Rebuilding Eden in the Land of Eridu

Posted in: Ancient Near East Today, ASOR
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By Marco Ramazzotti

The site of Eridu had a special place in the Mesopotamian tradition. In Babylonian literature the relevance of Eridu was always more religious than political. For example, in the Sumerian King List the gods first handed kingship down to Eridu. In Babylonian mythology Eridu was founded by the god Enki/Ea, who warned Zuisudra, the Sumerian Noah, about the flood. Moreover, the central core of the site of Eridu, whose name became later interchangeable with Babylon, was Enki/Ea’s temple, called the House of the Aquifer. But what about the archaeology of Eridu?

Map showing location of Eridu (Wikimedia Commons)

Satellite image of the mound 1 at Eridu (© Google Earth 2008)

The Weld-Blundell prism, copy of the Sumerian King List (© Oxford, Ashmolean Museum)

The Enki Temple at Eridu: an hypothetical reconstruction (Rice 1984)

Eridu is situated about 12 kilometres south-southwest of Ur (Tell Muqayyar) and comprises seven mounds. Across more than 8,000 years settlement at Eridu shifted over more than 25 square kilometres. Though today it is located in the desert, in antiquity Eridu’s principal ecological asset was the southern Iraqi marshland, an ecology that has been dramatically altered since the 1970s.

The first topography of the of the Eridu Landscape
(Safar et al. 1981)

The geological setting of the of the Eridu Hinterland
(Safar et al. 1981)

The Marsh-Arab southern Iraqi village in the Marshland (© Der Spiegel 1974)

The archaeological significance of Eridu is also related to the deep stratigraphy of its principal mound (Abu Shahrein), explored in the 1940s by pioneering archaeologists Fuad Safar and Seton Lloyd, which revealed the oldest southern Mesopotamian temple. It is also related to the fundamental pottery study by Joan Oates of the Eridu assemblages that created a guideline to understand the passage between the prehistory and history of the ancient Near East, including the Sumerians entry onto the historical stage.

 

The Eridu first Temple, Level XVI (Safar et al. 1981)

Mound 1 from south-east
(Photo by M. Ramazzotti)

Ubaid painted motifs (Vth millennium BCE), pottery from the Mound 1 at Eridu (Photo by M. Ramazzotti)

Protohistoric bowls (IVth millennium BCE) on the Mound 1 surface at Eridu (Photo by M. Ramazzotti)

The image of Eridu as an isolated religious cathedral in the desert was also dramatically revised by the Oriental Institute of Chicago surveys in central-southern Mesopotamia, particularly the Ur and Eridu regional survey directed by Henry Wright. This undisputed guide to land use on the Central Floodplain of the Euphrates was changed again during the 1990s by different experimental studies on complex systems, and specifically those focusing on simulation of Mesopotamian settlement patterns using advanced computational methods.

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