X Close

The Nahrein Network

Home

Fostering the sustainable development of heritage in post-conflict iraq and its neighbours

Menu

Archive for the 'Archeology' Category

Jumjuma, the Skull Village in Babylon

Zainab30 November 2022

Written by Ammar Al-Taee

Jumjuma is a village located inside the archaeological site of Babylon, to the southwest of the remains of the Temple of Marduk, on the eastern bank of the present-day Shatt al-Hilla (a branch of the Euphrates River). The village’s name derives from the Arabic word for ‘skull’, الجُمْجُمَة.

After the fall of Babylon, Jumjuma was occupied for centuries, with archaeological evidence supporting habitation as far back as the Hellenistic and Parthian periods. We know that it was the headquarters of European excavation missions in the late Ottoman Period. Claudius Rich, in his book Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon, published in 1811, said, “North of Hilla on the river is the Jumjuma, which is the burial place of the Sultan.” Also H.V. Hilprecht said in his 1904 book, The Excavations in Assyria and Babylonia, “in the company of two regiments of soldiers, who happened to leave for Hilla, the French expedition quitted Baghdad, established its headquarters at Jumjuma, and began actual excavations at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II on July 15, 1852.”

But what about the skull name? The majority of Jumjuma residents believe that the name appeared after the battle of Nahrawan that took place between the army of Imam Ali and the army of Abdullah Al-Rasbi in 659 AD. Imam Ali and his followers were returning to Kufa and passed through Babylon. His son (Omer), or as the locals call him, Amran, succumbed to his wounds suffered during the battle and needed to be laid to rest. So, to mark his son’s death, Imam Ali asked one of the skulls he found in the area about the location’s name; the skull became animated and answered, “IT IS BABYLON”. The event stuck, and the contemporary village became ‘Skull,’ as Imam Ali buried his son on top of the archaeological mounds northeast of the settlement.

Other local people believed that the name Jumjuma dates to before Imam Ali because the village was originally an ancient cemetery. It makes sense because some villagers still find graves amongst the Babylonian brick walls, pottery, and other artifacts when constructing sewers for homes or plowing for agriculture. Their finds inspired the only excavations in the area carried out by The Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) in 2002, near the village’s primary school (Figure 1). Archaeologists discovered a massive building dating back to the Seleucid era and a big cemetery. In one of these rooms, they found a jar containing 146 silver coins with the image of Alexander the Great. It is not rare in this village, as German architect Robert Koldewey found a statue of a boy whose fragments were found in the southern city wall about 500 meters east of the skull village in 1913 and 1914, assembled as the final form of a Hellenistic statue exhibited today in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin (Figure 2).

Figure 1: aerial photo of excavations at Jumjuma (credit: John Russell 2004)

Figure 2: fragmentary terracotta statue of a boy, Hellenistic period, now in Pergamon Museum, Berlin (credit: Ehab Raad Abbas 2019)

The area around Jumjuma is still used as a cemetery, and some believe that the reason for the continuation of the burial in this village is because it is an inherited habit. It may be one of the oldest cemeteries in Mesopotamia, where burial has continued from ancient times until now. Many graves can be seen in old pictures and the modern pictures, all the way up to the vicinity of Amran Ibn Ali, which has become a symbol of the village (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3: Jumjuma cemetery with shrine of Amran Ibn Ali on the horizon (credit: Ammar Al-Taee 2022)
Figure 4: drone footages of the cemetery at Jumjuma (credit: Ammar Al-Taee 2022)

Some residents in Jumjuma and other surrounding villages stand against the recent changes made at Amran ibn-Ali’s tomb, a pattern of destruction similar to many Islamic heritage shrines in Iraq’s archaeological sites. For example, Amran’s tomb near Jumjuma sits above the Babylonian temple dedicated to Marduk, arguably the ancient city’s most sacred and essential site (Figure 5). The historic repurposing of Babylon goes along with an evolutional sense of its importance throughout history. However, the recent demolition of Amran’s early Ottoman-era tomb complex to construct a new, more prominent modern shrine came at the expense of an important part of that long story that is now lost forever (Figure 6). Many stories, legends and oral traditions carried by the local population were associated with the tomb.

Figure 5: The shrine of Amran Ibn Ali in the early 20th century (credit: Robert Koldewey 1914)
Figure 6: The shrine of Amran Ibn Ali today (credit: Ammar Al-Taee 2022)

Early Islamic sites, like Amran’s tomb, form important parts of the evolutional history of reuse and reoccupation of ancient sacred sites. Since the fall of authoritarian government controls, many modern-era shrines have been created or replace far older sacred sites, often early-era shrine structures superimposed over ancient Neo-Babylonian temple remains. These constructions take place in archaeological zones, where encroachment is restricted by law.

 

The resurgence of religious pilgrimage tourism and its aggressive pursuit to construct new shrines at the expense of older, high-value historical layers is a concern. These impositions are highly destructive to earlier era, post-ancient Islamic religious heritage, and worse, install irreversible and compromising complexes over ancient sacred site archaeology, limiting future opportunities for scientific study and the enjoyment of Iraqis and their future generations.

Decolonising the Excavation Licence in Iraq

Zainab8 December 2021

Written by Dr Jaafar Jotheri

The heritage law in Iraq was written in 1936 and then rewritten in 2002, but in these two versions, the Iraqi heritage authority was incapable of issuing a heritage law that can serve the nation’s needs. In 1936 Iraq was still a young independent state with little experience managing its heritage sector; fast forward to 2002, with Iraq under international sanctions, heritage was not foremost among the state’s priorities. After that, Iraq endured the civil war and the ISIS invasion. In the last few years, the Iraqi academics and the heritage authority have held several meetings to reform and explore a new version of the excavation licence.

As a result of these meetings, several proposals were suggested to the excavation licence such as:

  1. Selecting sites for excavation based on Iraqi opinion and considerations: Iraqi academics and heritage authorities should maintain a list of the sites that excavations are allowed in. This list should be prepared by Iraqis based on their priorities such as critical condition of the site or knowledge. Currently, Iraqis have little contribution in selecting sites for survey or excavation.
  2. Involving the local Iraqi experts in excavations: Iraqi academics and members of heritage authority should be fully involved in all the steps and in each phase of the excavation process. At present, there is limited or no involvement of Iraqis in excavation work. Some investigators from the heritage authority might take part  but they are likely to be inexperienced and  are not experts.
  3. Training Iraqi staff and students: Students from Iraqi universities and members of the Iraqi heritage authority should receive proper training in each excavation phase. Currently, there is no stipulation in place to train Iraqis.
  4. Using advanced techniques in surveying and excavation: Excavation teams should conduct some environmental, geoarchaeological, bioarchaeological and geophysical work on site and train Iraqis in the process. Outdated excavations methods should not be applied anymore; for example, some teams are using cheaper, outdated methods and ignoring new technologies.
  5. Utilise social media for projects: To increase the engagement of the local people with the projects, the excavation teams should make use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, website etc) to share news, events, progress – basically anything related to the project or the team.
  6. Conservation after excavations: After each phase of excavation, sites should be preserved, and conservation should be applied for the structures that have been dug and subjected to weathering and erosion. As it stands, there are no obligations on the excavation team to preserve the sites. It is not unusual for buildings and artefacts to be left abandoned and/or subjected to destruction.
  7. Hosting conferences and exhibitions in Iraq: After or during each excavation phase, the team should host conferences and workshops, and publicise their work, findings, and results. Presently, most excavation teams keep the results confidential.
  8. Publishing results in Arabic in Iraqi journals: At the present, teams are publishing results in international journals which Iraqis have limited access to and leaving Iraqis with few or no idea about the sites. Instead, some results of each phase of excavations or the new findings, artefacts and objects should be published in Arabic in the local Iraqi journals.
  9. Developing Iraqi museums: The excavation team should also contribute to helping Iraqi museums to have the required space and capacity to restore the artefacts properly and present them to the public. The situation currently is unfortunate as Iraqi museums are facing a lack of space to store the artefacts and discovering more artefacts are exasperating the problem of storage – and possibly subjecting them to damage or destruction.
  10. Cooperation with other excavation teams: To better understand the whole picture and narrative, the excavation teams that working in the same region, province, or occupation periods should have a way of cooperation and their plans should be integrated. Now, each team works separately without any coordination.

Jaafar Jotheri holds a PhD Geoarchaeology from Durham University. He has over 15 years of experience in conducting archaeological excavations and surveys about the landscape of ancient Iraq and the ancient paths that rivers and canals that followed in the past. He has published more than 15 articles in some of the world’s most prestigious journals.

He is currently an Assistant Professor and Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Archeology, University of Al-Qadissiyah, Iraq where he teaches and supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

He has been involved in many international archaeological and heritage projects carried out in Iraq, with partners including Manchester University, Durham University,  Sapienza University of Rome, and Tokushima University. He has been awarded research funding from international organizations such as the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (London), the Academic Research Institute in Iraq (USA), and the British Academy, as well as the Nahrein Network.