The Kish Collection

The ancient city of Kish was occupied from at least as early as 3200 B.C. through the 7th century A.D. Located on the floodplain of the Euphrates River eighty kilometers south of modern Baghdad, the city held an extraordinary position during the formative periods of Mesopotamian history. At that time, it seems to have been the only important city in the northern part of the alluvium, while there were several major centers in the south. The ancient Mesopotamians regarded Kish as the first city to which "kingship descended from heaven" after the great flood that had destroyed the world. During the third millennium B.C., rule over Kish implied dominance over the entire northern part of the plain, and the title "King of Kish" bestowed prestige analogous to that of the medieval "Holy Roman Emperor."

From 1923 through 1933, joint archaeological expeditions of The Field Museum of Natural History and Oxford University explored many of the twenty-four-square-kilometer site's forty mounds, uncovering significant evidence of Kish's extremely early urbanization and its prominence as a dominant regional polity. However, no final site report of the work of those seasons was ever published.

Ancient Mesopotamian History

Mesopotamia is a Greek term meaning "(the land) between the rivers" and corresponds to the area that is now the country of Iraq. In the fourth millennium B.C., one of the world's great civilizations arose in this region, forming a cultural entity that lasted for more than 3,000 years. Mesopotamia was the birthplace of some of the world's earliest cities. The Mesopotamians developed one of the earliest writing systems, sophisticated mathematics and astronomy, the sail, and the wheel. They also divided time units into 60 parts—a concept that led to our 60-second minute and 60-minute hour.

The ancient Mesopotamians had no name for the whole of the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, but instead called sections of it "Sumer," "Akkad," "Assyria," and "Babylonia," at different times.

Mesopotamia does not appear at first glance to provide the environmental advantages necessary for the development of a great civilization. The region experiences significant contrasts in weather, with temperatures reaching 130° Fahrenheit in summer and dropping to below freezing in winter. Rain fed mountains, foothills, and grassy or cultivated plains in the north contrast with gravel deserts in the west and flat alluvial (laid down by rivers) silts and marshes in the south. The northern plains have sufficient rainfall to support fields of grain, gardens, and orchards, and wild grasslands for the grazing of herds. In contrast, the central and southern parts of the country receive insufficient rainfall to grow crops to support life. The southern plain, with fertile silt deposited through many thousands of years by the rivers, can produce rich crops if properly irrigated, but the rivers’ erratic rate of flow can produce either drought or floods which cover the land and sometimes result in the rivers changing course.