The Japan Times, July 25, 1998

Ancient temple found in Iraq

AL-NAMEL, Iraq (AP) Iraqi archaeologists have discovered a circular 5,000-year-old temple that appears to have been used by Mesopotamians of a little-known culture, the head of the excavation team said Thursday.
Burhan Shakir, an archaeologist with Iraq's Antiquities Department, said the building, which is 600 sq. meters, was discovered in March.
"We are certain this was a temple, but we still do not know what gods were worshipped here and what kind of cult was practiced," Shakir said.
The temple stands on a promontory overlooking the Tigris River, 320 km north of Baghdad. It consists of five circular aisles separated by mud-brick walls 2-meters thick. The corridors rise about 6 meters above the surrounding plain and then merge into a spiral staircase which leads to a second floor.
That floor has been bulldozed by modern farmers building houses. About 90 percent of the archaeological site is occupied by the village of al-Namel.
"The whole building was vaulted, but unfortunately encroachments by farmers have left us no roofs," said Hazem al-Najafi, a member of the team and an expert on Mesopotamian architecture.
The entrance, one-meter wide, is still vaulted and leads to alleys containing scores of niches in which the inhabitants placed their idols.
Apart from the entrance, there are no openings or windows in the building. The walls have scorch marks about every two meters. Al-Najafi said these came from torches used to light the corridors.
The excavators have found no artifacts - no statues, pottery or clay tablets - in the temple.
A nearby cemetery yielded 50 graves and artifacts including cooking bowls, cups, pots, goblets, jugs, storage jars and containers made of fine pottery glazed with colored geometrical designs.
"For the first time in more than 100 years of Mesopotamian excavation, we find traces of two distinctive and culturally remote civilizations appearing together in a grave," Shakir added.
The ancient inhabitants buried their dead with plain ceramic items of the Sumerian civilization of southern Iraq as well as with elegant vases decorated with flowers and animals that hail from a little-known culture in northern Iraq.
The Sumerian pottery stems from the early dynastic period of about 2,750 B.C. and the northern ceramics date to more than 3,000 B.C.
Sumerian civilization began to develop in southern Iraq in the 4th millennium B.C.

THE REMAINS of a 5,000-year-old temple discovered recently in Iraq, as revealed in this undated photo, is thought to be of the Mesopotamian civilization. It is made of five successive round and narrow aisles, each separated by 2-meter, mud brick walls. AP PHOTO