The ancient metropolis of Uruk lies 300 km south of Baghdad, on the western edge of the Sumerian heartland in the alluvial plains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, in what is now southern Iraq. Important achievements of civilisation such as writing or the development of complex administrative and social structures originated in Uruk, founded at the end of the 5th millennium BC.
The German Oriental Society and later the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) have been excavating monumental sanctuaries, monumental buildings and residential and representative buildings on the site of Uruk since 1912. A large part of these building remains consists of earth building materials, mainly earth blocks. With the award of UNESCO World Heritage status in 2016, the obligation arose to develop a coordinated conservation strategy for the archaeological site of Uruk. This task is being led by the DAI through Margarete van Ess, planned by the Berlin offices of Klessing Hoffschildt Architekten (KH) and ZRS Ingenieure GmbH (ZRSI), and implemented with Lovis Lehmbau (LL), together with local colleagues from the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage Iraq (SBAH) and local workers.
The first major emergency conservation measure by ZRSI and Lovis Lehmbau to secure the overhangs was already carried out in 2018 at the western corner of an approximately 4200-year-old man-made temple mound (made of approximately 11.5 million earth blocks!), the so-called Eanna Ziqqurrat. Since 2019, ZRSI’s conservation concepts for the White Temple on Uruk’s oldest ziqqurat, the so-called Anu Ziqqurat, have been developed and – after years of work interruption – started to be implemented in autumn 2022. In contrast to the Eanna Ziqqurat, the Anu Ziqqurat does not have any reinforcement layers made of reed mats, which is why the surface erosion is much more advanced. However, this earth block massif is characterised by millennia-old horizontal waterproofing techniques using bitumen mortar. One of the most valuable findings in Mesopotamia can still be found in remains on this Anu Ziqqurat, the so-called “White Temple”, built around 3500 BC, which is the world’s first and only preserved temple on a ziqqurat and which is the subject of the current emergency securing measures of ZRSI in Uruk.
Exact details in German of our conservation projects in Uruk, led by Jasmine Alia Blaschek (ZRSI) and Christof Ziegert (ZRSI), can be found in the project report and the current issue of the 2023 Mauerwerk-Kalender with this year’s focus on earth block masonry.