Abstract: Ruins and Ruining of an Old Babylonian City: Reconstructing Mashkan-shapir, Iraq


Discovered shortly before the Gulf War in an uninhabited part of Iraq 150 km southeast of Baghdad, ancient Mashkan-shapir was one of the great cities of the world for a brief time in the early second millennium B.C.  It was dedicated to the Mesopotamian god of death and destruction, Nergal, and served as a stronghold of Hammurabi's greatest rival, the kingdom of Larsa. Archaeologically, this site offers a unique portrait of Mesopotamian city organization.  When it was surveyed by expeditions directed by the author and his wife, Elizabeth Stone, from 1986 to 1990, its surface is littered with hundreds of objects of art, tools, weapons, inscriptions, and architectural remains provided indications of where various activities were practiced and how the urban landscape was configured. Limited excavations showed how the surface remains correlated with what was under ground. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 brought fieldwork to an end, but satellite images continue to produce new information on its urban structure.  The site offers a disturbing view of the fate of Mesopotamia’s antiquities in the aftermath of the most recent upheavals, as it was heavily plundered for portable antiquities. The lecture will review the history of this site and its exploration, illustrating what it contributes to our knowledge of early cities, and will conclude with an assessment of the future of archaeology in Iraq.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Elizabeth Stone and Paul Zimansky, "The Tapestry of Power in A Mesopotamian City." Scientific American 272/4 (April, 1995):  92-97.

Elizabeth Stone and Paul Zimansky, "Mashkan-shapir and the Anatomy of an Old Babylonian City." Biblical Archaeologist 55/4 (December, 1992): 212-218

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