Ancient Near Eastern antiquities
The first city about which we have both written documentary and physical evidence is the Sumerian city Uruk, which was called Erech in the Bible. It is in southern Mesopotamia on the Euphrates River.
Map of Mesopotamia, ca. 2000 B.C.
The first settlements at Uruk date to just before 4500 B.C. Beginning in about 3000 B.C. the climate of the area underwent dramatic changes: the temperature dropped as did the sea level of the Persian Gulf, and
drier conditions prevailed. Cities sprung up in places that were formerly inundated and uninhabitable. Uruk had a number of temples, palaces, and some commercial activity. The city was protected by a double
set of fortress walls. The first excavations of Uruk were in 1849 by W. K. Loftus, a British geologist, naturalist, and archaeologist who was only twenty-nine when he dug at Uruk. He died at sea a few years
Fragment of bull statuette; limestone, Uruk, ca. 3000 B.C.; Lourve, Paris, France.
The fragments that have been found—most often statuettes and cylinder seals—have been excavated in temples. They probably had some importance in religious rituals, but their specific purpose is
unknown. Typically they show a domesticated animal such as a bull or a dog, it is not unusual to show them being attached by a lion or other predator.
Fragment of bowl with frieze of bulls in relief; Uruk, ca. 3300 - 2900 B.C.; 3.7 x 4.6 inches; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The city was made up of two main parts: Kullaba (the older) and Eanna. Kullaba seems to had more religious buildings than Eanna. There are several layers of temples built on top of each other.
Portions or whole temples were razed to make new temples. The oldest known pictographic tablets were found in Eanna, dating from about 3500 B.C.
The "niched" walls of Uruk; the walls had a circumference of about twenty miles. Access to the city was through two city gates.
Uruk is archaeologically noteworthy because of the extensive written records found there. About 4000 fragments of pictographic tablets have been excavated at Uruk. Numerous clay vases with cylinder seal
impressions, tablets with lists of numbers, and gypsum tablets with words have been found by international teams of archaeologists working there since the late 1920s. Many of the documents seem to be inventories
or account ledgers.
Administrative tablet with cylinder seal impression of a male figure, hunting dogs, and boars, Jamdat Nasr, Uruk; 3100-2900 B.C.;
Clay; 2 3/16 x 2 3/8 x 1 5/8 in.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.