city of the fourth and third millennia in southern Iraq, located at the center of the Mesopotamian alluvial plain between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (32°15′ N, 45°3′ E). The site's modern name comes from the quantities of overfired ceramic slag found on its surface. Settlement distribution and geomorphology suggest that in antiquity the site lay on a principal arm of the Euphrates, flowing from Kish toward Nippur, which lies only some 16 km (about 10 mi.) to the southeast and can be seen from Abu Salabikh on a clear day.
The site's ancient name remains uncertain. Kesh (kèš), which was initially proposed, seems likelier to be near Adab, farther east (perhaps at Tell al-Wilayah). At present, Eresh counts as the best candidate, which would be significant in that its patron deity was Nisaba, goddess of reeds and hence of scribal craft.
The mounds on the site are scattered over an area of about 2 × 1 km. None rises more than 5 m above the surrounding plain, but their lower parts are shrouded by 2–3 m of silt that has accumulated since the first settlement here. The earliest occupation is hinted at by a few Late Ubaid painted potsherds from unstratified contexts. Uruk levels are represented on the Southwest (“Uruk”), West, and Northwest Mounds but are not yet identified elsewhere. The Northeast Mound and compounds laid out on the flattened surface of the West Mound date from the beginning of Early Dynastic (ED) I (c. 2900 BC). The occupation of the Main Mound may not predate the later ED I. All that is known of the South Mound is that its surface levels were occupied in ED III. The very low-lying area known as the East Mounds may be Ur III, on the evidence of an unstratified Amar-Suen brick. Dates of abandonment are more difficult to establish because of massive erosion. There is no reason to think that the main part of the Uruk Mound was occupied after the Uruk period, or the West Mound after ED I. The highest buildings surviving on the Main Mound are ED III, but the evidence of potsherds used as packing around drains, in pits and in tip lines outside the city wall proves Akkadian and probably Ur III occupation. There is no artifactual evidence for the second millennium BC or later.
Archaeological notice of the site was first published by Albrecht Goetze and Vaughn E. Crawford, as part of the Akkad survey carried out by the American Schools of Oriental Research. Crawford initiated excavations In 1963–1965, assisted by Donald P. Hansen. Several soundings were made: of principal interest was the unexpected discovery of about five hundred pieces of Pre-Sargonic cuneiform tablets scattered through the rooms of a building in area E on the Main Mound, probably part of a temple complex. Published by Robert D. Biggs In 1974, they revolutionized our view of early Mesopotamian literature. Of particular interest are versions of the Instructions of Shuruppak and the Kesh Temple Hymn. Old Babylonian copies of these texts help us to understand them. In addition to lexical and geographical lists, some now duplicated by texts from Ebla in Syria, there are literary and religious pieces and a few public administrative documents. Later work at the site yielded additional tablets, some from other buildings on the Main Mound, including administrative tablets and an incantation.
A contour survey was carried out In 1973 and excavation was resumed In 1975 by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, under the direction of J. N. Postgate. The work continued with occasional fallow years until 1989 and will be resumed if circumstances permit. The principal results include the recovery of more than 4 ha (10 acres) of the city layout as a result of surface clearing: on the main mound this revealed the street and lane network, the line of the city wall, the probable location of gates, and many individual buildings. On the West Mound it showed that the ED I settlement was laid out in compounds divided by heavy walls.
In areas A and E of the Main Mound, buildings excavated by the earlier excavators were further investigated. This entailed excavating numerous graves, furnished with considerable amounts of pottery, jewelry, and other goods, including equids presumably harnessed to wheeled vehicles. Some of the graves were demonstrably intramural having been dug from within the houses. Against the southeastern side of the area E complex a massive refuse tip was identified that was more than 6 m deep. It contained many door sealings, figurines, and other items suggestive of temple discard. Two large ED III domestic buildings were excavated on the Main Mound, with particular attention, given to defining the use of space through quantitatively controlled recovery and micromorphological examination of the stratification.
Susan M. Pollock undertook excavation and other work on the Uruk Mound between 1985 and 1990. Her work confirmed an occupation from Early to Late Uruk, with a small ED occupation on the mound's southeastern sector. A Late Uruk city wall 20 m thick was located. Detailed observation of its surface remains has illuminated the distribution of activities throughout the settlement.
[See also Mesopotamia, article on Ancient Mesopotamia.]
- Biggs, Robert D. Inscriptions from Tell Abū Ṣalābīkh. University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, no. 99. Chicago, 1974. Definitive publication of the inscriptions from 1963 to 1965, with a report on the excavations by Donald P. Hansen.
- Green, A. R., et al. Abu Salabikh Excavations, vol. 4, The 6G Ash-Tip and Its Contents. London, 1993. See below for the first three volumes of this report; two additional volumes are in preparation.
- Martin, Harriet P., Jane Moon, and J. N. Postgate. Abu Salabikh Excavations, vol. 2, Graves 1 to 99. London, 1985.
- Moon, Jane. Abu Salabikh Excavations, vol. 3, Catalogue of Early Dynastic Pottery. London, 1987.
- Pollock, Susan. “Abu Salabikh, the Uruk Mound, 1985–86.” Iraq 49 (1987): 121–141.
- Pollock, Susan. “Archaeological Investigations on the Uruk Mound, Abu Salabikh.” Iraq 52 (1990): 85–93.
- Pollock, Susan, Caroline Steele, and Melody Pope. “Investigations on the Uruk Mound, Abu Salabikh, 1990.” Iraq 53 (1991): 59–68.
- Postgate, J. N. “Excavations at Abu Salabikh” (1976–1979). Iraq 39.2 (1977): 269–299; 40.2 (1978): 77–87; 42.2 (1980): 87–104.
- Postgate, J. N. Abu Salabikh Excavations, vol. 1, The West Mound Surface Clearance. London, 1983.
- Postgate, J. N. “Excavations at Abu Salabikh, 1988–89.” Iraq 52 (1990): 95–106.
- Postgate, J. N., and Jane Moon. “Excavations at Abu Salabikh, 1981.” Iraq 44.2 (1982): 103–136.
- Postgate, J. N., and P. R. S. Moorey. “Excavations at Abu Salabikh, 1975.” Iraq 38.2 (1976): 133–169. For other articles on the inscriptions, animal and fish bones, fire installations, pottery, the flint industry, and geomorphology, see various authors in Iraq, vols. 40–52.
J. N. Postgate