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Nippur (Nuffar)

Nuffar is just south of al-Diwaniyah City 160km south of Baghdad.

Unguarded, plundered, crumbling and lying among sand-dunes at the end of 12-mile pathway, it is hard to believe that the sacred city of Nippur was once one of the most important archaeological sites in Iraq. The Sumerian city, through which the Euphrates once ran, was a sacred place devoted to Enil, the God of the Wind, and built for King Ur-Nammu, founder of the third dynasty of Ur in 2050 BC. It appears in the Gilgamesh epic. It was inhabited from around the Ubaid period of 5000 BC until AD 800 by which time the Ziggurat had become the seat of an Assyrian Christian bishopric. The ziggurat is in a near state of collapse, and was part of the Temple of Enil, of which only a small square remains.

The dramatic picture here is from the first modern archaeological expedition to the city, made by the University of Pennsylvania’s Babylon Exploration Fund. Iit comes from John Henry Haynes , A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900, in which the author Robert G Ousterhout describes Haynes as the “unsung hero” of Nippur, which was “difficult of access, inhospitable in its climate, surrounded by warring tribes and not particularly attractive.” It nevertheless “offered tantalising clues to the early history of civilisation”. In 1900 Haynes was left in charge of the expedition when he discovered 23,000 tablets from what was believed to be the Temple Library.

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Issue 59, June 2019 Behind Closed Doors
£ 12.00