Italian archaeologists working at Tal Abu Tbeirah in southern Iraq recently excavated a lavish tomb dating to the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. Dubbed the “tomb of the little prince” by the excavators, it is located just a dozen miles from Ur, a major cultural center in Bronze Age Mesopotamia that has often been associated with Biblical Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. (Note: The attribution as Abraham’s Ur has been contested by some scholars who point to an alternate location in southern Turkey.)
The Italian project at Tal Abu Tbeirah, located 220 miles south of Baghdad, is the first international excavation in southern Iraq since the war. Over the past months, the project has exposed the walls of a temple complex, graves contemporary with the royal cemetery at Ur, an exquisite shell cylinder seal depicting a banquet scene, and hundreds of pottery sherds that have allowed archaeologists to date the site to roughly 2500 B.C.E., a period of urban development in the ancient Near East before the start of the Akkadian empire.
Finds from the tomb include a bronze vessel, toiletries and carnelian beads probably originating from the Indus Valley. The tomb is being studied for its artifacts as well as for details on contemporary inhumation practices in the ancient Near East. Perhaps even more important, the excavation marks the return of the international academic community to a region that features some of the world’s oldest cities.