Rescuing Iraqi Archeological Reports

During their visit to the Iraq Museum and the offices of the State Board of Antiquities in May 2003, McGuire Gibson and Mark Altaweel became aware of the damage to the publications office and the loss of manuscripts by Iraqi colleagues. They made an agreement with several Iraqi archaeologists to work to reconstruct important archaeological reports, translate them into English, and see that they were published in international journals. With an initial grant in 2005 from the U.S. State Department and a much larger, later grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and finally a second grant from the State Department through International Relief & Development (IRD), they carried out more than six years of assembling, editing, and publishing in a project entitled: “Rescuing Iraqi Archaeological Reports.” They furnished scanners and other equipment to their Iraqi colleagues and communicated with them by the internet. Altaweel began to translate manuscripts and do initial editing as early as 2005, and during the summer of 2007 and in subsequent years, he and Gibson worked closely with their Iraqi colleagues for two to three weeks each summer; the Iraqi scholars were brought to Amman and later Istanbul for this purpose, and they had with them scanned and digitized records from which to work. These sites included Tell al-Wilaya, Tell Muhammed, Tell al-Imsihli, Tell Muqtadiya, and Tell Asmar (ancient Eshnunna), all of which had been excavated prior to the 2003 war. Altaweel has been the main point of contact between the U.S. and Iraqi participants, which makes it possible for him to do accurate translations. Gibson’s role in the project has been to coordinate the work and edit the English versions, arrange for improved illustrations, and submit them to publishers.

Thus far, the project has published six reports in the journals Iraq and Akkadica. The account of Tell Imsihli appeared as a chapter in a book edited by P. Miglus, Archaeological Investigation in the Makhmur Region: Report from the Makhul Dam Project, Heidelberg. Concurrently, Arabic versions of all the reports appeared in the journal Sumer. The initial publication, which covered a survey of sites west of Mosul, appeared in Iraq (2006-2007) in two installments under Altaweel‘s name as editor. Subsequently, Altaweel incorporated information from this report in his book, The Imperial Landscape of Ashur: Settlement and Land Use in the Assyrian Heartland, which is based on his own work as a doctoral student using a TAARII research fellowship. Akkadica (2006) carried a report on excavations at Tell Abu Shijar, a small but significant exposure of a Kassite palace within the city of Aqar Quf, the ancient capital named Dur-Kurigalzu, just west of Baghdad. A very substantial report on Tell al-Wilaya was published in two issues of Akkadica in 2009. Tell Muhammad, within the southeastern part of Baghdad, was extensively excavated by the Iraqis in the 1990s, and it has yielded cuneiform documents and objects that help elucidate what happened in Babylonia after the fall of Babylon to the Hittites in 1500 (using the shorter chronology).

As an addition to the initial list of journal-length reports on work done pre-2003, the project has prepared a translation of post-invasion Iraqi work at Tell Qasra, in the Kurdish region near Erbil. Until recently, few sites have been excavated in this area, and results from the site add significantly to our knowledge of the prehistoric development of the region and the interrelations of northern and southern Mesopotamia. In addition, the project was offered the report on a site called Tell Abu Shija, near Amara, which the Iraqis excavated in 2005. The report, published in Akkadica (2010), is an important one because two stone inscriptions found in place at the site made it possible to identify Abu Shija as ancient Pashime, a city that has, heretofore, been thought to be on the shore of the Gulf, even in Iran.

The Iraqi excavations that were done in the late 1990s at Tell Asmar resulted in a very large manuscript, which caused the editors to think of publishing it in book form. The Iraqi excavations supplement the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute excavations conducted there in the 1930s. Tell Asmar, ancient Eshnunna, was the capital of an important kingdom just prior to the time of Hammurabi but, even before that time, it was a major center for the Diyala region. It is logical to combine the Asmar report with another substantial one in the program, the report on Tell Muqtadiya, which is also in the Diyala region. The book, entitled Iraqi Excavations in the Diyala Region, will be published by the Oriental Institute Press in cooperation with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities.

Very late in the program, the team was asked to work also on a re-publication of the findings of Iraqi excavators in the Queens’ Tombs at Nimrud, which caused a sensation when they were discovered in 1988-1990. The book that the excavators produced in Baghdad in 2000, under the Sanctions, unfortunately had badly flawed photographs, and the material deserves much better presentation. The volume will appear, with many full-color plates, as a special publication of the Oriental Institute and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities. Unfortunately, these two books on the Diyala and the Queens’ Tombs, have taken much longer to prepare than the short articles that were done, and will not see print until 2014.