Tepe Gawra Excavations

Originally Published in 1935

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THE Joint Expedition of the University Museum and the American Schools of Oriental Research now working at Tepe Gawra is steadily pushing back the threshold of Mesopotamian culture. The season’s first report from Mr. Charles Bache, the field director, is at hand and is summarised below.

GREAT progress has been made in clearing the eleventh level below the original surface of the mound. In addition to a conspicuous temple, similar in ground plan to the now well-known temples of the later settlements, the city of level XI has been found to contain private houses, household pottery, spindles and loom-weights for weaving, hammer-stones, hones, knives and scrapers for such local industries as leather-working and basket-making, a community oven, combs, mortars for ointment and bottles for kohl with which the women prepared their faces-abundant remains of the domestic life of the people. This is in sharp contrast to the discoveries of the previous campaign, which showed levels X and IX to have been occupied solely by isolated temples and dwellings for the priests. During these periods the village proper must have been situated in the plain below.

Excavated hearth and chamber with workmen in the background
Plate II — The Tepe Gawra Expedition
The Central Chamber of the Temple in Level XI, showing the Hearth

Still more important than these results of excavations in the city proper has been the happy find of a number of unrifled tombs of this period. The bodies had been placed in wooden coffins and buried in built graves of mud-brick reinforced by wooden posts and reed matting. With them were reverently placed their most valued personal possessions and the last gifts of their friends: stamp-seals, pottery and stone vessels, weapons, a wolf’s head of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, and rosettes, beads and other ornaments of gold; also beads of shell and various semi-precious stones; carnelian, obsidian, turquoise and lapis-lazuli-the latter evidence of commerce with the only known quarries of this stone in far-off Afghanistan. One tomb contained over 25,000 beads which when restrung make a strand forty-five meters long and perhaps belong to a jacket of beadwork. This type of find will assist in arriving at dates for parallel cultures at other sites, and the discovery of gold at this remote epoch is most important.

A man sitting by an excavated oven, a marble vase, and object in the shape of a crude wolf's head
Plate II — Tepe Gawra
An Oven in Level XI; a Marble jar; a Wolf’s Head of Electrum

Systematic work was started at Tepe Gawra in the spring of 1931 by Dr. Speiser, as an offshoot of the excavation of Tell Billa, and continued in later campaigns under the leadership of Mr. Bache. Beginning with the latest occupation, a Hurrian village of the fifteenth century B. C., work has proceeded steadily downward until ten cultures have been recorded and cleared away. Since level X has been assigned to the middle of the fourth millennium B. C. it is anticipated that level XI may prove to go back to 3750; it is already certain that it is far older than the culture of the Royal Tombs at Ur. For some time it has been certain that Northern Mesopotamian mounds will produce far older cultures than those of Babylonia, for the land there was inhabitable for long centuries before the Chaldean plain dried back from the Tigris and Euphrates floods. Trial trenches run by Dr. Speiser in 1927 showed that about twenty levels then awaited the excavator’s spade; before the remaining nine are completed we are sure to find ourselves well back in the fifth millennium before Christ.

It is gratifying to observe that the quality of the workmanship of the people is not progressively inferior as successively earlier levels are reached; both the building construction and the pottery of level XI are the equal of those of succeeding cultures.

Six rosettes, an oblong stone, and two small objects in the shape of an eye
Plate II — Tepe Gawra
Gold Rosettes and “Eye” Ornaments and a “Hone” of Stone and Gold

Cite This Article

"Tepe Gawra Excavations." Museum Bulletin V, no. 5 (March, 1935): 34-36. Accessed May 29, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/1521/

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