Ur visit and report 2007

Visit to the archaeological site of Ur

The famous Sumerian city of Ur is one of the most iconic sites of ancient Mesopotamia or modern Iraq. It was excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley between 1922 and 1934, who found here a royal cemetery dating from about 2500 BC with graves containing a wealth of treasures.

Ziggurat at Ur

The site is immediately next to the gigantic Tallil Airbase, now used by the coalition forces, and since 2003 has been included within the perimeter fence of the airbase. The only access to the site is through the main gate to the airbase.

In March 2006 reports of interference at Ur started to circulate. This was a matter for great concern, and the increased military activity around the ancient site was also worrying.

It was decided that John Curtis should travel out to Ur and together with our Iraqi colleagues conduct an assessment. With the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and with the help of Controlled Risks Group, John Curtis was able to spend nearly two days at Tallil Airbase from 21 to 23 February 2007.

Report on damage to the site of Ur

Following John Curtis’ 2007 visit to Ur, a report was published detailing damage to that site.

Ur of the Chaldees in February 2007
J.E. Curtis, Department of the Middle East, British Museum

Download full report (pdf 242 Kb)

The conclusions are summarised below:

  • There is no obvious evidence of looting or illegal digging on the main mound of Ur, which is gratifying, but concerns have been expressed about modern roads and a car park on the site (see booklet entitled Iraq Heritage Program published by the Global Heritage Fund, or visit www.globalheritagefund.org).
  • The coalition forces have a clear obligation to make sure that no looting occurs at Ur or in the environs of Ur while they are occupying the area. This will be particularly important later in 2007 when, so I was informed, there is a plan to demolish the existing VCC and withdraw to the original boundary of Tallil Airbase. If this happens, Ur might not then be included within the perimeter fence. This would be welcome, but the site would be at risk from looting and vandalism. In this case, it is essential that proper arrangements should be made to provide Ur with the sort of protection that it so clearly merits.
  • If the coalition forces undertake any kind of building work in the vicinity of Ur they must be prepared to consult with archaeologists or others involved in heritage management. Anybody with some expertise in cultural heritage could have warned against building the new Front Gate on the Diqdiqqa site. This was an avoidable mistake.
  • The officials of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage must have unrestricted access to sites of heritage interest, particularly as they are responsible for them. It is not acceptable that coalition troops are granted free access to the site of Ur while even the Director of Antiquities is not allowed to visit the site on demand. It is recommended that the coalition authorities should take steps to rectify this problem.

Contents for the British Museum Iraq project

Site surveys 2008

The Museum and Iraq

Coalition troops visiting the ruins at Ur

Souvenir shop at Ur

Image captions
Left: Ziggurat at Ur
Top: Coalition troops visiting the ruins at Ur
Bottom: Souvenir shop at Ur