The ruins of Eridu in 2011.
|Location||Tell Abu Shahrain, Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq|
|Area||At most 10 ha (25 acres)|
|Founded||Approximately 54th century BC|
|Abandoned||Approximately 6th century BC|
Eridu (Cuneiform: NUN.KI 𒉣 𒆠; Sumerian: eriduki; Akkadian: irîtu modern Arabic: Tell Abu Shahrain) is an archaeological site in southern Mesopotamia (modern Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq). Eridu was long considered the earliest city in southern Mesopotamia and is still today argued to be the oldest city in the world. Located 12 km southwest of Ur, Eridu was the southernmost of a conglomeration of Sumerian cities that grew about temples, almost in sight of one another. In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was originally the home of Enki, later known by the Akkadians as Ea, who was considered to have founded the city. His temple was called E-Abzu, as Enki was believed to live in Abzu, an aquifer from which all life was believed to stem.
History of research
The site at Tel abu Shahrain, near Basra, was initially excavated by John George Taylor in 1855, R. Campbell Thompson in 1918, and H.R. Hall in 1919. Excavation there resumed from 1946 to 1949 under Fuad Safar and Seton Lloyd of the Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities and Heritage. These archaeological investigations showed that, according to Oppenheim, "eventually the entire south lapsed into stagnation, abandoning the political initiative to the rulers of the northern cities," and the city was abandoned in 600 BC.
The king list gave particularly long rules to the kings who ruled before a great flood occurred, and shows how the center of power progressively moved from the south to the north of the country. Adapa, a man of Eridu, is depicted as an early culture hero. Identified with U-an, a half-human creature from the sea (Abgallu, from ab=water, gal=big, lu=man), he was considered to have brought civilization to the city during the time of King Alulim.
In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was the home of the Abzu temple of the god Enki, the Sumerian counterpart of the Akkadian water-god Ea. Like all the Sumerian and Babylonian gods, Enki/Ea began as a local god, who came to share, according to the later cosmology, with Anu and Enlil, the rule of the cosmos. His kingdom was the sweet waters that lay below earth (Sumerian ab=water; zu=far).
The stories of Inanna, goddess of Uruk, describe how she had to go to Eridu in order to receive the gifts of civilization. At first Enki, the god of Eridu attempted to retrieve these sources of his power, but later willingly accepted that Uruk now was the centre of the land. This seems to be a mythical reference to the transfer of power northward.
Babylonian texts talk of the creation of Eridu by the god Marduk as the first city, "the holy city, the dwelling of their [the other gods] delight".
In the court of Assyria, special physicians trained in the ancient lore of Eridu, far to the south, foretold the course of sickness from signs and portents on the patient's body, and offered the appropriate incantations and magical resources as cures.
According to the Sumerian kinglist Eridu was the first city in the World. The opening line reads,
- "[nam]-lugal an-ta èd-dè-a-ba
- [eri]duki nam-lugal-la"
- "When kingship from heaven was lowered,
- the kingship was in Eridu."
Eridu appears to be the earliest settlement in the region, founded ca. 5400 BC, close to the Persian Gulf near the mouth of the Euphrates River. Because of accumulation of silt at the shoreline over the millennia, the remains of Eridu are now some distance from the gulf at Abu Shahrain in Iraq. Excavation has shown that the city was originally founded on a virgin sand-dune site with no previous occupation.
According to Gwendolyn Leick, Eridu was formed at the confluence of three separate ecosystems, supporting three distinct lifestyles, that came to an agreement about access to fresh water in a desert environment. The oldest agrarian settlement seems to have been based upon intensive subsistence irrigation agriculture derived from the Samarra culture to the north, characterised by the building of canals, and mud-brick buildings. The fisher-hunter cultures of the Arabian littoral were responsible for the extensive middens along the Arabian shoreline, and may have been the original Sumerians. They seem to have dwelt in reed huts. The third culture that contributed to the building of Eridu was the nomadic Semitic pastoralists of herds of sheep and goats living in tents in semi-desert areas. All three cultures seem implicated in the earliest levels of the city. The urban settlement was centered on an impressive temple complex built of mudbrick, within a small depression that allowed water to accumulate.
Kate Fielden reports "The earliest village settlement (c.5000 BC) had grown into a substantial city of mudbrick and reed houses by c.2900 BC, covering 8-10 ha (20-25 acres). Mallowan writes that by the Ubaid period, it was as an "unusually large city" of an area of approx. 20¬25 acres, with a population of "not less than 4000 souls". Jacobsen describes that "Eridu was for all practical purposes abandoned after the Ubaid period", although it had recovered by Early Dynastic II as there was a Massive Early Dynastic II palace (100 m in each direction) partially excavated there. Ruth Whitehouse called it "a Major Early Dynastic City". By c.2050 BC the city had declined; there is little evidence of occupation after that date. Eighteen superimposed mudbrick temples at the site underlie the unfinished Ziggurat of Amar-Sin (c. 2047 – 2039 BC). The finding of extensive deposits of fishbones associated with the earliest levels also shows a continuity of the Abzu cult associated later with Enki and Ea. This apparent continuity of occupation and religious observance at Eridu provide convincing evidence for the indigenous origin of Sumerian civilization.
Eridu was abandoned for long periods, before it was finally deserted and allowed to fall into ruin in the 6th century BC. The encroachment of neighbouring sand dunes, and the rise of a saline water table, set early limits to its agricultural base so in its later Neo-Babylonian development, Eridu was rebuilt as a purely temple site, in honour of its earliest history.
Possible location of Tower of Babel
- The ziggurat ruins of Eridu are far larger and older than any others, and seem to best match the Biblical description of the unfinished Tower of Babel
- One name of Eridu in cuneiform logograms was pronounced "NUN.KI" ("the Mighty Place") in Sumerian, but much later the same "NUN.KI" was understood to mean the city of Babylon.
- The much later Greek version of the King-list by Berossus (c. 200 BC) reads "Babylon" in place of "Eridu" in the earlier versions, as the name of the oldest city where "the kingship was lowered from Heaven".
- Rohl further equate Biblical Nimrod, said to have built Erech (Uruk) and Babel, with the name Enmerkar (-KAR meaning "hunter") of the king-list and other legends, who is said to have built temples both in his capital of Uruk and in Eridu.
Other scholars have discussed at length a number of additional correspondences between the names of "Babylon" and "Eridu". Historical tablets state that Sargon of Akkad (ca. 2300 BC) dug up the original "Babylon" and rebuilt it near Akkad, though some scholars suspect this may in fact refer to the much later Assyrian king Sargon II.
The urban nucleus of Eridu was Enki's temple, called House of the Aquifer (Cuneiform: 𒂍𒍪 𒀊, E2.ZU.AB; Sumerian: e2-abzu; Akkadian: bītu apsû), which in later history was called House of the Waters (Cuneiform: 𒂍𒇉, E2.LAGAB×HAL; Sumerian: e2-engur; Akkadian: bītu engurru). The name refers to Enki's realm. His consort Ninhursanga had a nearby temple at Ubaid.
During the Ur III period a ziggurat was built over the remains of previous temples by Ur-Nammu.
Aside from Enmerkar of Uruk (as mentioned in the Aratta epics), several later historical Sumerian kings are said in inscriptions found here to have worked on or renewed the e-abzu temple, including Elili of Ur; Ur-Nammu, Shulgi and Amar-Sin of Ur-III, and Nur-Adad of Larsa.
House of the Aquifer
|Level||Date (B.C.)||Period||Size (m)||Note|
|XIV||5000–4500||Early Ubaid||-||no structure found|
|XIII||5000–4500||Early Ubaid||-||no structure found|
|XII||5000–4500||Early Ubaid||-||no structure found|
|V||3800–3500||Early Uruk||-||only platform remains|
|IV||3800–3500||Early Uruk||-||only platform remains|
|III||3800–3500||Early Uruk||-||only platform remains|
|II||3500–3200||Early Uruk||-||only platform remains|
|I||3200||Early Uruk||-||only platform remains|
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- Modelski, https://faculty.washington.edu/modelski/WCITI2.html accessed 17/12/2013
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- Rohl, David (2002), The Lost Testament — From Eden to Exile: The Five-Thousand-Year History of the People of the Bible, Century, ISBN 0-7126-6993-0
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- Green (1975), pages 180–182
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- Oates, Joan, "Ur and Eridu: the Prehistory", Iraq 22
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- The Sumerian king list: translation, UK: Oxford
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- Reconstruction of Temple at Eridu, Massart
- Recent photos of Eridu, The British Museum
- Inana and Enki, The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford UK, JAB, editor: translation