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115. Warka (ancient: Uruk)**

** = signs of recent looting seen at last inspection

Northern Al Muthana Governorate. About 50 miles northwest of Ur on an ancient course of the Euphrates.

Dates: Late 5th millennium BC to 7th century AD (end of Sassanian period).


The first, largest, and longest lived city in the most ancient period of Mesopotamian civilization, Uruk was the site of elaborate temple complexes and artworks at the very dawn of history, which gave its name to the chronological period from about 3700 to 3100 BC.

The archetypical city, Uruk is holder of so many superlatives, that even if its status as the first city is challenged (some scholars suggest that Karal in Peru might be as old; recently excavated sites in Northern Mesopotamia and Syria vie for the honor of being first city; others argue in favor of Chatal Huyuk in Turkey), Uruk's unmatched size, importance, and duration do make it the premier Mesopotamia city.

Certainly, the number of "firsts" at Uruk is both lengthy and interesting. Examples:

   •  first known use of a pottery wheel;
   •  first known success at growing wheat to the extent
       necessary to cause a mini-population explosion;
   •  first documented example of ecological devastation
       caused by over-cultivation and rapid human population growth;
   •  first division of time into units of 60;
   •  first example of writing found at Uruk

Already by the late 4th millennium BC., the Uruk site covered 200 hectares, about 1/3 of that expanse covered by religious structures and public buildings.

Religious activity was focused in two areas, which had grown out of two earlier, possibly seperate settlements: the Eanna precinct, dedicated to Inanna, the great goddess of love and  war; and Kullab, the temple precinct dedicated to Anu, the creator god.

Multiple tri-partite (T-shaped) temples, halls and large structures of unknown function were often elaborately decorated with mosaics composed of colored clay or stone cones stuck in plaster, or with niched and recessed facades.

Important discoveries at Uruk include: the Warka Vase, a massive alabaster (or perhaps limestone) covered with relief carvings of a procession of offerings to Inanna; and the haunting life-sized limestone Face of a Woman, the oldest known sculptural depiction of a female face, possibly meant to be Inanna herself (both objects were looted from the Iraq National Museum but subsequently recovered). 

During this time, the cuneiform writing system was developed to record distribution and exchange in a complex network that linked Uruk with settlements in Upper Mesopotamia, southwestern Iran and Southeast Anatolia, by trade and economic ties if not force. By 3100 this system disintegrated for unknown causes, with a major upheaval at Uruk.

In the Early Dynastic period, Uruk was the seat of several dynasties, the kings including Gilgamesh of literary fame who supposedly built the city wall of some 10 km in length, and  Lugalzagesi of Umma, who united Sumer only to fall to Sargon of Akkad.

After the end of Ur III, the city declined only to revive in the  1st millennium, when its temples controlled vast agricultural estates, and flourished well into the Seleucid and Parthian periods,  being finally abandoned before the Arab conquest in 634 AD.

Fieldwork: Germans, since the end of the 19th century, continuing for more than half a century, but uncovering less than 20% of this huge site.


  31° 19' 29.7120"   
  31.32492° N
  45° 38' 18.2400"     
  45.6384° E

GoogleEarth satellite view
of ancient Uruk

See SPC William Peterson's site photos of Uruk (late 2003 / early 2004) hosted by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.