site located in Iraq northeast of modern Hilla and approximately 15 km (9 mi.) to the east of Babylon (32°33′ N, 44°39′E). Kish is a region that comprises many mounds of different sizes covering an area some 8 × 2.5 km (50 × 15.5 mi.). Particularly important for archaeology were the mounds called Tell Uhaimir in the eastern part of this wide expanse and Tell Ingharra in the west. From early in the second millennium BCE part of the site (Tell Ingharra) seems to have been referred to as Ḫursagkalama; however, the geographical extent of Ḫursagkalama and its exact relationship to Kish (Tell Uhaimir) is by no means clear. Kish was one of the most important cities of ancient Mesopotamia and was considered to be the first seat of kingship after the Flood. The title “king of Kish” was of major importance in the early historic periods, and it was from Kish that Sargon set out to create the kingdom of Akkad. Diverse parts of the site were occupied from the Ubaid period into the time of the modern Ottomans.

Since the nineteenth century, scholars and travelers have been interested in Kish, and as early as 1852, minor excavations were undertaken by Fulgence Fresnel and Jules Oppert of the Expédition scientifique et artistique de Mésopotamie et Médie that was followed much later in 1912 by a fairly large-scale French expedition under the direction of Henri de Genouillac. Only one season of excavation was completed before the onset of the World War I. After the war a new major long-term joint expedition of the Field Museum of Natural History of Chicago and the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University began work in 1923. Between 1923 and 1933 eleven campaigns were completed under the direction of Stephen Langdon. Ernest Mackay was the first field director and was succeeded in 1926 by Louis Watelin. In 1989 a Japanese expedition of Kokushikan University (Tokyo) under the leadership of Hideo Fuji started work again at Kish. Only one season of excavation was completed before the commencement of the Gulf War.

The evidence for occupation at Kish prior to the Early Dynastic period (c. 2900–2335) is scarce, but it is evident from the so-called Y-sounding in the major mound Tell Ingharra that the earliest strata excavated contained painted pottery of Jemdet Nasr type. This suggests that there was occupation in Tell Ingharra during the Jemdet Nasr period. On top of these early strata there was a domestic settlement probably of considerable size built with plano-convex bricks in Early Dynastic I. Above and partially sunk into these plano-convex brick levels was a cemetery also dating to Early Dynastic I. The grave materials were particularly rich, and some of the objects from the graves indicated that an advanced state of metal technology was employed. Also found in the Y-sounding were a group of graves containing chariots or carts perhaps drawn by both bovids and equids. Because of the quantity and quality of the objects found in the graves at Kish, these important burials are less famed than the graves from the Royal Cemetery of Ur; however, at least four burials in Kish indicate that the Ur burials were not unique. They may even predate the Ur cemetery, but it has proved difficult to determine the exact date of the Kish burials because of a series of very complex problems. Dates have ranged from Early Dynastic I to Early Dynastic IIIA.

Probably dating to Early Dynastic III are the remains of two solid structures at Tell Ingharra that have been called ziggurats. One is larger than the other, but both are constructed of plano-convex bricks with some of the successive courses of bricks forming a herringbone pattern, a characteristic building technique of the Early Dynastic period. The plans of these ziggurats are not known completely, and it is not clear whether they were built as a single platform or whether they had more than one stage. They were probably stepped and are of considerable interest for the history of the development of the temple platform and tower. They may well be worthy of further investigation.

More extensive remains of the Early Dynastic period were recovered from Mound A located to the south of the main part of Ingharra but considered to belong to it. Significant is a large building of plano-convex bricks that has been called a palace, clearly the most impressive of the monumental buildings of Early Dynastic Sumer. The entire complex is not known, but the excavated remains include a main north wing, an added south wing, and an eastern primary gateway constructed between the north wing and an eastern wing (?) no longer preserved. Apparently the original staircase was covered by a ramp when the southern wing or annex was built. The drawn plans of the palace complex have been regularized, and certain parts are not easy to interpret as some of the walls and rooms seem to have been improperly dug. A curious feature of the main northern wing is the use of long corridors forming a double enclosure around the rooms and courts of the building. Such corridors are known from other monumental building complexes in Sumer such as the so-called palaces at Eridu. [See Eridu.] The southern addition also has a special feature. Columns are used within a large room near the west end of the building and also in a porch on the eastern end. A residential area of the building is not clearly evident from the plan, and it has not been fully ascertained how such a complex as the Kish palace or other monumental buildings functioned as an expression of Sumerian kingship.

Like many of the early remains of Kish, the date of the palace has been much debated. Some have sought to date the building to Early Dynastic II on the basis of the perceived style of a group of inlay pieces. Even if it were possible to limit the style chronologically, such dating is fraught with difficulties. More cogent is the find of a tablet beneath a mud brick bench built in one of the rooms. The tablet is of the “Fara” type, representing a stage in the development of writing attributable to the early part of Early Dynastic IIIA and indicates that the building was in use during that period. Before the end of Early Dynastic IIIA the palace complex had already been abandoned and had at least partially disintegrated. Another cemetery known as Cemetery A was sunk into the palace area, and some 150 graves rich in pottery and seals were excavated. The A cemetery was short lived but is important for our understanding of the archaeology of Early Dynastic III. The change from palace area to cemetery area would imply some type of population shift.

Another monumental building probably also dating to the same time as the palace is the so-called Plano-Convex Building excavated in Area P to the north of Tell Ingharra. The building has very thick buttressed exterior walls and was probably heavily fortified. It has many storage rooms as well as long surrounding corridors in part of the complex. Unfortunately the plan of the entire building is not known.

Graves, pottery, tablets, some objects, a few architectural remains, and textual references from other sources all attest to the continued occupation and importance of Kish from the Akkad through the Old Babylonian and Kassite periods. At Tell Uhaimir was located the ziggurat and temple to the important god of Kish, Zababa. Apparently begun in the Old Babylonian period, the ziggurat underwent several rebuildings, and lasted into the Neo- Babylonian period when the exterior surface was enlivened with a complicated series of brick niches and buttresses. The actual temple seems to have been located on the northeast side of the ziggurat where bricks were found that were part of the reconstruction of the temple undertaken by Hammurabi of Babylon (1792–1750).

Significant to the history of Neo-Babylonian architecture is the uncompleted double temple excavated on Tell Ingharra near the early ziggurats. The main, large part of the temple measures some 92 × 83 m (57 × 51.5 ft.). There is a direct axis approach to the cella (the inner part of the temple housing the image of deity) leading from the main entrance in the northern wall through a large courtyard and then through two antecellas. The broad room cella is flanked on both sides by smaller dependent rooms. Bricks from a foundation box and fragments of a barrel cylinder suggest that the temple was originally built by Nebuchadrezzar II (604–562). In the Achaemenid period this temple no longer was used even though Kish continued to be occupied and many economic texts of the period were found. Fragmentary remains of the settlements in the later Parthian and Sasanian periods have also been preserved.

[See also Temples, article on Mesopotamian Temples; and Ziggurat.]


  • Genouillac, Henri de. Fouilles françaises d'El-῾Akhymer: Premières recherches archéologiques à Kish. 2 vols. Paris, 1924–1925.
  • Langdon, Stephen H. Excavations at Kish I, 1923–1924. Paris, 1924.
  • Mackay, Ernest. Report on the Excavation of the “A” Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia. Chicago, 1925.
  • Mackay, Ernest. A Sumerian Palace and the “A” Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia. Chicago, 1929.
  • Watelin, Louis Charles, and Stephen H. Langdon. Excavations at Kish III, 1925–1927. Paris, 1930.
  • Watelin, Louis Charles, and Stephen H. Langdon. Excavations at Kish IV, 1925–1930. Paris, 1934.
  • Gibson, McGuire. The City and Area of Kish. Miami, 1972.
  • Gibson, McGuire. “Kiš. B. Archäologisch.” In Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie, vol. 5, pp. 613–620. Berlin and New York, 1980.
  • Moorey, P. R. S. Kish Excavations, 1923–1933. Oxford, 1978.

The final publications of the Kish excavations include:

Important syntheses with extensive bibliographies of the Kish excavations include:

Donald P. Hansen