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The Baghdad Urban Archaeological Project: The excavation of Tel Muhammad in Baghdad
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The Baghdad Urban Archaeological Project: The excavation of Tel Muhammad in Baghdad

Categories: Archaeology and Heritage

New discoveries in Baghdad


It was December 1850 when Sir Austen Henry Layard, camping in the surroundings of Baghdad waiting to head towards Nimrud to excavate the remains of the Neo-Assyrian capital, collected some objects at the site of Tel Muhammad. Among these were bronze mace heads in copper alloy with a diameter of a few centimeters, now exhibited in the British Museum, with the cuneiform inscription E.GAL ha-am-mu-ra-pi (‘the palace of Hammurabi‘) which make reference to the extraordinary Babylonian ruler of the First Dynasty of Babylon (1792-1750 BC).

Following in the footsteps of this discovery, in the 1980s a team of Iraqi archaeologists from the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) undertook a series of excavation campaigns aimed at discovering the city which was conquered and transformed into an important center with a large sacred area precisely during the Old Babylonian Period as confirmed by the numerous cuneiform texts that refer to Babylon brought to light in some sectors of the town. In the last twenty years, the dramatic war events that hit Iraq have led to a slowdown in archaeological activities at the Tel Muhammad site which today measures just over 5 hectares in size and is now located on the southern outskirts of a city in continuous expansion which is Baghdad, but which during the first part of the 2nd millennium BC it was supposed to represent one of the main centers along the Tigris river with an extension of tens of hectares, as highlighted by the American scholar Robert McAdams in his survey of the region.

On these bases, the archaeological mission of the University of Catania (Baghdad Urban Archaeological Project – BUAP) directed by Prof. Nicola Laneri (DISUM) in collaboration with the SBAH and with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has started investigations preliminary and archaeological excavations aimed at better defining the urban development of the settlement during the two main phases of occupation (i.e., the Isin and Larsa and Old Babylonian Period, ca. 2000-1600 BC) of the site of Tel Muhammad. During these excavations large sections of the mudbrick city walls were exposed in the western sector where this was marked by a large projecting body of about 30 meters in length and approx. 6 meters wide built in steps which was buttressed along the outer perimeter and marked by an entrance where, in a sounding, a drain with ceramic pipes was brought to light. The material culture confirms a chronology of the Old Babylonian Period and the hypothesis of a military reinforcement along the eastern bank of the Tigris river perhaps precisely by Hammurabi during his war campaigns against one of the enemy centres, Eshnunna (modern Tell Asmar), which was conquered by the Babylonian ruler in the final stages of his reign and which was located along the Diyala River (tributary of the Tigris), about 50 km north-east of Baghdad.

The mission was enhanced by the visit of Ambassador Maurizio Greganti and the director of the SBAH, Dr. Laith Hussein, during which a possible strategy was defined to make the main excavation areas of the Tel Muhammad site an open air museum (i.e., the sacred area that stands on top of the mound and the circuit of walls that surround it) through a program of restoration of the mudbrick buildings and the creation of roofing and explanatory panels, in collaboration with other departments of the Catania University and with international research, which will make the site an archaeological park and a valuable tool for stimulating knowledge of one of the most important eras in world history, i.e., the Old Babylonian Period, in the center of the capital of Iraq.



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