The Iraq Scheme



More about the Iraq Scheme

Scheme introduction 
Training in the UK 
Training in Iraq: Darband-i Rania Project 


Iraq Scheme Team

Director: Jonathan Tubb
Deputy Director: St John Simpson
Executive Project Support: Angela Grimshaw
Project Manager: Megan Bristow
Project Coordinator: Ruth Stone
Lead Archaeologist: John MacGinnis
Lead Archaeologist: Sebastien Rey

Tello - ancient Girsu

Panoramic view of the Mound of the Palace

Tello, the modern Arabic name for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, is the southern site of the Iraq Scheme. It represents one of the earliest known cities of the world together with Uruk, Eridu, and Ur. During the 3rd millennium BC Girsu was considered the sanctuary of the Sumerian heroic god Ningirsu. Girsu was the sacred metropolis and centre of a city-state that lay in the south-easternmost part of the Mesopotamian alluvium.

Pioneering explorations carried out between 1877 and 1933 and the decipherment of the cuneiform tablets discovered there revealed to the world the existence of the Sumerians. The Sumerians invented writing 5,000 years ago and may have developed an early form of democracy well before the ancient Greeks.

Tello is a mega-site extensively excavated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with a similar topographical layout to the other great Mesopotamian sites of Nimrud and Nineveh, shaped by huge excavation pits and spoil heaps. It also includes fragile remains of monumental architecture excavated before the Second World War such as the Bridge of Girsu – the oldest bridge as yet brought to light, which is the focus of site conservation. Tello is therefore ideal for delivering the training for the Iraqi archaeologists.

Excavations in the autumn of 2016 and spring of 2017 were carried out in the heart of the sacred district of Girsu, at Tell A, also known as the Mound of the Palace. Tell A was first and extensively investigated between 1877 and 1933 and yielded some of the most important artefacts of Sumerian art, including the statuary of the ruler Gudea.

The French pioneers unearthed at Tell A the ruins of a Hellenistic palace belonging to a local ruler named Adad-nadin-aḫḫe. This had been built on the remains of a Sumerian platform belonging to the patron-god Ningirsu. The palace was completely dismantled at the beginning of the 1930s. Below this palace only scattered relics of the third millennium were identified, including ritual deposits containing stone tablets belonging to Gudea and his predecessor Ur-Bau with copper figurines of gods holding inscribed foundation pegs.

The Temple of the Sumerian Storm-God

Cylinder-seal featuring the Sun-God

Following an interruption of around 80 years, we were able to miraculously unearth extensive mudbrick walls – some ornamented with pilasters and inscribed magical cones – belonging to the well-known Ningirsu temple. This had been constructed and then renovated several times by the Sumerian rulers Ur-Bau, Ur-Ningirsu and Gudea. This temple dedicated to the storm-god was considered in antiquity to be one of the most important sacred places of Mesopotamia, praised for its magnificence in many contemporary literary compositions.

Of this 4,000-year-old religious complex, we have exposed what appears to be the central part of the sanctuary – a decorated entrance featuring buttresses, a peripheral corridor with inscribed cones, the inner sanctuary composed of an offering altar facing the podium for the divine cult statue, passageways marked by colossal inscribed stones, and a chamber with a stairway leading to a high-terrace.

Collapsed layers of the superstructure have yielded a hundred cones, most of which commemorate the reconstruction of the temple by Sumerian rulers. Among the truly unique finds were a fragment of a marble foundation tablet of Ur-Bau, a cylinder-seal belonging to a deity, a terracotta plaque with a Sumerian couple, a cylinder-seal featuring a presentation scene of deities in front of the sun-god, and a unique impression of a Sumerian demon. These finds and other important artefacts have already been safely delivered to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

Iraqi Trainees planning the walls of the Temple

Excavation of in situ inscribed cone