Project: Iraq Heritage Program
Number of Views: 1174
Context (click to view):
Descriptive Properties (2)
|Alternate Name||Tell el-Muqayyar|
Ur (modern name: Tell el-Muqayyar)
Physical description and setting of the site:
Originally the site was located near the outlet of the Euphrates into the Gulf but as the Euphrates and Tigris rivers evolved, the site lost its direct connection to these important rivers. The position of the head of the Gulf has also changed, leaving the site well inland from the current headwaters. Today the site is part of the alluvial plain of Southern Mesopotamia, (30°57.75 N, 46°6.18 E). The nearest large city is Nasiriyah. South of Ur is the ancient site of Eridu, one of the earliest cities in Mesopotamia. Eridu is the closest city to the escarpment that marks the edge of the alluvium and the beginning of the Arabian desert. Between Eridu and Ur, in ancient and sometimes in modern times, a small marsh existed. The small site of Ubaid, to the west of Ur, is important for its prehistoric remains, which have given the name to the Ubaid period. Thre is also a temple oval of Early Dynastic period (c. 2600 B.C.) at the site. Tell al Lahm, to the east of Ur, is the fourth excavated site in the area, and as the possible location of an important 1st Millennium BC city of the Chaldeans, is one that should be included in an aerial plan.
Historical context of Ur:
Ur was founded in prehistoric times during the 'Ubaid period, the earliest stage of village settlement in Southern Mesopotamia. Any subsequent prehistoric occupation of the site is hypothetical, as the later prehistoric periods have not yet been identified. When Ur re-enters the historical record, it is one of the early Sumerian cities of the southern alluvium, fully integrated into a large-scale, irrigation network that covered the region.
At the time of the First Dynasty of Ur (also known as the Early Dynastic IIIa period, c. 2500 B.C.) ), the city had become a leading urban centre of Mesopotamia and the effective ruler of much of Sumer, the southern portion of the Mesopotamian alluvium. The First Dynasty of Ur is best known through the royal tombs excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. These tombs provide a unique perspective on the early kings of Mesopotamia. Their contents include an extensive collection of elaborate jewelry and personal items made of semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli and carnelian) and metal (gold, silver, and copper) imported from as far away as modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, an indicator of the exceptional significance of Ur at the time.
Ur would remain an important city and sanctuary under the subsequent Agade kings (2334-2154 BC), but the city would rise to again become the pre-eminent city of Mesopotamia under the so-called Third Dynasty of Ur (2112-2004 BC), an important time of political expansion in Iraq. As the centre of a territorial empire controlling a unified Iraq and parts of western Iran, the city of Ur was renovated to become the symbol of the Sumerian cultural and political renaissance. This period is sometimes also known as the Neo-Sumerian period. At this time many of the iconic buildings of Ur were built ,including the ziggurat of Ur-Nammu, the Ekhursag or Palace of Ur-Nammu, the Royal Mausolea of Shulgi and Amar-Suen, the gipparu of Amar-Suen, the E-nun-makh temple, and the Dublal-makh or gateway shrine to the ziggurat.
Table 1: The Historical Periods of Ur
|'Ubaid Period||Fifth Millennium BCE|
|First Dynasty of Ur||Twenty-Fifth Century BCE|
|Mes-anne-pada of Ur|
|Agade Kings||2334-2154 BCE|
|Third Dynasty of Ur||2112-2004 BCE|
|Ur-Nammu (2112 - 2095 BCE)|
|Shulgi (2095 - 2047 BCE)|
|Amar-Suen (2046 - 2038 BCE)|
|Isin-Larsa Period||Early Second Millennium BCE|
|First Dynasty of Babylon||c. 1750 - 1595 BCE|
|Kassite Kings||c. 1570 - 1150 BCE|
|Middle Babylonian Period||c. 1150 - 900 BCE|
|Neo-Assyrian Period||From mid-ninth C BC to 612 BCE|
|Sin-balatsu-iqbi (c. 650 BCE)|
|Neo-Babylonian Period||625-539 BCE|
|Achaemenid Period in Iraq||539-330 BCE|
|Cyrus the Great (539 - 530 BCE)|
After the collapse of the Third Dynasty of Ur, authority devolved into the hands of several competing city states. Control of the region was being slowly gained by Amorites who had been coming in from Syria and northern Iraq for centuries. The leading cities in this unsettled time were Isin and Larsa, with many competing claims for the kingship of Sumer (Southern Mesopotamia). In the mid-18th C BC, a new dynast, Hammurabi, would arise from Babylon to create the First Dynasty of Babylon and effect the first reunification of Mesopotamia since the Third Dynasty of Ur. For this period, Woolley's excavations have revealed part of the rich heritage of Ur in the collection of houses, cult places, and marketplaces in Area AH. The houses of Area AH also provide a prototype for the house where Abraham, a biblical patriarch and Islamic prophet, was supposedly born.
The First Dynasty of Babylon was unable to prevent a massive collapse of agriculture and settlement in Southern Mesopotamia (Gasche et al., 1998). The southern alluvium seems to have been the worst affected, as it was at the terminus of the region-wide irrigation systems and the most vulnerable to system collapse. Into a power vacuum, rulers who were termed the kings of the Sealands (probably the marshy areas of the south and the head of the Gulf) ruled from Babylon. I was one hundred years and sometimes two hundred years later, that urban settlement gradually became possible with the cutting of new irrigation systems by the Kassite dynasty. The Kassite kings, who were part of a new immigrant group, would rebuild many of the major cities of the south and collect many important Sumerian epics, prayers, royal inscriptions, and works of literature. It is obvious that the Kassite kings considered Ur to be an important Sumerian city and worthy of special attention because they built a major fortress at the edge of the Inner City, renovated the Ziggurat temple complex, and founded the ziggurat shrines of Nanna, the Sumerian moon god, and his consort, Nin-gal. As yet, we still know very little about this important Kassite city and much more remains to be excavated and discovered.
The city went into a decline in the Middle Babylonian period that was only reversed under Assyrian leadership in the Eighth Century BC. At that time, Ur was ruled by the kings in the north of Iraq, as part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (883-612 BC). At least one Assyrian governor, Sin-balatsu-iqbi, recognized Ur's importance in Mesopotamia and built a major palace there. Otherwise, little is known about the Neo-Assyrian occupation.
After the fall of the Neo-Assyrian dynasty in 612 BC, the Neo-Babylonian kings (612-539 BC) would renovate all of the major monuments of Ur and build a new temenos area around the principle temples and religious residences. Finally, Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire (550-530 BC), considered the moon god Nanna as the patron god of Ur. For a short time, Nanna became part of the official cult of the Achaemenid kings, who rebuilt parts of the temenos enclosure and sacred gates.
In sum, the existing architectural history of Ur documents the city's continued historical and cultural significance for a span of at least two thousand years. In that time, Ur was the pre-eminent city of Iraq at least twice under the First Dynasty and Third Dynasty of Ur, and a major centre of religion, culture, and trade for virtually its entire history. Today, it remains one of the best preserved Sumerian cities of Southern Mesopotamia because a significant number of its buildings were of baked bricks. Being sufficiently far from Nasiriyah, the site was not as subject to being quarried for bricks, as many great Mesopotamian cities were. Many of Ur's monuments are unique as of now or can be considered rare testaments to the considerable achievements of Sumerian culture and society.
Relevant Historical Themes Present at Ur:
Excavations of the First Dynasty of Ur cemetery revealed a series of royal tombs from the early historic period of Iraq. They signify the beginning of Ur's illustrious history as a leading city of Sumer and Southern Mesopotamia. The tombs were destroyed in the process of excavations so that today this early history is exemplified only by the elaborately illustrated report by Woolley and by some of the world-famous artifacts excavated at Ur, including the Royal Harps, the Ram in the Thicket, the Standard of Ur, and the gold and silver jewelry of the royal family (Zettler et al., 1998).
Almost four hundred years later, the Third Dynasty of Ur kings made Ur the centre of ancient Mesopotamia. The royal kings built extensively at the capital, making it a symbol of the Sumerian cultural and political renaissance. Early excavations at the ziggurat and Woolley's excavations in the temenos area have provided an unparalleled collection of Sumerian monumental architecture from this time. The foundations of many of these buildings still exist today and more remain undiscovered.
Woolley's excavations in the Inner City (Area AH) revealed a collection of houses, shops, and temples from the Isin-Larsa period (early second millennium BC). These excavations help archaeologists and historians to reconstruct the organization of an ancient Mesopotamian city. In the mid-second millennium BC, the Kassite kings obviously considered the city important. They lavished attention on its principle monuments in the ziggurat area and fortified the city walls. Unfortunately, little is known about this era of the city's history and many of the Kassite monuments remain unexcavated or undiscovered.
After a period of collapse in Southern Mesopotamia, Ur re-emerged as an important city under the governors of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The palace of Sin-balatsu-iqbi is a rare example of a near complete Assyrian administrative building and monument in southern Mesopotamia. After the collapse of the Neo-Assyrian administration (612 BC), the Neo-Babylonian kings chose Ur as one of the principle cities of Babylonia. Their extensive reconstructions of the city ziggurat and temples in the temenos area demonstrate the importance of the city to the Babylonian Empire.
Table 2: The Principal Management Zones of Ur
|Management Zone||Description of the Zone|
|The Temenos Area||Includes the Neo-Babylonian temenos walls, the Third Dynasty of Ur Ziggurat and the associated ziggurat temples of various periods, the principle monuments of the Third Dynasty of Ur|
|The Inner City||Includes the pit marking the royal tombs of the First Dynasty of Ur, the palace and royal tombs of the Ur III kings, the portion of the "city of Abraham" (Area AH), the city walls, a Kassite fortress, the Neo-Assyrian governor's palace of Sin-balatsu-iqbi.|
|The Outer City||Previously undocumented. This archaeological soil is probably part of a Neo-Babylonian metropolis at Ur. North of the main tell of Ur, the tell of Diqdiqqa, which Woolley excavated briefly, is clearly important and should be seen as part of the city. It has at least one major public building of Ur III times.|
For each of these periods, Ur provides historians and archaeologists with important historical and cultural information that help us learn more about ancient Mesopotamia. Yet, even with everything we understand about the history of Ur, there is still a large amount of archaeological soil visible in the satellite photos outside the present city walls. This extension of the city (the Outer City) would effectively double or triple the size of the ancient city. Unfortunately, this area has not been extensively documented.
Besides the important architectural, cultural, and political history of Ur; the site has important biblical and religious associations. Its excavator, Sir Leonard Woolley publicized the site of Ur as the first site to have direct evidence of the Biblical Flood. The story of the Flood is itself a later retelling of earlier Mesopotamian stories such as the Atrahasis Epic (Pritchard, 1999). Woolley predicated that the Biblical Flood deposited eight feet of river sediment totally clean of cultural deposit or architectural remains below the royal cemetery of Ur and above the prehistoric town.
Woolley publicized Ur through its association with Ur of the Chaldees in the bible. Putting Abraham in historical context presents difficulties, but Woolley did not hesitate to link him to the house areas in Area AH. The State Board of Antiquities in the 1990s used the stubs of walls of one house in this area as the base for new walling. This restored house is identified in signage as the House of Abraham.
The History of Archaeological Research at Ur:
Tell al-Mugayyar was first described by Pietro della Valle in the mid-seventeenth century AD. Over the next three centuries, the site has remained an important modern testament to the rich history and culture of ancient Mesopotamia. In the early eighteenth century BC, William Kennett Loftus published a measured description and early illustration of the ziggurat at Ur. Between 1853 and 1854, J. E. Taylor excavated at the of the ziggurat. He discovered the Neo-Babylonian period foundation cylinders (612-539 BC) that allowed Henry Rawlinson, a famous cuneiformist, to identify the site as Ur. At the end of World War I, R. Campbell Thomson was appointed as the military archaeologist for the British Army. He excavated at the ziggurat for about a week, before moving on to Tell Abu Shahrain (ancient Eridu). H. R. Hall continued Campbell Thomson's excavations at the ziggurat and opened part of the Palace of Ur-Nammu and the Neo-Babylonian temenos of Nebuchadnezzar. All of these preliminary excavations were superseded by the Woolley's massive, long-term excavations of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum. These excavations can be considered as the foundations of our modern understanding of the ancient site. They were also amongst the earliest excavations under the new Antiquities Law of the newly-founded nation of Iraq that split the finds evenly between the nation of Iraq and the archaeological expedition.
Table 3: The History of Archaeological Research at Ur
|Mid-Seventeenth Century AD||Pietro della Valle was the first westerner to visit the ruins.|
|Early Eighteenth Century AD||William Kennett Loftus, a British Archaeologist, publishes a measured description and early illustration of the ziggurat.|
|1853-54||J. E. Taylor, the British vice-consul at Basra, conducted the first excavations at Tell al-Muqayyar, "the mound of pitch").|
|1918||R. Campbell Thomson was appointed as the military archaeologist for the British Army. He dug for a week at Ur before moving to Tell Abu Shahrain (Eridu).|
|1918||H. R. Hall continued Campbell Thomson's excavations at the ziggurat and opened part of the Palace of Ur-Nammu and the temenos of Nebuchadnezzar.|
|1922 - 1934||Sir Leonard Woolley directs the joint expedition between the British Museum and the University Museum. His work can be further broken down into individual seasons (Table 4).|
Table 4: An Overview of Woolley's Excavations at Ur (1922-1934)
|First Season||The project excavated Trial Trench A and Trial Trench B. Trial Trench A ran south of the temenos of Nebuchadnezzar. It detected the beginnings of the Royal Cemetery of Ur and the Palace of Ur-Nammu. Trial Trench B ran east of the ziggurat. It detected the E-nun-mah and part of the temenos wall.|
|Second Season||Woolley's team cleared the Ziggurat down to the ancient foundations.|
|Third Season||Woolley's team excavated the Dub-lal-mah (an entrance to the ziggurat temple complex) and the gipparu (a residence and place of worship for Nin-Gal, wife of Nanna the city god). The gipparu also served as a place of burial for the entu-priestess, head priestess of the cult of Nanna.|
|Fourth Season||Excavated the E-hur-sag (the palace of Ur-Nammu), the Area EM Houses, and the fragmentary remains of a temple in Area EH (a late third millennium BC temple for Nimin-Tabba, a goddess associated with Nanna).|
|Fifth Season||Woolley's team excavated more of the temenos wall of Nebuchadnezzar. They also started the excavation of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, south of the temenos.|
|Sixth to Ninth Seasons||Finished the clearance and recording of approximately 1850 tombs from the Royal Cemetery of Ur.|
|Tenth to Twelth Seasons||Excavated the "flood" level of sterile silt in a sounding below the Royal Cemetery of Ur. The project also excavated the Area AH house, belonging to the time of the biblical patriarch Abraham, and the Mausolea of the Kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur.|
Relevant Historical Themes Present at Ur:
During the major excavations in the 1929s, Sir Leonard Woolley revealed the outlines of several monuments through a series of large-scale archaeological excavations. However, these excavations often revealed only one or two phases of a building's history, giving only a sample of the long history of architecture and settlement at Ur. At least three major gaps need to be considered from his work. Firstly, Ur is a famous Sumerian city in the historical literature and yet the city from the First Dynasty of Ur and earlier is known only through the royal tombs. The major monuments and the residential quarters of this early Sumerian city lie undiscovered underneath the ziggurat and its associated temples and religious structure. Secondly, excavations outside the Sacred Area focused on the residential quarter of the early second millennium BC in the Inner City, but the Inner City also represents the residential and commercial districts of the earlier Sumerian center and presumably the later Kassite and Neo-Babylonian city. The early Sumerian city remains virtually undiscovered in the deep deposit of cultural deposit underlying these residential structures. Surface reconnaissance of the Inner City may reveal other places where the Kassite and Neo-Babylonian city still exist on the surface. Finally, the Quickbird image (taken on 05 February, 2005) shows that archaeological soil extends well beyond the second millennium BC walls. This quarter has been labeled the Outer City. Future archaeological research and conservation plans should consider the impact of development beyond the walls of the Inner City.
Cultural Significance of Ur:
The city of Ur is an important example of the Sumerian cities and civilization in Southern Mesopotamia. The excavated objects from the Royal Tombs of Ur (First Dynasty of Ur, ca. 2600 BC) can be considered as emblematic of the wealth, power, and sophistication of the Sumerian civilization. They provide very early evidence for the international exchange of semi-precious stones and metals from as far away as India and Afghanistan on an institutional scale. The sophisticated workmanship relates to the extraordinary talents of local craftsmen in the city of Ur. Unfortunately the tombs themselves are not preserved, as Woolley had to destroy them in the natural course of excavation.
The Third Dynasty of Ur represents an important political and social era in the history of Iraq. The Third Dynasty unified the territory of modern Iraq and exerted considerable influence over western Iran. At the core of its political program was the revival of the Sumerian civilization (the so-called Sumerian renaissance) that had been eroded under the previous Agade kings. The centerpiece of this Sumerian renaissance was the city of Ur, the capital of the empire ruled by the Third Dynasty of Ur. For these reasons, Ur can be considered as an irreplaceable record of the final phase of Sumerian civilization, which was the earliest historical civilization of Mesopotamia and arguably one of the earliest in the world.
Furthermore, the site has now become increasingly important given the intensive looting sustained at many of the other early Sumerian cities in the south since 2003. The nearby US-air base at Tallil appears to provide extra security for the site, since it effectively encloses it. But there seem to have been losses of small satellite sites as the base has been expanded greatly. There has been a base at Tallil since the British occupation, post WWI, but even under the Saddam regime, the buildings of the base were so far off that they were barely visible from the ziggurat. Despite damage to the outskirts, as a result of the extra security, the temple complex of Ur and the main city itself appeared "relatively untouched by looters" (National Geographic Report: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0611_030611_iraqlooting.html). The constant traffic and parking of vehicles in the vicinity of the ziggurat cannot be doing any good to the remains below.
As research at the city continues, the international community should also consider Ur as very important to investigations into little understood cultural periods such as the Neo-Assyrian Babylonia and the Kassite period. Ultimately non-destructive forms of research, such as surface reconnaissance and geophysical survey, will become increasingly important to future programs of research at the site.
Social Significance of Ur:
Christian groups commonly consider Abraham's city of Ur to be in Southern Mesopotamia, after Woolley's excavations at the site. In 2004, Easter celebrations were held by American Christians at this site, in keeping with this traditional identification of Ur. In contrast with Christian groups who identify Abraham's Ur with Southern Mesopotamia, many Islamic worshippers consider modern Urfa in Southern Turkey as the true site of Abraham's birth. Whilst it must be admitted that a scientific identification of Abraham's Ur cannot be made because of the paucity of reliable historical evidence; this religious association is widely considered as an important part of Ur's tourism potential.
Aesthetic Significance of Ur:
There are three well-preserved monuments from the Third Dynasty of Ur: the Ziggurat of Ur, the Royal Mausolea, and the Palace of Ur-Nammu (also known as the Ekhursag). Together with the fragmentary remains of the Gipparu, the Dublal-makh, and the E Nun-makh; these buildings provide a unique collection of Sumerian architecture from the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Each of the well-preserved monuments exhibits the iconic battered walls with pronounced inward slope that was commonplace during the Third Dynasty of Ur.
The ziggurat is an important architectural form for ancient Mesopotamia and Iran, both as a genre of world architecture and as the symbol of the city and centre of cult for each major city in ancient Mesopotamia. The Ziggurat of Ur is the best preserved of the twenty five ziggurats known from Iran and Iraq. It is also widely considered to be the most aesthetically significant monument of Southern Mesopotamia. At the present time, it preserves a three-storied solid mass of mud brick faced with burnt bricks set in bitumen. The lowest stage belongs to the original Third Dynasty of Ur construction, whilst the upper stories are part of the Neo-Babylonian restorations (Woolley, 1927, Vol. V). Historical records describe the god's shrine and cult statue on the top terrace but this level is not preserved today (Emil Soleyman, http://www.nishra.com/assyrians/ziggurats/index.html).
The monumentality of the ziggurat of Ur is reinforced by its location within the ancient city. It was built within the heart of the ancient temenos, on a specially raised terrace in the highest part of the city, making it the most prominent monument of Ur. The ziggurat's physical location together with its elaborate mode of design and masterful building that emphasized its physical and spiritual dimensions undoubtedly made the ziggurat the most prominent architectural landmark of the ancient city. It was obviously considered vital to the ancient inhabitants of Ur as it was almost continuously restored and renovated for another 1500 years, until Cyrus the Great's conquest of Iraq in 539 BC.
The Royal Masoulea of the Third Dynasty of Ur kings are another unique monument preserved at the site of Ur. They are also the only royal burial monument known from the period. Unfortunately, the underground tomb chambers were robbed in antiquity. Whilst these chambers were definitely used for burial, we have no direct evidence to identify the occupants of the 8 different burial chambers or even if the three Third Dynasty of Ur kings (Shulgi, Amar-Suen, and Ibbi-Suen) were buried here at all. The subterranean levels of the tombs provide the only example of a Sumerian architectural story preserved from floor to ceiling, making it a unique sample of Sumerian architecture. The underground levels of the Royal Mausolea also preserve one of the largest examples of corbelled vaulting in Mesopotamia. The combination of these factors makes the site a significant milestone in the architectural heritage of Iraq.
The final well-preserved monument from the Third Dynasty of Ur is the palace, Ekhursag. It is located on the lower terrace of the Third Dynasty of Ur temenos (the upper terrace originally consisted of only the ziggurat and the court of Nanna). The Ekhursag consists of a large, square building (58 m square) oriented to the four points of the compass. It was constructed by the founding kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur, Ur-Nammu and Shulgi.. The walls as preserved (about 50 cm. High) are constructed entirely in baked bricks, with the same shallow buttresses as the ziggurat and royal mausolea. The structure remains a unique example of royal residential architecture at Ur and rare example of Sumerian residential architecture from the Third Dynasty of Ur in Iraq more generally.
An assessment of integrity and damage to the monuments of Ur:
The royal tombs of the First Dynasty of Ur were the best known and most extensively documented royal tombs of the early phases of Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, all of these tombs were destroyed as part of the excavation. Without the physical structure of these tombs, Woolley sought to preserve them through drawings and photographs before removing the tomb walls and continuing excavations. The pit that resulted from Woolley's excavations is currently visible as a filled-in depression at the southern edge of the Neo-Babylonian temenos.
The associated jewelry and grave goods from these tombs can be considered as emblematic of the commercial and political influence of the early Sumerian kings of Ur. The grave goods survived the war in the vault of the Central Bank of Iraq or in foreign museum collections (see example here and here). Since these objects are as much a part of Ur's heritage as the architectural setting, they should be considered as part of future planning for the site.
The most important of the Third Dynasty of Ur monuments at the site is the Ziggurat of Ur-Nammu and Shulgi. Since the almost complete exposure of original levels of the Third Dynasty of Ur ziggurat by Sir Leonard Woolley, the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities has maintained the ziggurat structure through time. However, the Third Dynasty of Ur ziggurat was damaged in the First Gulf war by some 400 bullet holes and the structure was shaken by explosions, recognizable from four nearby bomb craters. A recent Quickbird image (taken on the 14th February 2005) shows the location of these bomb craters. The significance of the ziggurat for the heritage of Iraq is not diminished by the recent damage but the situation requires careful planning for conservation.
Aside from issues of structural integrity, the visual integrity of the ziggurat is challenged by the installation of electricity poles in a line running diagonally in front of the ziggurat. These electricity poles should be removed and the electricity lines buried underground to restore the visual integrity of arguably the most impressive architectural monument in Southern Mesopotamia
Religious buildings and courts associated with the Ziggurat are in a much worse state of preservation. The outer courtyard of the Ziggurat and part of the court of Nanna (the extension of the ziggurat courtyard and itself an important location of ancient religious worship and ritual) have been converted into a car park for buses and cars. The courtyard in front of the ziggurat has been effectively destroyed and the court of Nanna has been severely damaged if not completely destroyed. This program of development has also destroyed many buildings that make up the Ziggurat temple complex. This action unnecessarily promoted the idea of a ziggurat as an isolated monument, as opposed to the central part of a temple complex that formed the focus of worship for the entire city. Parking and the as well as a small shop, should be moved farther away, and limited access routes should be planned. A helicopter pad at "Abraham's House" should be removed.
Regarding the other Third Dynasty of Ur monuments, it has not yet been possible to stabilize the Royal Mausolea of the Third Dynasty of Ur kings. Woolley replaced some of the bricks and the centering in the underground chambers but the vaulted entryways are structurally unstable. Without a roofing structure for the entire tomb complex, this building will continue to suffer from water-related damage to its deep underground chambers, which in turn undermines the structural integrity of the above ground walls. These above ground walls already show signs of weakening and eventually will collapse. When this collapse occurs, Ur will lose one of the three original monuments from the Third Dynasty of Ur and a unique testament to the burial traditions of royal personages of the time. It will be a severe loss to the architectural heritage of Iraq.
The early second millennium BC houses of Area AH preserve the most coherent record of the city of Ur from the "time of Abraham." The Iraqi State Board of Antiquities chose four adjacent houses from Area AH for restoration, rebuilding the walls to over two meters high. These reconstructions preserve the wall lines of the ancient houses but new work has cut entryways between them, effectively creating one house complex from four. This reconstruction has undermined the original architectural and social principles of the era by undermining the spatial integrity of a period house and the prevailing notions of privacy that were as important in ancient Mesopotamia as they are today in modern Iraq. Furthermore, the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities labeled the restored house complex as "Abraham's house". The historical connection is not secure and the significance of the residential houses derives from their unique association with the Ur of Abraham's time, not from their use by Abraham himself.
Finally, the US Air Force has enlarged the Iraqi Tallil Air Base to the east of the site, so that it effectively abuts the area of archaeological significance. An assessment of the damage to the site cannot be made until ground checks are carried out. The future impact of these modern places must be managed for the preservation of Ur.
Documentation and Analysis of Ur:
The site is best documented by Sir Leonard Woolley's series of excavation reports, published under the Series title Ur Excavations and his popular work, Ur of the Chaldees (revised in 1952). This volume was recently republished with important editorial comments by P. R. S. Moorey as Ur 'of the Chaldees' (published 1982). Richard Zettler (1999) compiled an edited volume on the Royal Cemetery of Ur called The Royal Tombs of Ur. A team of cultural experts on ancient Mesopotamia including Prof. Henry Wright, Prof. McGuire Gibson (for Babylon and Nippur), Prof. Elizabeth Stone, and Iraqi archaeologist Dr. Riad Abdul Rahman recently visited the site. Their report can be found at National Geographic (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0611_030611_iraqlooting.html). Francis Deblauwe has compiled recent academic and journalist reports on Ur at The Iraq War and Archaeology Website (http://iwa.univie.ac.at/). This site provides important first hand accounts of the state of the monuments.
Ur has been a tourist destination since the 1920s, and although there is no tourist hotel or museum, they do exist in nearby Nasiriyah. Both have greatly deteriorated in the past thirty years, and the museum was threatened with looting in 1991. The Museum has recently undergone a renovation and has officially opened after much work by the local State Board of Antiquities officials and the Italian troops in the area. As late as the 1970s, there were guides at the site, and the main mounds were fenced. Shortly after taking control, the US forces cleared remnants of munitions from the surface of the site.
Any planning for Ur has to take into account the sites of Ubaid, Eridu, and Tell al-Lahm. Eridu sits in a sea of sand, and was not as easy of access as the other sites, but perhaps local conditions have changed by now. There is a ziggurat to see, and with some signage, and more excavation, it would be a rewarding site to visit. Ubaid is not far from Ur and could be made more understandable with some signage, plans, etc. It also deserves more excavation. Tell al-Lahm has not been excavated extensively, but deserves major work if it is in fact a 1st Millennium center for the Chaldeans. This site was badly damaged in 1991, when firing positions were created in a number of places by US bulldozers.
Also to be considered in regional planning is perhaps to combine Ur with a trip to the marshes. It is not clear, as yet, how extensive the marshes will be and how soon they will have again the infrastructure that made a visit there enjoyable until 1990.
Gasche, Hermann, et al., 1998, Dating the fall of Babylon: a reappraisal of second-millennium chronology, University of Ghent and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1998. This book describes the historical evidence for the collapse of settlement in the Old Babylonian Period.
Moorey, P. R. S., 1982, Ur 'of the Chaldees' : a revised and updated edition of Sir Leonard Woolley's Excavations at Ur, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y. Moorey updated much of the information from Woolley's original publication to make it more relevant to a modern audience.
Pritchard, James B., 1969, Ancient Near Eastern Tests Relating to the Old Testament, Third Edition with Supplement, Princeton University Press, Princeton. This collection includes the Atrahasis Epic.
Roaf, Michael, 1990, Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East, Facts on File, New York. Roaf's atlas provides an overview of Mesopotamian History.
Woolley, Sir Leonard, 1927-, Ur Excavations, published in 10 volumes. Volume II documents the excavations at the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Volumes IV to IX document the architecture at the ancient site.
Woolley, Sir Leonard, 1965, Ur of the Chaldees: a record of seven years of excavation, W. W. Norton, New York. This book is the popular publication of the excavations at Ur.
Zettler, Richard, et al., 1998, Treasures from the royal tombs of Ur, University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. An edited volume on the different social and cultural issues related to the Royal Cemetery of Ur.