Back from the beyond


site envy at Nippur

You might be forgiven for thinking that something terrible had happened to me. I left my blog at a point of sinister crisis as I was digging at a mysteriously nameless site for a morally ambiguous corporate entity*. The reader may have been left with the impression that I’d been disappeared for extensive mental reconditioning having seen something for which the human mind is not ready. I can tell you that to my knowledge this is not the case, although when I try to think back to November all I remember is the colour yellow. In truth, I hit an unforeseen snag with this blog, and after quite a lot of worrying about things I’ve decided to just fuck it and carry on more or less as before – minimal archaeology and being slightly mean – and see what happens.

2017 has so far been kind to me; I finally got my PhD published in the form of an already out of date book which no one can buy because a pitifully small number have been printed and it’s mind buggeringly expensive. I got some good news on a job, which had to happen at some point simply by the laws of probability, and I won a four day painting holiday in Bournemouth with an elderly woman I barely know. I’m not inclined to enter into gift horse mouth examinations however.


Someone finally shows some initiative and murders Waleed; Iraq’s laziest wheelbarrower

I’m four weeks into my usual Jan/Feb/March excavation in southern Iraq, enduring a day-off consisting mainly of power cuts and primitive laundry. I’m excavating the main courtyard of our 2nd Millennium BC building, which is unremarkable except for a large depression (physical rather than metaphorical) in the centre, into which everything rolls; tools, spoil, used tissues, careless workmen. The most exciting on-site development is that our Iraqi antiquities representatives have started bringing hot soup for breakfast, which is an innovation of staggering brilliance.

At the Ur dig house we’re well into the usual desperate attempts to manufacture functional entertainment out of insufficient and defective parts. Earlier in the week a new knife for the kitchen arrived which was curiously marketed as a high quality ‘Kitchen Slaughter Knife’. This has led to lively speculation about who will be slaughtered first and by whom, and a general avoidance of the kitchen due to knife-related jests.


Attempted infiltration of air rifles onto the shopping list

We’ve been engaged in a campaign to have the excavation provided with air rifles so that we can found the Ur Rifles Shooting Club, which we all agree would look great on a t-shirt. So far the project directors are holding firm to their no firearms poilcy. We have, however, managed to kit ourselves out with Iraqi national team football shirts, which has long been held as a project goal. Of course, it’s not possible to buy new and current Iraqi shirts, instead we visited a cavernous shop in Nasiriyah where football replica kit goes to die. It was piled to the ceiling with shirts from all clubs and countries dating as far back as the early 1990s, and after much labour on the part of the many shop staff we managed to find ten acceptable Iraqi shirts; a mixture of home and away strips in different sizes and designs, four of which cannot be worn locally due to having Ba’arthist-era flags on.



the Iraqi football shirt subs bench

*The British Museum

3 thoughts on “Back from the beyond

  1. Jon Pattengill

    Very happy to have seen your book appear on ANE news site “agade.” Knew it was yours from the title. Also pleased to hear you have not undergone some unpleasant form of modification or worse. Your photo here is another example of your skill with a camera. A year or two back I had done a google image search on “Nippur,” and found one exceptionally beautiful photo of the ziggurat in the sunset. I clicked on it and discovered that I had entered your blog and its unique perspective. Ever think about trying to be the person to discover the location of the real city of Akkad? Would a magnetometer be you best bet for that?

    1. Jon Pattengill

      I had been thinking that Akkad was only one layer deep, and would show no surface indications. I see now that would not be the case, as the name itself is not Akkadian, meaning that Sharrukin did not create it from scratch. So it would be a matter of identifying a mound by digging, not finding a wholly-obscured pattern. My mistake. By the way, I see reason to believe the “pottery torpedoes” your colleague F. found, and the potsherd-filled trench beside them, are the world’s oldest known French drain. It wouldn’t have had any effect when the river flooded, but would have worked quite well when it rained. My eight years as a land surveyor gave me a good bit of exposure to the building trades. That feature would constitute a well-designed French drain.

      1. Jon Pattengill

        Goodbye. Believe in yourself. Believe in the work you are doing. Know that alcohol is not your friend, and will only repay friendship with catastrophe. Know that social skills are what it takes to get a husband and have a family. You will not find those in any book; you will have to teach yourself as I did. Best of luck to you.

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