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040. Jemdet Nasr [ancient: Niru (?)]

Variant name: Uruk III

Babil Governorate. About 100 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Dates: Late 4th - early 3rd millennium BC
           (flourished 3000 to 2900 BC)

A small but important site, with very early cuneiform tablets, that gives its name to a cultural period dating from the Bronze Age in southern Mesopotamia. During the Jemdet Nasr Period, which flourished around 3000-2900 BC, writing began and the earliest cylinder seals also came into use in southern Mesopotamia. Jemdet Nasr also represents the urban revolution when the numerous small Mesopotamian settlements developed into major cities.

The site of Jemdet Nasr was first explored in 1926 and 1928 by a team of British and American archaeologists headed by Stephen Langdon. Excavation of the site resumed in 1988 by Roger J. Matthews and others but stopped during the 1990-91 season due to UN economic sanctions. During that last phase excavators discovered a large administrative building which contained an archive of proto-cuneiform texts with seal impressions, as well as cylinder seals. The pottery, a polychrome painted ware, found at the site is helpful in determining the layer of the Jemdet Nasr period at other sites.

These distinct cultural artifacts—pottery and cylinder seals — differentiate Jemdet Nasr from the proceeding Uruk period, and define the Jemdet Nasr period (circa 3100-2900 BC). The administrative building and cuneiform tablets at the site, second in age only to those discovered at Uruk, mostly deal with agricultural administration, and some are impressed with  seal impressions. Particularly important is the so called “City Seal “ impression, with symbols for perhaps two dozen cities, including Ur, Nippur, Zabalam, Larsa and Kesh, and accompanying inscriptions which suggest these cities were some kind of a league, possibly engaged in sending offerings to Uruk. The tablets are still difficult to understand; it is possible that the signs for Niru, which appear frequently among the find, represent the true name for this site.

The Jemdet Nasr period is now believed to have been short, about a century, 3000-2900 BC, succeeding the earlier Uruk culture and represents the final stage before the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period in southern Mesopotamia.

See Mathews, Roger, J., "Jemdet Nasr: The Style and the Period," The Biblical Archaeologist, vol 55, nr. 4, December, 1992

  32° 43' 27.9301"
  32.72442525º N
  44° 46' 46.9057"
  44.77969623º E

GoogleEarth satellite view of Jemdet Nasr (external resource)

See February 14, 2005 FBI press
release announcing the 2004 recovery of cylinder seals exported from Iraq by a U.S. Marine who purchased the seals from a trinkets vendor. After the Marine showed the seals to experts at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and confirmed that they are ancient artifacts, the Marine did the right thing: he contacted the FBI, who in turn contacted Iraqi authorities to arrange for the return of the artifacts, which included cylinder seals from Jemdet Nasr.