RECORD / MZ SITEWIDE / Video and Film Clips / VC06
G. Buccellati, 2011; Laerke Recht & Rick Hauser, 2012-
Updated July 2014

Film clip 6
Walls as containers

Date unknown
Cameraman unknown
Editor Rick Hauser
Format .MP4
File size 14 MB
Duration 3.33 minutes


Walls as Containers

The title of this sequence invites us to think of the freestanding and bonded walls of the monumental structure adjacent to the royal residence of Urkesh as something more than two-dimensional vertical planes - closed outlines with no relationship to adjacent structures or those nearby. Rather, we might see these vertical planes taken together—parallel to each other, abutting, perpendicular - as containing space - different spaces destined for different uses. Volumes whose function we can sometimes only guess at, because of the ambiguous nature of the finds therein.

We surmise that the extremely complex structure navigated by expedition co-director Giorgio Buccellati in this short film served a mainly utilitarian function, diverse as the spaces within it may be. There must have been a kitchen, we think - a hearth is central to this space; and a toilet, based on coeval installations elsewhere; there is a drain that passes from room to room, down from the Royal Residence - discards of the people who used the spaces were found buried in the sludge at the bottom of various passages of this narrow, circuitous installation; a pair of closets, which must've served to house various exchange goods, some sent from afar, some local and stamped, waiting for use. These twin spaces are perhaps the most important of all, for the containers that they held were sealed by the workers in the Royal Storehouse or at their point of origin. In order to open them for use or distribution, the mud that bore the sealings was cracked off and thrown onto the ground, a discard for us to find millennia later.

These fragmentary discards were the very key to the identification of the site of Urkesh and to much else regarding the lifeways of those who lived in the Royal Residence at the time of Tupkish, the King. In fact we know his name; we know his function; we know members of his family and the royal retinue because these facts of living were recorded/impressed in the clay that sealed the containers.

The room that Giorgio Buccellati first uncovers is just north of this storeroom space; as he enters into the complex of related volumes below, he first passes through the storeroom space, emptied, of course of its precious contents by excavators in previous seasons.

The last of the spaces that Dr. Buccellati encounters is quite mysterious because it contains spars of burned wood, the function of which is unknown. How these burned members came to be there and how they were originally configured will have to wait for explanation in another excavation season, and perhaps will never with certainty be known.


In a way, this discussion of successive volumes puts the cart a little before the horse - the visitor first is struck by the complexity of the relationship of the volumes, each to another, particularly as seen from above. A quite innovative covered framework devised by local craftsmen who work with us as colleagues articulates the spaces. This covering protects the fragile stone-founded mudbrick walls from the elements - an internationally applauded conservation measure.

Again we advise the viewer to be alert to all sorts of detail. Giorgio Buccellati remarks, for example, on the dips in the canvas that lay for a season atop the metal framework. The weather has borne it down, and the canvas shows the effects of weathering. In later seasons, we will learn to use a heavier material to cover the metal framework that marks the walls. In any case, this is just one detail among the many that we invite the viewer to contemplate as he or she watches this segment unfold.

Certainly, aids are available to help us visualize how the spaces related. A striking example is the digital visual sequence navigating the storehouse walls as visualized by Federico Buccellati.

It's almost too easy, isn't it? This pathway is only one of many that those who used the Royal Storehouse might have taken to move from one space to another. Interesting also, to remark the narrow entranceways from some spaces to others; these most likely were checkpoints, allowing attendants to stop visitors in order to examine the goods that were being taken from one space to another.

There is more to see in this sequence, and to discover, than we can have told you either here or in the film itself. We count on you to be alert to this very unusual compound of volumes bounded by vertical planes that we customarily define as "walls".


The physical walk through is set against the noise of the workmen removing the backfill that we had set in place to cover the floors.

The 3-D rendering of the Palace wing, which serves as the basis for the digital walk through, was created by Federico Buccellati for inclusion in the film "The Unwrapping of Urkesh" produced by Rick Hauser for the Televisione Svizzera Italiana, from which this is excerpted.

An interesting detail (at 00:15 in) is a view of the top of the tarps. It shows the shallow depressions that match the openings in the metal trellis, and that proved to be quite prone to damage as a result of water and snow sitting in place and rotting the fabric.

The situation dates back to an early stage of the system, when only heavy tarps are used, which cannot be opened, drape-like, as in later versions.


Giorgio Buccellati