Ur Digitization Project: June 2014

Combining Maps and More at Ur
Spotlight on Domestic Burials in Area AH
Observing patterns in spatial data at Ur with Geographic Information Systems

I’m always happy when I can demonstrate the value of our project. We’re working with old data on even older objects, spending a lot of time and money organizing and reconnecting them; why do we do it? Countless books, dissertations, reports, and articles have already been published about Ur. Isn’t it all done?

If you’ve followed these blog posts, you already know the answer is no, it hasn’t been all done—research is investigation and re-investigation, and access to both new and old data is essential if we are to look again into what we think we know. All of the current reports about Ur still do not come close to covering everything there is to cover about the ancient city. Furthermore, there is no complete bibliography of Ur. That alone is a worthwhile task, counting the countless to arrive at a list of books, reports and other writings about this most important site.

We are working on creating that list, but even when it is complete and even if we could put a digital copy of every article online (which we may not be able to do in many cases), people would still only have access to what we knew, or thought we knew. There is still much to learn by reading these reports, testing them against the data, or coming up with new theories based on the data themselves. But even the primary reports of the site do not list all the data. Many of the less-spectacular artifacts, the partial buildings, the damaged graves, and other information of the sort, was deemed less important than the more complete, and thus was never published, or only cursorily mentioned. This is why the field notes and field catalogues are so important.

As a demonstration of just how much was not covered in the reports, let’s look briefly at graves in area AH. Edward Luby at SUNY Stonybrook wrote a most interesting dissertation in 1990 showing that Woolley only published 94 of at least 173 graves he found in this area of about 7,000 square meters–this means that only around half the discovered burials were ever published. If you read Woolley’s final reports and don’t have access to Luby’s dissertation, you might well think that 94 was the total number of burials in AH. And if Dr. Luby had not gotten access to the field notes through the British Museum, he might have thought that as well. Even though his research and analysis was very good, we can now represent it in an even more dynamic fashion with Geographic Information Systems, and we can check the data, re-plot it, and reunite it with artifacts from the field catalogues.

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Those in red are listed in UE 7.

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Those in red are listed in UE 7.

Here is a rough display of the overall distribution of graves from the area. In this case, each dot represents a grave of some type. These are not the royal tombs that Woolley wrote so much about, but burials beneath the floors of houses, primarily of the Old Babylonian period (roughly 1700BCE). Sometimes they were vaulted chambers wherein many family members were buried, other times they were simple pit inhumations, pot burials, or larnax burials (a larnax is a clay coffin of sorts, much in the shape of a bathtub, often turned upside down over the body).

When the burials are coded into a Geographic Information System, their locations are connected to a database of other kinds of information, so we can select and display specific groups: type of burial, burials containing particular artifacts, ones that have been looted, ones that are facing a particular direction, or any other coded condition from the notes. In the above example, the yellow dots represent graves that were not published in Woolley’s final Ur Excavations volumes, or that were so vaguely mentioned as to be unidentifiable without the field notes (these are graves that did not receive an LG number in the list of graves at the back of UE 7). Among these are some where even the exact location is in question—but the database also records how confidently we can assign location and on what information that location is based. Eventually we will move from dots to outlines of known graves where they are confidently placed and will add maps of the bones and artifacts

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Yellow dots represent infant burials.

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Yellow dots represent infant burials.inside the grave wherever it was recorded to that level of detail.

As an example of distribution analysis (plotting items of particular types and looking for patterns) I show another image at right. In this case, the yellow dots represent infant burials. Woolley did not always record age or gender of the skeleton (he did not have a physical anthropologist with him and he did not save many of the bones) but he did record infant and child graves separately. Almost all of them are pot burials, i.e. the body was placed inside a pot and buried beneath the floor. And with these burials, we see a definite spatial pattern. Some houses have a large number of them, typically appearing in a small room behind the domestic chapel (there is a thin blue circle around groupings in the image at left). Not all houses had their own chapel, but many did, and this was the place to bury those who died at such an early age. In Area EM there is one house with more than 30 infant burials.

Infant mortality was likely quite high at Ur, but whether there is sufficient data to analyze the proportion remains to be seen. Indeed, there is a great deal we can learn from this and other data, so long as access is provided. Our project holds the express aim of providing that access.

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Identifying the Tejaprabha Mural

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the mural depicting Tejaprabha Buddha originally came into the museum and was published with the central figure identified as Sakyamuni Buddha.  However a few years later someone noticed that one of the figures on the left was holding a small book with an inscription on it.  It was thought this could shed some light on the identities of the figures in the mural. Unfortunately, some of the characters were illegible and so it was hard to make out what the book actually said.

Sutra Detail

Detail of a Bodhisattva holding a sutra

In an article by Helen Fernald she writes that a J.E. Lodge [John Ellerton Lodge] was able to make out the characters after some experimental photography. They read:


An abridgment of: 佛說熾盛光大威德消災吉祥陀羅尼經

Translation: Buddha’s teachings concerning the dispelling of calamities

Translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra (471-771 CE)

This is actually the title of a sutra, or Buddhist teaching.  Once we know the title of the sutra it becomes fairly easy to  get the rest of the text.  There are multiple online repositories that have compiled the Buddhist canon for scholars and lay people alike.  They are almost always in Chinese or Japanese but once you work your way through them you can see what the sutra is about and make out who is being depicted in the mural.   Aschwin Lippe published the complete name of the sutra in English:

“Sutra Spoken by the Buddha, [giving] the Mantra of the Gold-Wheel Buddha-head of Great Virtue,Tejaprabha Tathagata, Which Dispels All Calamities.”¹

Sutra close-up2

Close up showing the near illegible characters

So now we have the name of the Buddha, Tejaprabha mentioned in the sutra title and visible in the middle of the mural.  But who else is in the mural?  A small excerpt from the sutra was translated by Alexander C. Soper which describes who should perform ritual rites to the Buddha in order to avoid cosmic calamity:

Practice of the rites described therein is recommended for “all monarchs, their great ministers and dependents, and the common people as a whole, who may suffer the oppression of the sun, moon, five planets, Rahu, Ketu, comets, (or other) portents and malign stars.”²

The rest of the figures fall into place now, the sun, moon, five planets, and Rahu and Ketu all of whom surround Tejaprabha in his paradise.  Now we just need to identify each celestial figure based on their iconography.  A task I will tackle in a later post.


¹Lippe, Aschwin. “Buddha and the Holy Multitude.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 23, no. 9, part 1 (May, 1965).

²Soper, Alexander C. Hsiang-kuo-ssŭ: An Imperial Temple of Northern Sung.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, v.68, no. 1 (Jan-Mar.1948).

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Hot pepper and ice – and the earliest photograph of soccer north of the Arctic Circle

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has begun in Brazil this afternoon.  Since it is being played in a tropical country this year, the Penn Museum Archives thought it fitting to show what is most likely the earliest photograph of a soccer game played north of the Arctic Circle.


Iñupiat children playing soccer on the ice, Point Barrow, Alaska. Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny, 1897-1898.
Penn Museum image no. 143224

Taken at Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost spot in the United States, in 1897-1899, by Edward Avery McIlhenny, this image clearly shows a number of Iñupiat children playing with a ball on the ground.  Can we say for certain that it is soccer?  We’ll leave it to readers to decide.

Edward Avery McIlhenny was an accomplished ornithologist, though he is best known for being the son of Edmund McIlhenny, the founder of the Tabasco Sauce Company, which E. A. inherited and is still in operation today on Avery Island, Louisiana.  Below is a letter from McIlhenny to Stewart Culin, director of the Penn Museum at the time, written on the company letterhead.


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I Spy with My Little Eye…

One of the most amazing aspects of Buddhist murals condition survey is that it does not get boring. We are constantly discovering more details and quirks. While a regular, sharp-eyed museum visitor can see many of these details, some are impossible to truly appreciate without being fifteen feet tall and two feet from the mural. Take for example the design on the instrument being held by a female figure to the left of the Buddha in Tejaprabha and Assembly (C492).

Pipa Girl

Anyone can see there is a pattern on its surface, but this Chinese lute (also called a pipa) is simply too high off the ground for anyone to discern the small and intricate design.

Lute Design comparison

Left: Detailed close-up image of the pipa in C492.
Right: Digital illustration of the design.

However there are many other details, some right at eye level for many of our visitors, which go unnoticed due to the overwhelming nature of the murals. Towards the center of C492 the tiered base on which the Buddha sits has what appears to be a winged monk incorporated into the design

Monk in Base comparison

Left: Close up image of the design as visible on the base of the seat of the Buddha in C492. While a figure is clearly visible, some of the detail is not clear due to deterioration.
Right: The same image as to the left with the clearest lines highlighted.

This could be a human-headed bird referred to as a kalavinka or karyobinga. There is similar imagery depicted in a related mural at the Royal Ontario Museum.

C:Scratchpad 056

This section of The Paradise of Maitreya wall painting on exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto includes a kalavinka as part of the heavenly scenery.

Fabrics worn by the figures in these murals were also meticulously executed. They could easily be simple solid colors and no one would consider them less than ornate, yet in many cases there are layers of clothes that are decorated as if to represent embroidered fabric. If you look closely you can see a figure and a lion in the example below from Bhaisajyaguru and Assembly (C688).

Griffin illustration comparison2

Left: Close up of a general’s robe in the lower left portion of C688.
Right: Digital illustration of the remaining original lines.

So next time you are in the Rotunda, take a longer look at the little things. You may find something that even we haven’t noticed yet!

Acknowledgements: Work on the Buddhist Mural Conservation Survey in supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and Michael Feng and Winnie Chin Feng.

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Looking for a good book this summer?

“There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.”

-Eyes and Ears, 1862
Henry Ward Beecher

Now that the summer vacation season is upon us, it is time to draw up a summer reading list for those sun-drenched days at the beach or for those random afternoon thunderstorms. Since there are so many books out there and so little time, I asked the staff, keepers, and curators of the museum for some recommendations. They did not disappoint! The following list includes both fiction and nonfiction books and all are related to the fields of archaeology and anthropology.

Naomi Miller a Consulting Scholar in the Near East Section offered a few great classics from Agatha Christie alongside some other entertaining works of fiction an non-fiction.


  • Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie, a classic roman à clef
  • They Came to Baghdad, also by Agatha Christie, which has more Middle East atmosphere than MiM
  • Come Tell Me How You Live, for Agatha Christie fans, her memoir.
    [As most archaeologists know, AC was married to Sir Max Mallowan, Near Eastern archaeologist, and she accompanied him on digs]
  • Gilgamesh, the King, by Robert Silverberg (about a guy who thinks he’s a god, but he’s not crazy)
  • Guests of the Sheikh, by Elizabeth Fernea, described by a colleague as a memoir about what goes on in a harem (that’s an oversimplification, but still…)

DM_motelStephen Lang, the Lyons Keeper of Collections in our Asian sections enthusiastically added, Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay.  From reading some reviews, this book sounds like a hilarious novel that follows an amateur archaeologist who, in 4022, finds a “sealed” hotel room from 1985 that he interprets to be a burial chamber, complete with an inner chamber (or bathroom).


Jane Hickman, editor of Expedition magazine, suggested a recent publication of the Women’s Committee. Culinary Expeditions: A Celebration of Food and Culture which used the museum’s collections as inspiration for the recipes. As a cookbook that nourishes both the mind and the belly, it delves into the ancient history of familiar dishes like hummus, succotash, spring rolls, and more!

MC_timelineJim Mathieu, who does too many things here at the museum to list, added Timeline by Michael Crichton as recommended summer reading.  In addition to being a thriller with a complex plot, Timeline plays with concepts of experimental archaeology and time-travel that allow archaeologists to “witness” the ancient events they study.


Shawn Hyla, our resident “IT guy” who just finished a degree in archaeology at Penn, reflected on all of the books he read in pursuing that degree and offered, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and The Battle for Native American Identity. Shawn chose it because the book offers a detailed look inside the archeological process while tackling a complex and controversial topic.

Finally for my reading list! Since my background is in history, I am not well versed in the methodology of anthropology or archeology. So I’ve searched out a few “crossovers” for myself this summer. I tried to identify books that will bridge my interests in food and cultural history with anthropology and archaeology.

    • RE_dayscloseAt Day’s Close: Night In Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch.  Because a history of the Western world’s troubled past with the nocturnal hours is utterly fascinating.
    • The Comanche Empire by P. Hämäläinen. I read, actually I skimmed, this book in grad school, but was so impressed by the depth of research and methodology that it deserves a more thorough read.
    • The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century by F. Errington, T. Fukikura, and D. Gewertz.  This book is about the development of instant noodles and the cultures that created, adapted, or adopted them to satisfy their own circumstances, either as symbols of poverty, modernity, or transformation.

So if you follow our recommendations or choose your own, let us know.  Leave a comment on what you thought or what other books you are reading!

Happy summer reading to all!

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Archives Photo of the Week: Mustache.


Portrait of George Byron Gordon, Museum’s first full-time director from 1910-27.
Penn Image #162272

The Penn Museum Archives is home to the archival collections of the directors of the museum. As you might guess, we have quite the fondness for them. None are more dear to me than George Byron Gordon and for one reason: that glorious, magnificent, noble mustache.

Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1910 until his death, Gordon joined the staff of the Museum in 1903 as Assistant Curator of the Section of General Ethnology. He oversaw the largest period of growth in the history of the Museum:  three wings were added to the original 1899 Museum building, including the Harrison Rotunda, the Coxe Egyptian Wing, and the Administrative Wing. The collections saw a multifold increase, as well as the Museum’s involvement in the field. He organized many expeditions worldwide for the Museum. Gordon was the first to establish regular courses in Anthropology at the University. He also established The Museum Journal.

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Dispatches from Iraqi Kurdistan: Banahilk

Hello again from Iraqi Kurdistan! It’s been almost two weeks since my last post. In that time, we’ve been very busy getting the project started. When people think about archaeology, they don’t envision archaeologists sitting in government offices and drinking tea. However, this is a common and necessary activity across all digs in the region, especially when a dig is just beginning. Each year it’s necessary to visit all of the important people, make sure that everything is in order, and set-up the house before the rest of the dig staff arrive. Since RAP is only in its second year, we’ve had more than our fill of these activities. We’ve been hard at work finding a house, buying equipment, and taking care of our residency cards. Although the process can sometimes be exasperating, we’ve gotten quite a few good stories out of it. However, Daniel Patterson, a fellow Penn team member, has written a post for this blog on these adventures, so I won’t steal his thunder.

Gird-i Dasht

Gird-i Dasht

In addition to running around, we’ve also begun excavations at two sites: Gird-i Dasht and Banahilk. Gird-i Dasht, a large mound in the Diyana Plain near Soran, is the primary site that we’re here to excavate. So far, we’ve only been there two days, so I’ll have more to say about that later. Alongside Gird-i Dasht, we’ve been working for a week at Banahilk at the request of the Soran Directorate of Antiquities. Patty Jo Watson previously worked at the site over the course of 10 days in 1954 as part of the Iraq-Jarmo project. Her excavations uncovered pottery and other remains from the Halaf period, which dates to the 6th millennium BCE. People have also been living and working there much more recently. During the British Mandate (1928–1932), the British built an airbase nearby, which was also used by the Iraqi Army after Iraq achieved independence. During Watson’s work in 1954, occupation around it was more sparse. However, during our visit to Banahilk last year, we discovered that almost all of the site is now under houses. Further, some of it had been bulldozed in order to level it out for further construction. This year, we were asked to work around the edges of the site in order to determine the depth of deposit and where to prohibit further construction.

The remains of a bulldozer cut at Banahilk

The remains of a bulldozer cut at Banahilk

We currently have one operation active at Banahilk, a 3×4 meter trench on the north side of the mound. This trench is in an area where the mound was bulldozed, removing later occupation from the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. Beneath the surface debris, we’ve spent most of our time digging through a series of Halaf trash deposits rich in pottery, chipped stone (including obsidian), and bone. The Halaf period is well-known for its painted pottery, which can be both very fine and elaborately decorated. The material from Banahilk does not disappoint. There is a range of both monochrome and polychrome decoration, including different types of cross-hatching and diamonds with dots within them. The pottery is even more impressive when one realizes that all of it was made by hand. Wheel-made pottery doesn’t appear in the region until the 4th millennium BCE.

Like Watson, our time at Banahilk will not be very long. Only the one operation is planned for this season. However, there is the possibility that a joint project between Salahaddin University in Erbil and the University of Barcelona will return to Banahilk to more thoroughly explore what remains of the site. This is fortunate, because our excavation and survey in the area indicate that parts of the site are still relatively intact. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more soon about the light that this site can shed on life in early villages along the hilly flanks of the Zagros Mountains.

The excavation team at Banahilk

The excavation team at Banahilk

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Are We Hard Wired To Collect?

Deer, Parrot, Chief, and Owl <em>katsinam</em> in the Wolf collection.

Deer, Parrot, Chief, and Owl katsinam in the Wolf collection.

When talking to school kids visiting the Museum, I love to ask them if they collect anything?  Their hands fly up in the air and they eagerly describe their personal treasures of rocks, key chains, Pokemon or baseball cards, bottle caps, and state quarters.

When I was a kid I collected stuffed octopi.  Seriously – I couldn’t have made that up.  Each June my great aunt Louisa gave me one for my birthday.  I had seven of them and in the morning before school I arranged them carefully – one by one on by bed, so their legs weren’t touching.  Years later my son Bengt’s first stick collection lived in the back of my Saab.  Believe me, I had no hand in it!  His collection grew and grew, and each stick held a story.  I was happy when he made the move to Zuni fetish carvings, and I definitely supported his interests.

As  Curator and Keeper of one of the world’s most impressive collections of American Indian material culture, I think about collecting a lot.   Penn Museum’s American Section houses 300,000 things of everyday life made by the Indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South America.  I like to compare it to a library – each thing has a number, a detailed catalog description, and best of all a detailed story.  Find its number and shelf location, and you’re in business.

Visitors often ask “where did you get all this stuff?”  Of  course, collecting is a big part of the answer and at the heart of the idea of museums more broadly. We’re definitely hard wired to collect.  People like to gather things together.  Things tell our stories and hold our dreams as individuals, and as nations in the form of museums.   Collecting, as we museum people know it, began as a scientific endeavor as a way to catalog and understand our world.  Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Alfred Barnes, Frederica de Laguana, and George Heye, just to name a few, wanted to expand their knowledge.  They also wanted to preserve.  And it’s still going on today.  The Penn Museum systematically gathers collections and information with deliberate goals of recording, understanding, comparing, and preserving the peoples, histories, and complexities of our world.

In addition to building our collections and knowledge through anthropological research and excavation, we rely on the generosity of individuals to expand our holdings.   With the recent opening of our Native American Voices exhibition, one of our newest collections that is getting a lot of play behind the scenes exemplifies the important role of individual donors in the growth of our Museum.

A few years ago, we received a call from Richard Wolf, a talented gentleman who makes his living composing music.  Moving to a new home, he asked if the Museum might like his contemporary Hopi kachina (or as the Hopi say, Katsinam) collection, and invited us to come and take a look.  Given the paucity of modern examples in our collection, we eagerly crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge and knocked on his door.

For many summers Richard and his wife Pat traveled to the Southwest to vacation and visit friends and colleagues in Arizona and New Mexico.  Combining their knowledge, keen interest, and terrific eye, they added a new katsina carving to their personal collection each year.  In time, they assembled a stunning pantheon of contemporary carvings by named artists.

Katsinam are Hopi spirit beings.  They represent supernatural entities like animals, stars, and clouds, for example, that bring blessings to our world.  Hopi men create wooden carvings in the likeness of the spirit beings, and on important occasions give them to their young children as gifts.  Hung in their homes, katsina carvings teach children about relationships and their responsibilities in the world around them.  Some Hopi artists also make katsinam for sale.   Thanks to Richard’s thoughtful generosity, his collection is now preserved in the Penn Museum where it is being used to teach our Philadelphia audiences about Native American and Hopi communities today.

Many collections are offered to the Museum each year.   Curators and Keepers review donation proposals carefully, and the Museum selectively accepts items of the highest quality that augment our collections and support our institutional goals in meaningful ways.

If you have a passion for an aspect of material culture, learn more about the people who made or continue to make it today and consider building and documenting a collection of your own.  And by all means, continue to encourage your kids on their paths of collecting – who knows, those quirky early interests might some day surprise you and play a role for future generations.

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Ur of the Chaldees Digitization: May 2014

Combining Maps and More at Ur
Spotlight on matching maps, satellite imagery, and aerial photos
Observing connections in spatial data with Geographic Information Systems

I’ve been in Iraq for the past two weeks. Part of that time has been spent teaching Iraqi archaeologists from Mosul University some of the latest techniques in analysis of archaeological data, and I’ve been using sample data from my work on Ur to do this. I’m accomplishing multiple tasks in this way: demonstrating the use of Geographic Information Systems and analyzing the site through the notes and maps that Sir Leonard Woolley created. GIS takes spatial data and displays patterns as well as quantifies connections in that data. We’re not yet to the point in our grant where we will be tackling the spatial element in full, but I’ve made an exploratory foray into it to pave the way, to show the power of GIS, and to help teach others.

The first step is collecting the maps to be analyzed. I’ve been analyzing these for some time, and I’ve made several blog entries about them. One thing I’ve found in reanalyzing my work and gathering them for the GIS is that I make mistakes (not that this was shocking to me; let’s just hope I can catch them in continued reanalysis). I was wrong when I said that the grid on Woolley’s maps wasn’t placed there until the 50s or 60s. It was there in the final map drawn at the end of the season in 1931. But this is the earliest indication I can find and it seems to have been placed there by the architect putting all of the maps together into one larger one of the entire site, rather than the way we would do it today, by setting a grid even before excavation begins. The notes almost never reference this grid—almost. The final Ur season shows the only indication of reporting finds to square on the site grid, and then only in the widely spread area known as CLW, the city wall. There are references to smaller grids Woolley sometimes put within a large building, but the larger site grid is another matter. I’ve also found that my estimation of original excavation house numbers may be slightly off, especially as concerns House number 7 (one I thought to be securely located). As we dig deeper into old records, we often find our first indications were wrong. The way to progress is to own up to these errors and move on with the new, more accurate assessments.

The next step is geo-referencing the old maps and photos. Geo-referencing places a map on the globe by linking identifiable points on it to their UTM coordinates. I’ve used a QuickBird satellite image taken in 2010 to help me with this, with the additional assistance of Google Earth.

Three images of Ur to be linked to global coordinates

Three images of Ur to be linked to global coordinates

Overlay of pictures can be accomplished in programs like Photoshop, but true connection to global coordinates cannot. Furthermore, accurate scaling in the many directions to compensate for potential warping at the edge of old camera lenses or slight errors in map grid-lines would also be very difficult in such a program.

Once I have a base map that’s keyed to the globe as accurately as possible, I can then add many other maps, as well as aerial photos taken while excavation was underway and other spatial data from notes and publications. This assists me and all archaeologists and historians who want to know more about Ur and the way it was excavated in many ways—especially in locating the earliest trenches. Woolley didn’t map these in, but he often tells us that something was found, for example, in TTA or TTB. These are references to Trial Trench A and Trial Trench B, the first he excavated, and we have an aerial photo taken in 1922 that shows both.

Overlain images with outline of original Trial Trenches

Overlain images with outline of original Trial Trenches. TTA is in the south.

But there’s so much more that can be done with GIS that it almost boggles the mind. I’ll make another post at the end of June about some of the other capabilities; since I’m in Iraq, it may have to be short. Unfortunately, I’m not at Ur, since it’s still politically difficult to get permission as an American to go to southern Iraq. I’m in the northeast, the Kurdish controlled area, but I hope to go to the Sulaimaniya Museum to see their objects from Ur at some point while here.

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A Light Gone Out

Indian Country lost a legend this month with the passing of Billy Frank Jr. (1930-2014).  Arrested for fishing on more than 50 occasions during his life time, Frank stood firmly for Civil Rights.  A man with clear vision and staunch determination, Frank walked with humility, strength and extraordinary kindness.

During the “fish wars” of the 1960s and 70s, and first when he was just 14 years old, Frank repeatedly reminded authorities that in the 1850s his tribe ceded two million acres of land in exchange for the right to fish the rivers of Washington State.  In 1974, Judge G.H. Boldt ruled with startling and historic force that Frank and the tribe were correct – that Indian people had a right not only to fish for salmon, but that they should become co-managers of the fisheries, with the state.  The Supreme Court’s support of that ruling transformed fishing in the Northwest Coast.

I am so glad that Billy Frank is featured in our Native American Voices gallery.  Stop by and listen – you can find him on the tower.

Read his New York Times obituary here:


Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually Tribe (1930-2014).

Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually Tribe (1930-2014).

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