Aage Westenholz

Aage Westenholz

Emeritus Professor of Assyriology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark
2018 Grant Recipient

Nippur Digitized: The University of Pennsylvania Excavations at Nippur 1889-1900.

Aage Westenholz, retired professor of Assyriology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, has devoted the main part of his professional career to the study of Mesopotamian history and culture in the third millennium B.C. He has published a number of volumes with cuneiform texts from that period, most of them originating in Nippur. In connection with those publications, he also studied the unpublished records of the excavations at Nippur in 1889-1900 that produced the cuneiform texts, in order to establish their archeological background as far as feasible.

The ancient city of Nippur, 32o07’ 35” N, 45o14’ 00” E in present-day Iraq, was founded sometime in the 6th millennium B.C. and was from the mid-third millennium until about 1800 B.C. the center of Sumerian civilization – the Sumerians themselves called the city “the bond between Heaven and Earth” – but it was occupied down to about 800 A.D. before it was finally abandoned. Today it is an extensive field of shapeless ruin heaps [fig. 1] far out in the desert; but it still retains its ancient name in the form of Tell Nuffar. It has been the object of several archeological excavations, first in the late 19th century and again from 1948 to 1990.

The project “Nippur Digitized” aims to make available in digital format the copious records of the University of Pennsylvania excavations at Nippur in 1889-1900, including the motivations and objectives of such a difficult and dangerous undertaking far from home, and also what happened to the results after the excavations were over. These records consist of mostly hand-written notebooks and letters that can be quite difficult to decipher for the untrained eye [figs. 2 and 3], as well as about 1400 photographs. Today, the records are found scattered in various places, though the bulk of them are in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and of the Hilprecht-Sammlung at the Friedrich-Schiller Universität, Jena. They will be presented in the form of annotated transcripts provided with cross-references and, when possible, identifications of the objects mentioned in them with their present-day museum objects.

The documentation is presented in the fullest form available, in order to illustrate the manifold aspects of the colossal effort, to make it possible for future scholars to put questions to the material which we did not consider, but above all to tell in the participants’ own words the fantastic saga of the Nippur excavations.


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