Nippur (modern Nuffar)


right|thumb|75px|Foundation deposit from NippurNippur is a large site approximately 180 km south of Baghdad. The site rises nearly 20 meters high and occupies about 150 hectares. The city has a long history extending from the early sixth millennium (Ubaid period) to 800 AD, with intermittent breaks in occupation. A dried canal bed (Shatt-en-Nil) bisects the site into a Western and Eastern Mound. A small gully divides the eastern mound into Tablet Hill, or the Scribal Quarter, in the south, and the Religious Quarter on the North Mound, with the ziggurat and Enlil Temple. The site has produced over 30,000 cuneiform tablets that span a variety of genres and historical periods, and provide information about the cultic, economic, and administrative role of Nippur. From the earliest historical periods in Mesopotamia, Nippur occupied an important position because it was home to the god Enlil, the main deity of the Sumerian pantheon.

History of Excavations

Rawlinson, Layard, and W. K. Loftus all visited Nippur in the 19th century, but the first major excavations at the site lasted from 1888 to 1900, under the University of Pennsylvania. This was the first American team to excavate in Mesopotamia, which had previously been dominated by French and English archaeologists. The University of Pennsylvania's Babylonian Expedition, led by H. Hilprecht, J. P. Peters, and J. H. Haynes, focused on Tablet Hill and the southwest corner of the West Mound. They established the basic stratigraphy of the site and recovered tens of thousands of cuneiform documents, many of ended up in the newly founded University Museum in Philadelphia.

In 1948, D. McCown of the University of Chicago returned to Nippur, leading a Joint Expedition with the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania. Excavations focused on Tablet Hill, the ziggurat complex, the North Temple, and the Inanna Temple. In 1953, R. C. Haines succeeded McCown, and remained director until 1962. Haines was followed by J. E. Knudstad, who exposed the Parthian Fortress. After a five-year hiatus, the new director of the Nippur Excavations, McG. Gibson, exposed new areas in the West Mound in order to concentrate on administrative and domestic history of Nippur, rather than its religious nature represented by the ziggurat complex and temples of the Religious Quarter. Work in all areas of the site continued for eighteen years until 1990.

The History of Nippur

Though Nippur was never the seat of a king or a regional capital, the city held a special religious significance as the seat of the god Enlil. As early as the Early Dynastic III period (2600-2350 BC), Nippur was understood to be the house of Enlil, “who determines destiny” (Sjöberg and Bergmann 1969: TH No. 2, 18:35). The tradition of Sumerian kings’ legitimization of their rule through the possession of Nippur continued into the Akkadian period (2350-2100 BC). Akkadian kings dedicated gifts to Enlil and built monuments within the Ekur, the major temple of Nippur, as did the Ur III period (2100-2000 BC) kings, even as their kingdom fell into decline. During the Isin-Larsa period, rival kings continued to claim authority based on their possession of Nippur. Changing environmental conditions during the reign of Hammurapi probably altered the course of the Euphrates, and caused the abandonment of sites south of Nippur. After the Old Babylonian kingdom (1800-1595 BC), Nippur fell into decline until the growth of Kassite Babylonia in the 14th-13th centuries BC. Kassite Nippur was a cosmopolitan city, with important administrative and religious institutions. When Nippur was sacked by the Elamites at the end of the 13th century, the city began a second long decline. Records after this period are scarce until the middle of the 8th century, when Nippur was under Neo-Assyrian control. During this period Nippur was an important regional trade center surrounded by Chaldean and Aramaean semi-nomadic tribes. In the Neo-Babylonian period, Nippur’s status declined once again until the Parthian period.

Excavations on the East Mound

Tablet Hill

Tablet Hill is the findspot of the majority of the thousands of cuneiform documents that were recovered from the early Pennsylvania campaigns. Later campaigns undertook stratigraphic excavations in two trenches, extending from the latest Achaemenid levels to the Akkadian period. The result of these systematic excavations was the establishment of a standard ceramic chronology for the historical periods of lower Mesopotamia. More recent excavations of new trenches in Tablet Hill have refined the occupation history of Nippur, and helped to define the period of abandonment between the Old Babylonian and the Late Kassite periods (c. 13th century BC).

The two trenches in Tablet Hill also contained remains of private houses, and possibly an administrative building (House J) from Levels VI-XI of the Ur III period.

The Ziggurat Complex

The Enlil Temple

Within the Ekur, the Enlil Temple lies on the southeast side of the ziggurat which was founded by Ur-Nammu around 2100 BC, and successively rebuilt by kings in later periods. The main temple to Enlil probably sat on top of the ziggurat itself, and the excavators concluded that the temple southwest of the ziggurat was a kitchen temple, used primarily to prepare offerings that would have been presented to the god in the main temple atop the ziggurat.

The Parthian Fortress

In the first and second centuries AD, a fortress was built on top of the ziggurat. The last of the three phases of the fortress included four iwans, large vaulted halls open on one side.

The North Temple

At the northernmost tip of the Eastern Mound, excavators found a temple that had been in continuous use from the Early Dynastic I period (2900-2750 BC) (and possibly earlier) to the Akkadian period. The plan is similar to other Early Dynastic temples from the Diyala region, with a courtyard, food preparation rooms, and a long shrine with benches, offering tables, and an altar. After the Akkadian period, the building was no longer used for religious functions.

The Inanna Temple

left|thumb|Inanna Temple Level VII (From Gibson et al. 1998-2001) {| align="right" border="1" cellpadding="2" width="200" !colspan="2"|Stratigraphic Sequence of the Inanna Temple

!width="50"|Level !width="200"|Period


The earliest excavated levels of the Inanna Temple date to the Middle Uruk period (4th millennium BC). Over twenty successive occupation levels continue through the late Parthian period (2nd century AD), and constitute the longest continuous archaeological sequence in Mesopotamia. The earliest Middle Uruk levels consist of large houses with a possible religious structure nearby. Analysis of the area during the following Jemdet Nasr (3300-2900 BC) period resulted in the identification of that period as a distinct phase in the history of Mesopotamia, rather than a subphase of the Uruk period as it had previously been understood.

Although the exact nature of the transformation of this area from a private domestic area to a religious area is unclear, the first temple structure appears in the later part of the Early Dynastic I period. This first Early Dynastic temple was a large building with altars, plastered floors and walls. This building was followed by a temple with two shrines; one shrine was constructed according to the traditional Sumerian bent-axis plan, in which a visitor had to make a 90 degree turn from the entrance way to face the altar; the other shrine followed a straight axis plan, with the entrance way located directly opposite the altar. The shrines were situated within a larger complex of courtyards and industrial workshops with fireplaces. From the Early Dynastic temple levels came several sculptures, clay plaques with scenes carved in relief, sealings, and other craft objects. Analysis of the Early Dynastic levels of The Inanna Temple led to crucial reanalysis of Early Dynastic chronology in southern Mesopotamia, which did not correspond to the sequence identified from earlier excavations in the Diyala region to the north.

left|thumb|Isometric plan of the Inanna Temple Level VII showing double shrines (From Hansen, 1962)The level IV temple, built by Shulgi in the Ur III period was a one hundred meter long monumental complex consisting of workshops, courtyards, a residential area, and shrines that probably followed the plan of the original two sanctuaries.

The Inanna temple continued to be used in the Isin-Larsa, Kassite, and Neo-Assyrian (900-612 BC) periods, but construction of the Parthian temple damaged these earlier levels. The fact that the Parthian temple followed the same general plan as the first Early Dynastic temple clearly illustrates the strength of the religious tradition associated wtih Nippur, and the continuity of sacred space and architecture there.

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Excavations on the West Mound

right|300px|thumb|Plan of Nippur, with Kassite map superimposed (from Gibson et al. 1998-2001)

In the early 1970's excavators concentrated heavily on the West Mound. In Area WA, they found a Neo-Babylonian temple, the latest phase of a series of temples dating back to the Ur III period. Finds in the Neo-Babylonian temple, including an inscription, dog figurines, and other figurines, indicate that this was the Temple of Gula, a healing goddess, or possibly the Temple of Gula and Ninurta, her husband. Zettler (2003, 11) notes that both Westenholz (1987, 97-98) and Gibson (1993, 15) locate the Ninurta temple on the West Mound rather than north of the Inanna temple on the East Mound as originally suggested by Zettler (1992, 16-17). It remains unclear, however, whether or not the temple of Ninurta from the Ur III period as attested in one of Shulgi's year names can be associated with the Neo-Babylonian temple of Gula. The phrase e2 gu-la in the Isin-Larsa administrative records must be interpreted as &lsquo;the big house&rsquo; in the absence of the divine determinative and Zettler denies the existence of any substantial evidence that links the e2 gu-la to the temple of Ninurta (Zettler 2003, 12, fn. 4; see George 1993, 96-97).

In Area WB, where 19th century excavations had found tablets from the Kassite period, excavators found evidence of occupation from the Old Babylonian period to the Neo-Assyrian period. The lowest levels had Old Babylonian private houses with texts recording economic transactions and baking activities. These houses were suddenly abandoned at the end of the Old Babylonian period. In the 13th century BC, a Kassite governor's palace was constructed, similar in plan to the palace at Dur Kurigalzu (Aqar Quf). In a later pit, an archive dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC was found inside a jar. The Assyrian governor's archive fills a substantial textual gap for that period.

In area WC, at the southwestern corner of the site, evidence for the city wall matches the wall depicted on a map of Nippur inscribed on a clay tablet in 1300 BC. The city wall in the western part of the city was constructed in several phases, beginning in the Ur III period. In the east, the city wall may have been constructed as early as the Early Dynastic I period, and the city would not have extended west beyond the Shatt en-Nil. Only in the Ur III period did the city expand to the Western Mound. During the Kassite period, large houses stood in area WC, and in the 6th-7th centuries BC, a new city wall and new houses were built there, including one large building that may have served a commercial function.

One of the most recently excavated areas, Area WF, provided an unbroken sequence from the Early Dynastic to the Ur III period. This sequence has helped to refine the understanding of the transition from the Early Dynastic to the Akkadian periods.


*Cole, S. Nippur in Late Assyrian Times c. 755-612 BC. State Archives of Assyria Studies 4. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corups Project, 1996. *Cole, S. Nippur IV: The Early Neo-Babylonian Governor’s Archive from Nippur. OIP 114. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996 *Ellis, M. deJ., ed. Nippur at the Centennial. RAI 35. Philadelphia, 1992 *George, Andrew. 1993. <i>House Most High: The Temples of Ancient Mesopotamia</i>. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. *Gibson, M. Excavations at Nippur: Eleventh Season. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1975. *Gibson, M. Excavations at Nippur: Twelfth Season. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978. *Gibson, M. "Nippur, Sacred City of Enlil, Supreme God of Sumer and Akkad." <i>al-Rafidan</i> 14: 1-18. *Gibson, M., D. P. Hanson, and R. L. Zettler. “Nippur B.” In Reallexicon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archëologie (RLA) 9. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1998-2001. *Goetze, Albrecht. "Akkad Dynasty Inscriptions from Nippur." <i>Journal of the American Oriental Society</i> 88(1): 54-59. *Hansen, D. P. The Relative Chronology of Mesopotamia. Part II. The Pottery Sequence at Nippur from the Middle Uruk to the End of the Old Babylonian Period (3400–1600 BC). In Chronologies in Old World Archaeology, ed. R. W. Ehrich, 201–213. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1965. *McCown, D. E. et al. Nippur I: Temple of Enlil, Scribal Quarter, and Soundings. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1967. *McCown, D. E. et al. Nippur II: The North Temple and Sounding E. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978. *Peters, J. P. Nippur or Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates. 2 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1897. *Stone, E. Nippur Neighborhoods. SAOC 44. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987. *Westenholz, Aage. 1987. <i>Old Sumerian and Old Akkadian Texts in Philadelphia, part 2</i>. CNI Publications 3. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen Press. *Zettler, R. L. Nippur III: Kassite Buildings in Area WC-I. OIP 111. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993. *Zettler, R.L. "Reconstructing the World of Ancient Mesopotamia." <i>JESHO</i> 46(1): 3-44.

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