This is the first foreign team to excavate in Iraq for 20 years and they hit pay dirt in the form of a 4,500 year-old temple and associated graveyard. Little information has been released about the find but it promises to herald a new era in the study of one of the world’s most important archaeological sites.
Ur was one of the most powerful Sumerian city-states and dates its beginnings back to at least 6000 BC. It reached its height in the third millennium BC, the same period as the newly discovered temple. At its height, Ur was a center of trade and featured many monumental buildings such as its famous Great Ziggurat, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image. The Sumerians developed writing, an elaborate bureaucracy, and the beginnings of science.
While the Italians are the first archaeologists to return to Iraq after the Gulf War, another Italian team and an American team will soon be conducting their own excavations. In the meantime, Iraqi archaeologists have been valiantly struggling to preserve their nation’s heritage in the face of war, looting, political turmoil, and lack of funding. Iraq is an archaeological wonderland and has some of the most impressive ancient sites in the world. It’s the Holy Grail of adventure travel and a trickle of hardy travelers are making their way there. There’s even a tour company offering trips to Iraq.