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Thu, 08/15/2013

Uruk: 5000 Years of the Megacity

Uruk – the first Megacity. Founded some thousand years ago Uruk experienced its golden age around 5000 years ago which is now commemorated in an exhibition in the Museum of the Ancient Near East which is part of the renowned Pergamon Museum in Berlin until September 8, 2013.

5000 years ago, about 40,000 people lived in Uruk, which today it is known as Warka. Warka is located 20 kilometers east of the Euphrates River in southern Iraq. During the raise and fall of Uruk the river was right beside the city with a system of canals bringing water into the city.

Uruk is not only known as the first megacity but also as the place where the oldest known story takes place: the Epic of the semi-mythical king Gilgamesh. The most interesting thing about the story is, that is was recorded in written form on 12 tablets made of clay and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, form of written literature.

Letters and writing were developed in Uruk. The cuneiform (literally: ‘wedge-shaped’) script was evolved from clay tokens and pictograms impressed into clay tablets that depicted an object in a simple and concise way (see picture above). This written form of language made it easier to administer the increasingly complex organization of the city and ultimately led to it being used to record literary texts, scientific discourses, and diplomatic correspondence between various empires of the ancient world. Somehow one can say that the grounds for modern bureaucracy were invented and laid out here.

Archeologist from Berlin started to excavated and research the area of Uruk systematically about 100 years ago. But until today only 5 percent of the 5,5 square kilometer large city have been surveyed. One reason is the stop to all excavating works forced by the Iranian-Iraqi War which started in 1980 and lasted for eight years. Fortunately the family guarding the place was able to protect it from people trying to steal the hidden and ancient treasures of the country to sell it.

The work of German archeologists has been assessed earlier in breathtaking exhibitions in Berlin so last year with the Light of Armana Exhibition commemorating the found of the Nerfititi Bust in Egypt on December 6, 1912.

The Berlin exhibition about Uruk exhibits pieces which are owned by the museum but also exhibits that are lent from the Louvre or the British Museum. Some of the exhibits are impressions since the originals are in Iraq, some of them looted from the museums in Baghdad. The exhibition gives insights in a highly developed civilization, its culture, craft, religion and its inventions without which modern cities like we know them today are not able to function. This not only includes taking records in written form but also to have a functioning sewage system which was build with clay pipes that run beneath the houses.

The Pergamon Museum is located on Museum's Island. On our Facebookpage we have collected some impressions from Museum's Island and the area surrounding it.