Kish (Uhaimir)

The Babylonian Collections of the University Museum

By: Leon Legrain

Originally Published in 1944

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Kish, eight miles east of Babylon, is, according to the king’s lists compiled about 1800 B.C., the site of the first royal dynasty after the Deluge. Over twenty kings reigned here, an incredible number of years, until the kingship passed to Uruk in the Sumerian south. Early explorers were tempted by the extensive field of ruins. Its thorough excavation was undertaken in 1923 by the Joint Expedition of Oxford University and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, under the direction of Professor Stephen Langdon, assisted by Ernest Mackay and after 1926 by L. Watelin. On either side of the old bed of the Euphrates, massive brick towers mark the sites of the temples of the local gods: on the west the war god Ilbaba, on the east the twin towers of the goddess Ninlil, the Ishtar of Kish. Here again the original mud towers have been buried below the larger constructions and restorations from the days of King Sargon of Agade to the Persian king, Cyrus. The traditional plan was the same as at Uruk, even if the orientation was rather towards the north than towards the east, with its stage tower, mud platform, strong wall, courts, shrines, stairs leading to the upper stages and the gate opening on an outer lower court. Here also in the proximity of the towers, both field directors cut deep trenches down to the virgin soil, in places three metres below water-level, to recover in historical sequence the primitive remains of Kish. In the trenches cut by Watelin near the Ishtar temple a red stratum of sterile earth, three to five feet deep and extending over the whole city area, suggested at once a deposit left by a great flood. The debris below was seven metres thick, showing here and there traces of minor inundations, and all dated in the Uruk period, with scarcely any al-‘Ubaid sherds. There was an abundance of copper, red and black painted and incised pottery, mostly tumblers and spouted jugs, stone vessels, shell lamps, flat seals, a few cylinder seals and one inscribed tablet. Two and four-wheeled chariots were recovered, complete with their woodwork, copper nails, rein-rings and teams of oxen. Art is represented by a hand-modelled painted mud- head-the University Museum has another example from Ur-and by bitumen and clay statuettes of bearded men of a curious type, with elongated heads, braids of hair hanging on their square shoulders, the arms detached from the body, but the legs joined and ending in a cylindrical support, evidently the earliest attempt at portraiture by the men of Kish before the Deluge. The new culture which followed the Flood saw the city rise to great eminence under its first kings. Between these two periods, the Jemdet-Nasr culture, with its painted wares and pictographic tablets, had developed outside of Kish, eighteen miles away to the northeast.

The so-called Palace of the Kings of Kish was built in the eastern part of the city, close to the Ishtar temple, above the red stratum. It was originally an elevated court flanked by chambers. A fortified gate and a staircase of nine steps led to the upper level. A lower court was later added on the south with brick columns forming porticos on the four sides. The walls were decorated with shallow buttresses and with remarkable slate plaques inlaid with limestone figures of men and animals. Mother-of-pearl inlay and a plaque relief of a king of Kish were found outside the walls. The slate plaques show victorious men of Kish leading shorn Sumerian prisoners. Costumes and weapons are characteristic of the northern, largely Semitic population dressed in the so-called Kish style: pleated kilt opening in front, flat conical cap, long beard, and hair hanging in braids on the shoulders. They carry round shields and a curved wooden axe with a crescent-shaped copper blade-the University Museum has an original blade from the Ur cemetery. The ladies of Kish wore their hair in a loop over the neck, tied across the forehead by a gold band, with ringlets hanging before the ears. Musicians clapped in cadence sounding-blades in the form of horns.

When the royal power passed to Sumerian Uruk, the Kish palace must have been ruined, and was later used as a cemetery, probably at the same time as the royal tombs were dug in the Ur cemetery. There is a striking similarity between their funerary furniture-both earlier than the First Dynasty of Ur, and evidently than Sargon of Agade. Almost every tomb at Kish had a characteristic handled jar, the so-called “granny pot.” The handle developed out of the spout, flattened and decorated with an incised feminine figure reduced to the essentials. Besides the jar, clay offering tables-rather than braziers-are the most common pieces of furniture, and are found again in a larger area, wherever the Sumerian culture extended-from Ur in the south to Ashur in the north, and to Mari along the Euphrates in the west.

Cite This Article

Legrain, Leon. "Kish (Uhaimir)." Museum Bulletin X, no. 3-4 (June, 1944): 40-42. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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