What happened at Girsu?

It is rare for mainstream newspapers to get excited about prehistory, but the Guardian ran a whole page about Girsu the other week (find it here). We’ll take it from the top and explain that what used to be an administrative centre of the Sumerian world in the second and third millennia BCE started life as Girsu. Now called Tello, it is in southern Iraq.

One of the earliest cities known to humanity, Girsu was first excavated by teams of French archaeologists 140 years ago, but the site has experienced significant losses among its artefacts. Since the most persistent artefacts are administrative records, archaeologists have pieced together some first impressions of a civilisation that had a fiscal policy as just one part of an elaborate social structure. To inhabit a site for millennia, as the Sumerians obviously did, can only happen with a balanced and extensive environmental skill set. So no flushing toilets in Girsu, then, but something altogether better adapted to a densely-populated seat of power.

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