Ur Digitization Project: February 2014

Site Records
Mapping Woolley’s Notes
Spotlight on Letter Designators for area excavations found in Ur notes and reports

As we go through Woolley’s field notes from his excavations at the ancient city of Ur we learn more and more, not just about the buildings and artifacts he found, but about the way in which he approached the site and its excavation.

NB: So much of this would not be possible without the assistance of our many UrCrowdsource.org volunteers and students who diligently transcribe, tag and/or edit the notes into digitally searchable text. We are sincerely grateful to all of you!

Among the most notable features of the field cards are the labels Woolley used to identify certain areas as he excavated them. In publications he almost never refers to these designators, and therefore putting the notes into context within the published maps is all the more difficult. Furthermore, no preliminary maps showing these designators have been found either at Penn or at the British Museum.

The latest Ur volumes, published long after close of excavations and even after the death of Sir Leonard in 1960, show a grid overlain on the site. This grid was never in use during excavations; it was placed over the maps in the 50s or 60s in an effort to better locate certain buildings and to discuss the site as a whole. A few of the areas were then transcribed into grid coordinates, but not nearly all of them. Listings of some of these areas appear at the beginning of the latest volumes, Ur Excavations 7, 8, and 9. These were published in 1976, 1965, and 1962 respectively. By this time, a few seem to have been recorded inconsistently and  incorrectly.

Map from UE7 showing Old Babylonian site with late grid placement: original designators have been placed over their excavation areas.

Old Babylonian Ur with grid addition: original designators have been placed over their excavation areas.

In an attempt to relocate the areas of work and thus to better match records to excavated space and objects to their findspots, we have now created a preliminary map with abbreviations placed over their locations (the base map for this image is the one published in UE 7, primarily showing the Old Babylonian period). As we investigate them more closely, we are also cracking Woolley’s code in creating them: each had a particular meaning. Long have I studied area AH, but not until recently did I realize that it stood for “Abraham’s Housing.” In this area, Woolley knew he had come down on a large extent of Old Babylonian houses and that this was the general time period in which the Patriarch Abraham might have lived at Ur. He frequently referred to Ur as the home of Abraham in newspaper and magazine articles in order to stir public imagination.

When he knew the ancient name of a building, Woolley would use that in his abbreviation. These ring strangely to the modern ear, names such as e-nun-mah, e-hursag, and dub-lal-mah. He found brick inscriptions of some of these and in some cases went hunting a particular building. This is especially true for the ehursag, the ‘palace of the mountain.’ Hall believed he had found it in 1919 but Woolley disagreed, thus Woolley’s EH designator actually falls on a housing area for temple officials; what he labeled HT (Hall’s Temple) was the ehursag all along.

Letter designators and their meanings (bold letters where known):

AH = Abraham’s Housing
BC = Bur-Sin Corner
CLW = Central Larsa Wall
EH = E-Hursag
EM = Extra Mural
ES = ???? E-nun-mah South?
FH = ????
HD = Hall’s Dump
HT = Hall’s Temple (also called DP = Dungi’s Palace)
KP = King’s Palace (actually the Giparu)
KPS = King’s Palace South
KW = Kassite Wall
LL = ???? Dub-Lal-Mah (also called DM?)
LW = Larsa Wall
NCF = North Corner Fort (also seen as NNCF,  Neo-Babylonian NCF)
NH = Neo-Babylonian Housing
NT = Nin-ezen Temple
PD = ???? (there is also a PDW here)
PG = Prehistoric Graves (or Private Graves)
PJ = extension of PG to find Jemdet Nasr graves
RS = Rim Sin temple
SM = ????
XNCF = outside(X) North Corner Fort
YC = Y Cemetery (along with X and Z, these were late graves near NCF)
ZT = Ziggurat Terrace

One of the first abbreviations I encountered when examining Woolley’s notes way back in 2003 was CLW and I was convinced it was simply his initials–Charles Leonard Woolley. As I began to see that it was attached to a particular area of the site, I wondered if people’s initials were used for different places. A few other designators could have worked for this, such as KW (Katharine Woolley) and LL (León Legrain), but there was no MM (Max Mallowan) and there were far too many letter combinations to fit the few westerners who were at the site. Slowly I found the actual meaning of most, though a few remain somewhat a mystery.

Some abbreviations seem to have been created after the fact, not being in common use during the excavations (like RS, for example). Furthermore, the last year or two of the excavation did not apparently see new designators, instead referring mainly to buildings by their full names assigned by Woolley as he became more familiar with types of structures and their usage. The main area for which we cannot find a true designator is that in the northeast of the site, the area of the North Harbor. Many have assumed the abbreviation NH stands for this, but Woolley is quite clear that NH designates the area of Neo-Babylonian Housing just west of area AH. He specifically states this in UE 9 page 44. Near the North Harbor are the North Temple (but the designator NT does not refer to this building) and the so-called Bel-Shalti-Nannar palace (no designator known).

Father Legrain made a list of most of the designators in use at the site in his unpublished manuscript on terracotta figurines. This is one of our best sources since it is so close in time to the actual excavation and he was on the site for two years. Nonetheless, he did get a few designators wrong, including area NH. He also includes DM for the Dublal-mah, and DP for Dungi’s Palace (E-hursag), but I have not seen these in use anywhere else.

Finally, Woolley dug a number of deep pits, sometimes labeled with the letter P (most in the area of the royal cemetery and would not fit on the map shown above). The most frequently referred to of all of these is PFT, or the Flood Pit, wherein were found many meters of silt. Woolley claimed in general interest articles that this was evidence of the great flood. He dug other deep pits such as Pit W and Pit X, but realized that designators beginning with P would be confusing due to area PG as the royal cemetery. Some scholars today refer to this area as RC, and some use MS for Mausoleum Site, but these were not in use in the excavations to designate space. Woolley did use RC for types of pottery found in the royal graves, but the site of the Ur III mausolea was always designated BC in the notes.

Maps like the one we are creating will help us to attach notes to physical space, connecting everything into a virtual reconstruction of the excavations at Ur and assisting researchers the world over. Thanks again to all those who have helped us thus far and here’s to continuing discoveries!


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