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

Tello, the modern Arabic name for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, is the southern site of the Iraq Scheme on-site training. It represents one of the earliest known cities of the world, revered in the 3rd millennium BC as 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.

Tello is a mega-site extensively investigated between 1877 and 1933, with a similar topographical layout to the other great Mesopotamian sites of Nimrud and Nineveh, shaped by huge excavation pits and spoil heaps. These excavations brought to light some of the most important monuments of Sumerian art and architecture, including both statuary of the ruler Gudea and a bridge built of baked brick which is the oldest bridge discovered in the world to date. The size and complexity of the site make Tello an ideal location for delivering the practical fieldwork training of the Iraq Scheme.

Photography training in Tello

Early Dynastic Bracelet

The focus of the new excavations is on the sacred district of Girsu at Tell A, the Mound of the Palace. Declassified 1960s Corona satellite images and modern drones are used to create digital elevation models of the temple site. This helped us to identify and then unearth extensive mudbrick walls, some ornamented with pilasters and inscribed cones, belonging to the four-thousand-year-old temple dedicated to Ningirsu. This temple was considered one of the most important sacred places of Mesopotamia, praised for its magnificence in many contemporary literary compositions.

More than fifteen inscribed cones were found in situ in the walls of the temple. The recording of the exact location of each cone reveals that they were laid in a complex pattern; we are currently analysing this pattern to establish whether it encodes information of magical/religious significance.

Among the unique finds was a foundation box inserted below one of the principal gates of the Eninnu sacred complex which still contained a white stone ritual tablet belonging to the ruler Gudea. Excavations under the temple also led to the discovery of two superimposed monumental platforms, the oldest of which, made of red mudbricks and built in two steps, may be dated to the beginning of the third millennium BC. This is an important discovery since this proto-ziggurat, a precursor to the legendary Tower of Babel, would therefore pre-date the earliest-known Mesopotamian stepped-terrace by a few hundred years.

In the autumn 2017 season conservation work was initiated on the Bridge of Girsu, first excavated in the 1920s, as part of the training for the Iraq Scheme participants. Excavations to establish the condition and stability of this unique monument of Sumerian architecture led to the discovery of exceptionally well-preserved deposits of the prehistoric Ubaid period, including painted pottery and uninscribed cones, which will yield a wealth of information on the origins of Girsu and consequently the birth of urban centres in Mesopotamia.

The important finds from the Iraq Scheme excavations at Tello are delivered to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, while a column base from the Ningirsu temple will be displayed in the nearby local museum of Nasiriya.

Contributors: Sebastien Rey, Fatma Husain, Jon Taylor, James Fraser, Gareth Brereton, Ashley Pooley, Angelo Di Michele, Cordelia Hall, Joanna Skwiercz, Faith Vardy, Hilary McDonald, Elisa Girotto, Ella Egberts, Dita Auzina, Tina Jongsma, Dani Tagen, Andrew Ginns, Adam Fraser, Luke Jarvis, Thea Rogerson, John Darlington, Faleh Noman Almutrb, Hayder Idan, Jabbar Obaid, Saad Jassim, Ali Khadim, Zahid Mohammad Oleiwi, Ali Kamil Khazaal, Toufeek Abd Mohammad, Qasim Rashid.

Archaeological training in Tello


Ceramics traning in Tello