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, Kish 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.
The lack of a final site report for Kish stands as a significant lacuna in the archaeological record of Mesopotamia, effectively precluding an understanding of the true historical significance of this crucial Mesopotamian city. The Field Museum, along with the Ashmolean Museum and the Iraq Museum, hope to make such a final publication of the Kish excavations a reality. Roger Moorey, in the preface to his 1978 work Kish Excavations 1923-1933, undertaken to produce a catalogue of the Ashmolean's Kish holdings, concisely encapsulates the necessity of this endeavor:
"In undertaking this project, nearly fifty years after the excavations were started, I have been very conscious that the original work was inspired by aims no longer recognized as viable and executed by methods which were largely inadequate...It would be to confound the evil if the results of this excavation were for these reasons ignored and the finds, with what is left of the records, allowed to suffer further neglect. It would be particularly so at a time when fresh excavations at Kish on this scale are unlikely, though modern development there is radically modifying the site. Ideally all three collections should be fully published as a single unit..." (pp. viii, xxi)
The Kish Project was a federally funded effort to virtually reconcile and publish, in both print and digital formats, the expansive—and divided—collection of ancient material culture from the Mesopotamian city of Kish.
Image above: Akkadian period shell cylinder seal with its impression from Kish, Iraq. Catalog Number 1497.156670. © The Field Museum.