RECORD / MZ SITEWIDE / Video and Film Clips / VC24
Laerke Recht & Rick Hauser, 2014-
Updated July 2014

Film clip 24
Living Space
A tour of the Western Slope

Date ?
Editor Rick Hauser
Format .MP4
File size 43.2 MB
Duration 11.59 minutes


Living Space

Excavations at Tell Mozan are documented by a variety of methods. The majority are writings and photographs. This extended film clip explores another method, an end-of season review in real time. In this case, Giorgio Buccellati, Expedition Co-Director, and James Walker, Senior Staff Member and Unit Supervisor, exchange impressions about an unusual stone structure on the Western slope of the Tell.

As they move from area-to-area, they verbalize what they see, explaining the activity that has transpired. This is a way to mark progress and to assess what finds or questions may be important to keep in mind. Assumptions and results of the season's excavations forming the basis for further excavations are discussed.

The structure turned out to be a staircase - a "surprise" in itself, as these colleagues say. Even more unusual, it dates from relatively late in the life of the Tell. The palace and residence of Tupkish and his consort were only distant memories, hundreds of years in the past.

Here we survey the penultimate chapter of this monumental complex.

This staircase made of cut stones is the initial focus of the review. When major parts of the late-Akkadian Tupkish palace were excavated, excavators postulated that there may have been a formal staircase that linked the palace to the temple complex at the top of the mound to the east.

It had been assumed that the well-dressed stones were third millennium. In fact, this abbreviated set of stones was not the anticipated staircase but rather a Mitanni sacred complex that approached the temple from the west. As in other cases, these stones had likely been re-used, lifted from a previous structure and turned to another use here. They date to the last centuries of the CityĆ¢€™s existence, around 1400 B.C.E. - Mitanni times.

Excavations in previous seasons along the Early Dynastic period E-W revetment wall (that is, a protective retaining wall) revealed that it was a part of a monumental sacred complex that included a grand staircase and open plaza that approached the temple from the south. As Jim Walker notes, an unusual bend brought the pathway up and around, so that the "approach" to the temple might be from the South. In a way, this alignment defined a parallel structure of a succeeding era, not a complementary one. The excavations also showed that this complex was completely covered by the late Mitanni period.

The new sacred complex was reconstructed along the western boundary of the wall system on a much smaller scale. In actuality, the "staircase" turned out to be five steps bordered to the south by a small wall. At the base of the stairs there was an open area bounded to the west by lines of rough stones. There is some evidence of an earlier boundary wall that may have formed the foundation for the lowest tier of the staircase.

By the end of Mittani occupation, even these structures were covered. Atop are some ceramics that suggest a brief Middle Assyrian presence in this part of the tell.

At the same time the Plaza, which abutted the new staircase, appeared to have been truncated at some point in time, probably toward the end of its actual physical presence as an open space. It likely had to accommodate fewer people, as the nature of the administrative complex changed.

Perhaps this was related to new alliances with polities to the South.

So do ancient spaces "live". They are plastic (malleable) containers, no less so than urban complexes and courtyards of our day. They change, recede and advance in response to the needs of the inhabitants. By studying this periodic re-alignment we may come to a fuller understanding of the nature of ancient Urkesh, a city that proved remarkably resilient and responsive to the currents of an age.

That is why it endured for millennia.

Our responsibility, as excavators in the Twenty-First Century, is not only to bring such evidence to light, but also to preserve what has been uncovered. A method for protecting the mortar between the stone steps is seen in this clip.


In two instances, the conversation in this film is obliterated by high wind noise. It may be possible to recover these voices at some future time. In the meantime, please understand that these are the vagaries of live recording in the setting of an ongoing excavation. A visual "transcript" of what is said will soon follow.

This text has been enriched by commentary from Unit Supervisor, James Walker.

Featuring               Giorgio Buccellati
              James Walker

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