ... I closely examined the broken fragments of brick-work below and found only quantities of bitumen. The burnt bricks I have already described as forming the solid summit of the mound are very coarsely finished; but the masses found at its foot in different places are of fine clay of the best kiln-baked fabric. They differ in size from any others I have seen, being fourteen inches long, twelve and three quarters broad and about two and a half thick; those I had examined in the great piles of the Birs, the Kasr, etcetera usually measuring thirteen inches square and three in thickness. During my examination of Al Hymer I was so fortunate as to obtain an entire brick of this beautiful construction; and found its inscription also varying from those of the preceding piles; hence I may call it an unique specimen. It contains ten lines (Ker Porter's plate LXXVIIa) of cuneiform letters in an upright column (here follows an outdated discussion of this inscription of Adad-apla-iddina)... Independent of the specimen of ten lines which produced this digression we picked up other relics of the ruin; and amongst them several broken pieces of jaspar, red and green of various forms, all nicely polished as having belonged to former objects of ornament. Mr. Bellino found a fragment of black marble containing an inscription (Ker Porter's Plate LXXVIIh).In 1827 Captain Robert Mignan of the East India Company travelled from Basra to Baghdad by boat up the Tigris and then explored in more detail the region round Babylon. He was attracted to Uhaimir, again as part of the quest for Babylon's eastern limits which, like Buckingham, he believed lay in this area. His enthusiasm seems to have been damped by his actual encounter with the site: 'At a considerable distance to the northward and eastward of El Hamir, a very large assemblage of mounds, the remains of some extensive buildings, are divided by a canal running south. The ground surrounding this spot is covered with nitre and cut by countless canal beds of great antiquity; while very visible vestiges of ancient edifices exist: but the place being so far removed from the site of the venerable city and seeing no end to my researches if attempting to prosecute them further to the eastward, which I well knew would have ended in disappointment from the unsettled and unsafe state of the country; I was induced, however reluctantly, to retrace my steps 7 to Hillah' (19). His account of Uhaimir is cursory and is not to be compared with Ker Porter's a decade earlier. Nor are the passing references in other travellers who saw the site in the next twenty years (20). Henry Layard (1817-1894), as might be expected, was the first to realize the true significance of the mound of Uhaimir, though it is not absolutely clear whether he visited the site. The tone of his description suggests that he did, probably between October 1850 and January 1851, whilst he was conducting excavations at Babylon. The description he published in Nineveh and Babylon in 1853 is characteristically concise and clear: 'About two hours and a half, or eight miles to the north-east of Hillah, a mound, scarcely inferior in size to those of Babylon, rises in the plain. It is called El Hymer, meaning, according to the Arabs, the red, from its colour. The ruin has assumed a pyramidal form, but it is evidently the remains of a solid square structure, consisting, like Birs Nimroud, of a series of terraces or platforms. It may be conjectured, therefore, that it was a sacred edifice built upon the same general plan as all the temples of Babylonia and Assyria. The basement or substructure appears to have been of sundried brick; the upper part, and probably the casing of the lower, of bricks burnt in the kiln. Many of the latter are inscribed with the name and titles of Nebuchadnezzar. Although the masonry is solid and firmly bound together, it is not united by a white cement like that of the Mujelibe. The same tenacious mud that was used for making the bricks has been daubed, as far as I could ascertain, between each layer. The ruin is traversed like the Birs by square holes to admit air. 'Around the centre structure are scattered smaller mounds and heaps of rubbish, covered with the usual fragments of pottery, glass and bricks*. (21). Before Layard's description of Uhaimir had appeared in print two members of the Expedition scientifique et artistique de Mesopotamie et de Medie, its leader Fresnel (1795-1855) and the young Jules Oppert 8 (1825-1905), later Professor of Assyriology at the College de France, had undertaken the
(1) Kish Excavations 1923-33 of Oxford-Field Museum of Chicago --- Author P.R.S. Moorey (1978)