The site of Tell al Hiba, ancient Lagash, at over 600 hectares, is one of the largest mounds in southern Mesopotamia. It was occupied from the fifth millennium into the middle of the second millennium BCE. A joint project of the Penn Museum, Cambridge University and the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Baghdad, begun in 2019, has renewed work at this critically important settlement, home to one of Mesopotamia’s Bronze Age cities.


Location of Al Hiba in Iraq

Tell al-Hiba is located 24 km east of the town of Shatra in Dhi Qar Province of southern Iraq (Latitude 31° 24′ 39 9.0000″ 31.4025° N, Longitude 46° 24′ 39 9.0000″ 46.4025° E). The region has always had a mixed ecology, with marshes surrounding habitation sites at higher elevation. Until the mid-twentieth century much of the region was accessed by boat.

A Topographic Map of Tell Al Hiba

The mound measures approximately 3600m in length and 1900 m wide at its largest extent. Though large, the mound has a low topography, with its highest point rising only six meters above the level of the plain. It reached its largest extent by the end of the Early Dynastic period when it was destroyed by Lugalzagesi (2358 – 2334 BCE) of Uruk.

Going To Nigin Canal

During antiquity, the city of Lagash was one of the three major cities—Girsu (modern Telloh), Lagash (al Hiba) and Nigin (Tell Zurghul) in the city state of Lagash. All three cities lay on the Going-to Nigin Canal, the main watercourse through the city state. Lagash controlled a fertile countryside consisting of multiple ecological zones. Additionally, its location until the end of the third millennium, at the head of the Gulf allowed it to fully engage with regional trade networks, which brought in metal ores, hard woods, precious stones, and other materials and products unavailable in the southern alluvium.

Mudiff in the 1950’s

Mudif belonging to Abdullah

Thesiger Collection

© Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

For millennia, the traditional architecture of southern Iraq has been constructed from the strong and resilient reeds harvested from nearby marshes. Even today, the formal meeting spaces of a village sheik takes this form, along with traditional mudbrick, as well as the more modern cinder block construction.