Group shot of Iraq scheme participants in Tello, the modern Arabic name for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu

Tello

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.

New finds for the training scheme

New finds for the training scheme

The size and complexity of the site make Tello an ideal location for delivering the practical fieldwork training of the Iraq Scheme.

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 helps 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.

The 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 its walls.

The recording of the exact location of each cone reveals that they were laid in a complex pattern. We're currently analysing the 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. It still contained a white stone ritual tablet belonging to the ruler Gudea.

And excavations under the temple also led to the discovery of two superimposed monumental platforms. The oldest, 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 pre-date the earliest-known Mesopotamian stepped-terrace by a few hundred years.

The Bridge of Girsu

The Bridge of Girsu

In the autumn 2017 season, conservation work began on the Bridge of Girsu - first excavated in the 1920s - as part of the the Iraq Scheme training programme.

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.

These included painted pottery and uninscribed cones, which will yield a wealth of information on the origins of Girsu and the birth of urban centres in Mesopotamia.

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: Tello/Girsu Autumn 2018 team included Sebastien Rey (Site director), St John Simpson (Iraq Scheme deputy director), Fatma Yassir Husain (Site deputy director), Jonathan Taylor (epigrapher), Luke Jarvis (archaeologist), Andrew Ginns (archaeologist), Ashley Pooley (archaeologist), Anthony Baxter (archaeologist), Angelo Di Michele (ceramicist), Elisa Girotto (art historian), Ella Egberts (database registrar), Faith Vardy (illustrator), Dita Auzina (surveyor), Dani Tagen (photographer), Joanna Skwiercz (object conservator), Ebru Torun (site conservator), Sila Akman (assistant site conservator), Helene Canaud (assistant photographer), Jaafar Jotheri (geomorphologist).

Iraqi participants from Mosul, Slemani, Babel, Nasiriya: Rana Bashar Saleh, Rana Zuhair Ibrahim Naati, Birnadet Hanna Matti Al Maslob, Zinah Naziyah Abdulrazzaq Alabdali, Ahlam Jabbar Ali Al- Kareem, Suad Obaid Hussein Yasari, Awaz Jihad Ghedan.

Contributors

Contributors

Tello/Girsu Autumn 2018 team included:

Sebastien Rey (Site director), St John Simpson (Iraq Scheme deputy director), Fatma Yassir Husain (Site deputy director), Jonathan Taylor (epigrapher), Luke Jarvis (archaeologist), Andrew Ginns (archaeologist), Ashley Pooley (archaeologist), Anthony Baxter (archaeologist), Angelo Di Michele (ceramicist), Elisa Girotto (art historian), Ella Egberts (database registrar), Faith Vardy (illustrator), Dita Auzina (surveyor), Dani Tagen (photographer), Joanna Skwiercz (object conservator), Ebru Torun (site conservator), Sila Akman (assistant site conservator), Helene Canaud (assistant photographer), Jaafar Jotheri (geomorphologist).

Iraqi participants from Mosul, Slemani, Babel, Nasiriya:
Rana Bashar Saleh, Rana Zuhair Ibrahim Naati, Birnadet Hanna Matti Al Maslob, Zinah Naziyah Abdulrazzaq Alabdali, Ahlam Jabbar Ali Al- Kareem, Suad Obaid Hussein Yasari, Awaz Jihad Ghedan