mounds located in a desert area of southern Iraq about 40 km (25 mi.) due east of the modern town of Diwaniya and about 30 km (19 mi.) southeast of the ancient religious capital of Nippur (31°54′ N, 45°36′ E) The identification of the site with ancient Adab was made by Edgar James Banks at the beginning of the twentieth century on the basis of inscriptions from the main temple, which named it as the E-Sar, known to be the main temple of Adab. In 1885 J. P. Peters, the excavator of Nippur, visited the site and noted its main features. Banks carried out the first full-scale excavations In 1903–1904, which he described in his book (1912). It remains the major source of information about the site.

Adab is roughly rectangular in shape and is approximately a mile long by half a mile wide. It is surrounded by a double wall that, at least in part, is third-millennium in date and is bisected by the bed of a dried-out canal, a branch of the Shatt-an-Nil, which linked it to Nippur. Inside the walls are a number of mounds, one of which Banks identified as a temenos with a ziggurat and temple; others contained a palace and an area of domestic dwelling. Additional low mounds lay outside the walls and may represent the remains of suburbs and gardens.

The town was inhabited from at least the early third millennium and appears in the Sumerian King List where the dynasty of Adab contains the name of a single king, Lugal-anne-Munda, credited with a reign of ninety years. He is thought to have lived at the end of the Early Dynastic III period. The importance of the town in the third millennium is confirmed by the archaeological finds, which include the statue of another ruler of similar date, Lugal Da-udu, and an area of well-preserved private houses which included one fine courtyard house with a brick-paved floor. Banks identified the house as the residence of the local governor, on the basis of cuneiform tablets found in it. Bricks stamped with the names of Early Dynastic and Agade (Akkadian) kings, including Sargon I and Naram-Sin, were recovered from the temenos; bricks stamped with the name of Shulgi came from the top levels of the ziggurat. Hammurabi claims, in the prologue to his law code, to have (re) built the temple and the city. Part of a palace thought to date to this period was found on mound 1. Occasional bricks stamped with the name of Kurigalzu indicate that the city was still inhabited, and of some importance, in the Kassite period.

Small finds include a collection of about three hundred cuneiform clay tablets from the so-called palace, and some of a late third-millennium date from the private houses. A magnificent collection of inscribed and decorated sherds from a wide variety of stone bowls was found in the temple dump. Some of the finest are of steatite, or chlorite, elaborately decorated with geometric and figurative designs. Many of the designs can be matched on similar vessels from Iran and Arabia, as well as from Mesopotamian cities such as Nippur, Ur, and Mari. It has been suggested that Adab may have been a distribution point for this type of imported vessel. Provenience analyses of the stone have also indicated a number of different sources for them in southeast Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. A fine alabaster head of a man, with a close-trimmed beard and inlaid eyes, only 10 cm high, is dated to the Akkadian period on stylistic grounds and on the basis of its stratigraphic association with an inscription thought to be of that date. It is the finest of a number of heads and other fragments of statuary. Adab undoubtedly is one of the most important third-millennium sites in southern Iraq, still to be fully explored.

[See also Nippur; Sumerians; and the biography of Peters.]


  • Banks, Edgar James. Bismya, or, The Lost City of Adab. New York and London, 1912.
  • Unger, Eckhard. “Adab.” In Reallexikon der Assyriologie, vol. 1, pp. 21–22. Berlin, 1932.

Harriet Crawford