Ancient Near East

Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in modern day Iraq), is often referred to as the cradle of civilization because it is the first place where complex urban centers grew. The history of Mesopotamia, however, is inextricably tied to the greater region, which is comprised of the modern nations of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf states and Turkey. We often refer to this region as the Near or Middle East.


, The Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 B.C.E., shell, red limestone, lapis lazuli, and bitumen (original wood no longer exists), 21.59 x 49.53 x 12 cm, Ur © Trustees of the British Museum
Intentionally buried as part of an elaborate ritual, this ornate object tells us so much, but also too little.

Standard of Ur






Lion Hunts of Ashurbanipal (ruled 669-630 B.C.E.), c. 645 B.C.E., gypsum,Neo-Assyrian, hall reliefs from Palace at Ninevah across the Tigris from present day Mosul, Iraq; excavated by H. Rassam beginning in 1853 (British Museum)
Only the king was permitted to kill lions—and doing so signified his power and ability to keep nature at bay.

Ashurbanipal Hunting Lions



Country: Iraq Site: Babylon Caption: View towards reconstructions from Hussein Palace, from southeast Image Date: June 22, 2009
Even today with international tourism waning in the face of military threats, Iraqis regularly visit this famous site.

Visiting Babylon







Ziggurat of Ur, c. 2100 B.C.E. mud brick and baked brick, Tell el-Mukayyar, Iraq (largely reconstructed)
The great Ziggurat of Ur has been reconstructed twice, in antiquity and in the 1980s—what’s left of the original?

Ziggurat of Ur




Cylinder Seal
Instead of signatures, the Ancient Near East used carved beads to press unique impressions into clay documents.

Cylinder seals