Augusta McMahon with McGuire Gibson, Robert D. Biggs, David Reese, Pamela Vandiver & K. Aslihan Yener. Nippur V. the Early Dynastic to Akkadian Transition: The Area WF Sounding at Nippur

Article excerpt

AUGUSTA MCMAHON with McGUIRE GIBSON, ROBERT D. BIGGS, DAVID REESE, PAMELA VANDIVER & K. ASLIHAN YENER. Nippur V. The Early Dynastic to Akkadian Transition: the Area WF Sounding at Nippur (Excavations at Nippur volume V [McGuire Gibson, series editor], Oriental Institute Publications 129). xxxiv+174 pages, 12 figures, 193 plates, 78 tables. 2006. Chicago (IL): Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; 978-1-885923-38-7 hardback 55 [pounds sterling]. This publication can be downloaded for free as a pdf file from electronic.html

The moment Sargon, king of Agade, paraded the defeated Lugalzagesi, king of Uruk, in chains at the gate of the Temple of Enlil in Nippur marked the transfer of power from the Sumerian city states of the Early Dynastic (ED) period to the Akkadian 'world empire'. There has been and will continue to be much discussion about how, when, and even if, the effects of this essentially political and military event can be recognised in the archaeological record. The principal author of the publication under review, on the basis of a sondage through 19 distinct building levels excavated in Area WF at Nippur, identifies the transition in Level XVII.


The excavation took place in 1988 and 1989 and encountered levels dating from the Parthian (late first millennium BC) to the EDIIIa period (mid third millennium BC). The area of the sounding at the surface was 10 x 10m, but by the time the excavation had reached a depth of 12m the area had been reduced to 5 x 4.5m. Earlier levels could not be investigated. The investigation presented a challenge to the excavators: the recognition of fragmentary mud-brick walls and of intercutting pits is not simple and the report records numerous uncertainties in the stratigraphy and admits, commendably, that sometimes the original interpretation was wrong and as a result the phasing has been revised. The risk of collapse in such a deep excavation was great and in the preface the director of the project, McGuire Gibson, expresses his relief that no serious accident had occurred (p. xxi).

A further problem was that, starting at about 8m below the surface, the stratified occupation layers were disturbed by numerous burials, so that in Level XIV (securely dated to the Late Akkadian period) the burials, the walls, and the associated floors each occupied about a third of the excavated area. Initially it was thought that these burials belonged to a single complex labelled Burial 14. Subsequent analysis of the pottery led the excavator to assign 5 of the 8 skeletons to different phases, though one exceptional 'two-lobed burial', containing one equid, three sheep and three human skeletons, is published as a single burial (pp. 45-51).

The material presented in this volume formed the major part of McMahon's 1993 Chicago doctoral thesis and two years later a preliminary report on the sondage was published (Gibson & McMahon 1995). These works too refer to the transition from the ED to the Akkadian periods in their titles. In 1997 Donald Matthews pointed out that, according to the then generally accepted dating of the finds, Level XVII dates to the beginning of the EDIIIb period and the transition from the ED to the Akkadian period occurred between levels XV and XIV (Matthews 1997; see response by Gibson & McMahon 1997). In an article published in 2001 I suggested that the 'two-lobed phase' of Burial 14 was in fact at least two separate burials, since Skeleton 3 was found with typical ED pottery and Skeleton 2 with typical Late Akkadian pottery and a Late Akkadian seal, and proposed, in an attempt to resolve additional stratigraphic problems, that the occupation levels dating to the late ED and early Akkadian periods had been removed in the late Akkadian period when level XIV was constructed (Roaf 2001). …