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View of Tell Mozan from the north.
Urkesh is located in Syria
Shown within Syria
Alternate name Tell Mozan
Location Al-Hasakah Governorate, Syria
Region Taurus Mountains
Type Settlement
Founded 4th millennium BC
Abandoned 1st millennium BC
Site notes
Condition In ruins

Urkesh or Urkish (modern Tell Mozan; Arabic: تل موزان‎) is a tell, or settlement mound, located in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Al-Hasakah Governorate, northeastern Syria. It was founded during the fourth millennium BC possibly by the Hurrians on a site which appears to have been inhabited previously for a few centuries.


  • History 1
  • Archaeology 2
    • Syrian Civil War 2011-present 2.1
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Urkesh was an ally of the Akkadian Empire through what is believed to have been a dynastic marriage tradition. Tar'am-Agade the daughter of the Akkadian king, Naram-Sin, is believed to have been married to the king of Urkesh. During the early second millennium BC the city passed into the hands of the rulers of Mari, a city a few hundred miles to the south. The king of Urkesh became a vassal (and apparently an appointed puppet) of Mari. The people of Urkesh evidently resented this, as the royal archives at Mari provide evidence of their strong resistance; in one letter, the king of Mari tells his Urkesh counterpart that "I did not know that the sons of your city hate you on my account. But you are mine, even if the city of Urkesh is not." In the middle of the millennium, Tell Mozan was the location of a Mitanni religious site. The city appears to have been largely abandoned circa 1350 BC, although the reason for this is unknown to archaeologists at this time.

The genealogy and identity of Urkesh's rulers is largely unknown, but the following names have been identified as being those of the city-state's kings. The first three known kings (only two of whom are known by name) bore the Hurrian title endan:

  • Tupkish endan (c. 2250 BC)
  • Tish-atal endan (date unknown)
  • Shatar-mat (date unknown)
  • Atal-shen (date unknown)
  • Ann-atal (c. 2050 BC)
  • Te'irru (c. 1800 BC)


The Louvre lion and accompanying stone tablet bearing the earliest known text in Hurrian

The entire site covers around 135 hectares (330 acres), mostly made up of the outer city. The high mound covers about 18 hectares (44 acres) and rises to a height of 25 metres (82 ft), with 5 sub-mounds. The high mound is surrounded by a mudbrick city wall that was roughly 8 metres (26 ft) wide and 7 metres (23 ft) high.[1]

Important excavated structures include the royal palace of Tupkish, an associated necromantic underground structure (Abi), a monumental temple terrace with a plaza in front and a temple at the top, residential areas, burial areas, and the inner and outer city walls.[2][3]

Soundings at the site were first made by UCLA and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati of California State University, Los Angeles.[6][7][8] The 2007 season was primarily dedicated to working on publication material, primarily excavation units A16, J1, J3 and J4. A small sounding was done in J1 to clarify the transition between Mittani and Khabur. The excavations have been assisted at various times by other groups including the German Archaeological Institute.

The excavations at Tell Mozan are known for the project's interest in pursuing the uses of technology in an archaeological context. The main focus is on the 'Global Record', a method of documentation that combines journal entries into a hypertext based output. This system marries the advantages of both the database and prose type approaches, in that elements are individually linked across both stratigraphy and typology, and yet remain tied in a more synthetic whole through the narrative of the archaeological record. Another focal point of research at the site is the application of conservation.[9]

The mud brick architecture which comprises the majority of the structures found to date has been preserved over the years though an innovative system. This system protects the monument while still allowing a detailed inspection of the primary document as originally unearthed. The same system affords an overview of the architectural volumes as perceived by the ancients. A sizeable lab in the field research facility allows the conservators to give the best possible on-site care while interacting with the excavations. An extensive storage facility has been established where more than 10,000 objects and samples of non-museographic quality are available for further study. A detailed catalog indexes these finds.

Special emphasis is placed on documenting the concrete types of contact which are observed in the ground. This is done with great detail at the level of each individual feature. From this evidence is automatically derived a complete depositional history of all elements in contact. The strata are conceived as segments of this continuum in which a single depositional moment can be reconstructed. The phases are periods that are culturally identifiable on the basis of typological and functional analysis. Horizons are the broad chronological subdivisions based on comparative material and as they can be linked to the general historical understanding.

One of the most important fixed points of reference for chronology are impressions on door sealings of the seal of Tar'am-Agade, the daughter of Naram-Sin, which because of stratigraphy can be firmly linked to phase 3 of the AP palace occupation.[10]

Finds from the excavations at Tell Mozan are on display in the Deir ez-Zor Museum.[11]

Syrian Civil War 2011-present

Excavations are on hold during the Syrian Civil War since 2011. The site lies close to the Turkish border, and is protected by Kurdish troops and a team of local workers.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Marilyn K. Buccellati, A New Third Millennium Sculpture from Mozan, in A. Leonard and B. Williams, eds., Essays in Ancient Civilization Presented to Helene J. Kantor, SAOC 47, Oriental Institute, pp. 149-154, 1990
  2. ^ [3] Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh: The Glyptic Evidence from the Southwestern Wing, Archiv für Orientforschung, vol 42-43, pp. 1-32, 1996
  3. ^ Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, Great Temple Terrace at Urkesh and the Lions of Tish-atal, in General studies and excavations at Nuzi 11/2: in honor of David I. Owen on the occasion of his 65th birthday October 28, 2005 edited by Gernot Wilhelm, pp. 33-70, CDL, 2009, ISBN 1-934309-22-2
  4. ^ Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live, Akadine Press, 2002, ISBN 1-58579-010-9
  5. ^ Wilford, John Noble (1995-11-21). "Lost Capital of a Fabled Kingdom Found in Syria". The New York Times.  
  6. ^ Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly Buccellati, Mozan 1: The Soundings of the First Two Seasons, Undena, 1988, ISBN 0-89003-195-9
  7. ^ Lucio Milano, Mozan: The Epigraphic Finds of the Sixth Season, Undena, 1991, ISBN 0-89003-276-9
  8. ^ Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, The Seventh Season of Excavations at Tell Mozan, 1992, Chronique Archéologique en Syrie, vol. 1, pp. 79-84, 1997
  9. ^ Buccellati, G. and S. Bonetti, Conservation at the core of archaeological strategy. The case of ancient Urkesh at Tell Mozan., The Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 18-21, 2003
  10. ^ [4] Tar'am-Agade, Daughter of Naram-Sin, at Urkesh, Buccellati, Giorgio and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, in Of Pots and Plans. Papers on the Archaeology and History of Mesopotamia and Syria presented to David oates in Honour of his 75th Birthday, London: Nabu Publications, 2002
  11. ^ Bonatz, Dominik; Kühne, Hartmut; Mahmoud, As'ad (1998). Rivers and steppes. Cultural heritage and environment of the Syrian Jezireh. Catalogue to the Museum of Deir ez-Zor. Damascus: Ministry of Culture.  
  12. ^ Lawler, rew; 04, National Geographic PUBLISHED June. "Saving an Ancient 'Lost' City in War-torn Syria". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2015-06-06. 

Further reading

  • Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly Buccellati, Urkesh/Mozan Studies 3: Urkesh and the Hurrians : A Volume in Honor of Lloyd Cotsen, Undena, 1998, ISBN 0-89003-501-6
  • Rick Hauser, READING FIGURINES: Animal Representations in Terra Cotta from Royal Building AK at Urkesh (Tell Mozan), Undena, 2006, ISBN 0-9798937-1-2
  • Peter M. M. G. Akkermans and Glenn M. Schwartz, The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c.16,000-300 BC), Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-521-79666-0
  • Giorgio Buccellati, A Lu E School Tablet from the Service Quarter of the Royal Palace AP at Urkesh, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 55, pp. 45–48, 2003

External links

  • Urkesh excavations (official website)
  • Archaeobotany at Tell Mozan (Tübingen University)
  • 86th Faculty Research Lecture: The Discovery of Ancient Urkesh and the Question of Meaning in Archaeology - Giorgio Buccellati, April 27, 1999 - UCLA webcast (utilizes RealPlayer)
  • [World Monuments Fund Tel Mozan]
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