Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back in the classroom

This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from Ben Leeming, who is traveling to Zacatecas, Mexico to study the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl.

I have begun to develop a morning routine which includes leaving the house around 8:00, making the 10 minute walk to the Institute (grabbing a coffee along the way…still haven’t found a good place and am refusing to be drawn to the one Star Bucks – that’s how they write it – in Zacatecas). When I get to the institute I am usually the first one there so the place is quiet and I can attend to the daily batch of emails – or update the blog – before my 9:00 class. Speaking of classes, this is how my typical day is shaping up:

8-something – 9:00 email

9:00-11:00 beginning modern Huastecan Nahuatl

11:00-12:00 tutoring (one-one-one session with Sabina, from Veracruz and a native Nahuatl speaker)

12:30-1:45 home for lunch and playing with the kids

2:00-4:00 beginning classical Nahuatl (the form of Nahuatl used in the 16th – 18th centuries, and the form used in the documents I study and translate)

4:30-5:45 home for dinner and playing with the kids

6:00-8:00 intermediate/advanced classical Nahuatl

8:30 home for bedtime (the kids', that is...)

Classes are going well, but 7 hours a day is a lot! (Not to mention approximately an hour of walking to and from the Institute!) As far as the modern class, learning a new language is hard work. It’s awkward, difficult, and my tongue often ends up in a knot. I feel like an elementary school student all over again. But it is fun, and the native-speaking instructors are really good. Their methodology is TPR (total physical response) which basically means you act everything out and there is very little (if any) “traditional” blackboard teaching. I am getting a feel for the ins and outs of pronouncing Nahuatl words – very different in many cases from English or Spanish – and in some cases pretty similar. I am saying things like, “quena” (yes) and “axcanah” (no), “queniuhqui tiitztoc” (how are you?), “ximoquetza” (stand up!) and “ximocehui” (sit down!) as well as the colors: “xoxoctic” (green), “chichiltic” (red – related to the word “chilli” as in red chili pepper), and “chipahuac” (white).

I just had my first oral test. It basically consisted of half a dozen spoken questions for which I had to produce responses in Nahuatl. I don’t think I have had an oral assessment since high school so I bumbled a couple of the questions. (Something tells me that they won’t flunk me out of the program, though…)

Back to the classes: I was initially skeptical of the “need” to learn to speak a modern dialect of Nahuatl since my pursuits will rarely take me past my office, a library or perhaps an archive somewhere. However, the philosophy of this program’s director is gradually beginning to sink in and make sense to me. If one learns only the archaic form of the language, one has only ONE lense through which to view that language. However, if one learns more than one variant of the language, one has another lense, and therefore is equipped with a broader perspective and is able to make more nuanced conclusions. The Nahuatl spoken today in the region of Mexico known as the Huasteca (basically the state of Veracruz) is one of the oldest or least changed dialects of Nahuatl. But it IS different in some important respects. By being able to compare the older Nahuatl with the Nahuatl that is spoken today, someone like me has (or will have) a much richer understanding of how that language works, how it evolves and has evolved over time, etc.

Another huge benefit from learning the language from native speakers is this: all that we know about pronunciation of classical Nahuatl comes from written descriptions recorded by the Spanish priests and friars who were the first non-native linguists to study Nahuatl. In the case of one major grammarian, Horacio Carrochi, when trying to describe exactly how to pronounce a difficult sound, he is forced to write, “I can’t explain how to pronounce this word. You have to hear a native speaker say it.” For anyone studying Nahuatl in the isolation of a classroom in the States or Europe, one is left to wonder, but for us, my teacher can simply SAY the word and I can hear for myself exactly what it sounds like (at least in the modern dialect…which in most cases we are pretty sure is similar in sound).

As for the classes in classical (older) Nahuatl, these are my favorite times of the day. The beginning class is definitely “too easy” for me, but I am attending anyway because the instructor, John Sullivan – US born and educated scholar – is a vast wealth of knowledge about the language and I am learning SO MUCH even about the “basics”. As for the advanced class, the approach is not quite as structured as the beginning, and we use primary source documents to delve into the more complex aspects of the language. This is where I am most happy and comfortable. We are currently working though a 17th cent. document from Tlaltenago (south of here in the state of Zacatecas) which was written by the Nahua elders to the bishop in Zac. city (where I am now) complaining about their priest and asking for a new one. It seems that this priest, one Salvador Hernández, didn’t speak Nahuatl very well and cared more for his Caxtilteca (spanish) parishoners than his Nahuatl-speaking ones. So we basically take the translation line by line, and wrestle with it as a group. This is what I love to do most. And it looks like I am the most experienced member of this class, aside from our Profe, of course. Being the most advanced learner is good for the ego, but it also means that I am not quite as challenged as I would otherwise be (maybe) and I am hoping that it will get harder. But I am still learning A TON and it feels really good to be immersed in the language I love so much. I am hoping to be able to spend some one on one time with Prof. Sullivan working through some of the problem passages in Molina I know that this will be extremely helpful.

Final comment: having a trilingual learning experience is great, but exhausting. Classes are conducted entirely in Nahuatl and Spanish (for the modern) and Nahuatl, Spanish, and English (but barely!) for the classical. I often feel like an alien trying to speak a new language, when I speak both Spanish and Nahuatl, but I can hear my Spanish gradually improving. My Nahuatl, on the other hand…ask me at the end of the summer.

So, things are going well from my angle. I’m so glad to be here and am trying to soak up as much of life in Mexico as possible.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 4-12: Pamplona to Burgos

This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from Alaina Cotillo, who is participating in the five-week St. James’ Way hike that starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Well, no bull sightings in Pamplona as I was a few weeks too early for the Running of the Bulls during the Fiestas de San Fermín. Walking through the streets, visiting the cathedral, and eating outside in the Plaza Mayor were a treat nonetheless. Since leaving Pamplona, located in the Navarra region, the scenery has varied greatly depending on the day and also on the region. The thick greenery from the mountains became sparse as the land became dryer. One day last week, feeling confident in my trekking abilities, I decided to walk and listen to my iPod. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad decision as I began to pay more attention to the lyrics of the songs than to the narrow, rocky path on which I was walking. All of a sudden, I felt my back foot catch on something and in an instant, I hit the ground. My immediate reaction was to self-assess. First off, I had no searing pains in my body. Secondly, I searched for my iPod and camera in the brush, because both went flying as I fell. Luckily, they both still work. Finally, as I picked myself up, I noticed blood dripping down my leg from my knee crashed into a rock. It looked worse than it was, and in the end, I only had a few bruises and scrapes as well as learned not to walk the Camino while listening to music.

As I approached the Navarra-Rioja regional border, the majority of the landscape turned into vineyards, which produce the grapes that make the world renowned Rioja wine. Every field was immaculately cared for and I found it interesting to see the various shapes and sizes of the grapevines depending on what type of grape had been planted. The vineyards quickly changed to field upon field of wheat as I entered Castilla y León, Spain´s largest region. Currently I am in Burgos, one of the region´s main cities. This is the first full day of rest I have taken since beginning my pilgrimage 12 days ago. During that time, I have walked nearly 200 miles. I think a day of rest is well deserved!

Alaina Cotillo

Monday, June 22, 2009

Peru Trip - The First Five Days

This summer, Rivers students are embarking on a variety of interesting and challenging adventures, from doing medical research at local hospitals to attending prestigious music camps. Over the next two weeks, middle school faculty members Susan McGee and Laura Brewer will be traveling with twelve students on a trip to Peru that will include language exchange, cultural immersion and community service. Today we hear from Ms. Brewer as she talks about the experiences her students have been having in Peru.

We are here, and are finally acclimated to the altitude. I admit to a little reluctance to leaving the bubble of the amazing experience we are having to look at a computer screen. I am sitting in a renovated monastery in Urubamba at 9800 feet (nothing compared to where we´ve been!) We are in the Sacred Valley of the Incas surrounded by towering sharp mountain peaks. The valley is warm and mild, and the crops are still being harvested in the late fall season. But for a few minutes, we will try to communicate a bit of what we have done, but just picture me here at a keyboard with the letters taped onto the keys...

So far, in the first five days, Peru is everything we could have hoped for. Monday was a long day of travel and excitement, with our final arrival at the hotel in Lima at about 1 AM. We awakened in this enormous, flat, dry city. Looking outside the hotel, a small square park was already being swept by local women in green city uniforms, and men pedaling bicycles with enormous flat baskets collected recycleables and other garbage. In ten minutes flat, the park was immaculate, and three dogs continued snoozing in the center in the early morning sun. Tuesday the 16th, Joel Miranda contributed, We left for the airport to catch a flight to Arequipa. The flight lasted about two hours, which was nothing compared to the 16 1/2 hours we spent traveling the day before. We went to have a Peruvian lunch which was highlighted by a local band playing for us. Then we walked to the museum where they keep the Frozen Girl, Juanita who was an Incan mummy found in the Andes mountains. We were able to see her body and relics kept with her. We also visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. This was a monastery for nuns in the 1600s and was mainly inhabited by second daughters of wealthy colonial families. They could not marry. The monastery was enormous and abutted the beautiful Santa Catalina cathedral in Arequipa. There were numerous streets within the grounds, each named for a city in Spain and copying thier architecture.

Brendan Connolly writes about Wednesday, Today we had a long bus ride to Puno. We got our last looks at Misti, Picho Pichu, and Chinchachi (the three volcanoes above Arequipa). We got to see some magnificent landforms and then got to some open road. Along the way we saw families of Andean deer called vicunas, and thousands of llamas and alpacas being herded on the altiplano. We were all feeling the affects of the altitude. Even the walk from the bus 100 feet down a small hill to have lunch left us feeling winded. (And not just Laura and Susie!) The barren altiplano is farmed in the traditional way, by hand, and looks very lonely. You can see for miles, and spot teeny little people far away across fields and hills watching their herds in brightly colored wool clothing. In the browns of the altiplano, it makes it easy to see your family members, who look to me like they might have been nearly a mile distant. Brendan concludes, When we were almost at Lake Titicaca, we stopped to see some Inca ruins (Sillustani on Lake Umayo - amazing) The ruins held mummies that were found and taken out, but the burial places are still there.

Thursday was one of the most interesting days of my life, and the kids could not believe what we saw. Kate Mecke writes, Today we took a boat to Taquile Island, located in Lake Titicaca. It has practically zero electricity and zero cars. The boat ride to the island allowed us to view the massive lake from many perspectives. On our way we stopped by a village (Uros Islands) that created a floating island using solely (torturro) reeds and other natural materials. The locals showed us how their ancestors created the island and their many other fascinating ways of life. They then allowed us to take a ride in a large reed boat. We reboarded our own boat and headed once again to Taquile Island. As we arrived we were treated with hospitality as well as a fantastic lunch (local trout from the lake). The residents welcomed us warmly into their private homes where we would be spending the night. The remainder of the day was devoted to exploring the island, as well as seeing a mgnificent sunset. Despite our language barrier, we were able to play games with the local children and put our Spanish to some use. Before dinner, we were adorned with native dress. Traditional dancing and a warm fire (as well as some fire jumping) followed dinner and put a perfect finish to a great day. The homes were not heated but neat and tidy and the blankets were heavy and warm. Everyone slept well.

Friday, June 19th. Carly Devereux journaled, Today we woke up at 5:30 to watch the beautiful Taquilean Island sunrise over the Bolivian mountains. As we watched the sky getting lighter, the people of the island awakened, carrying their bundles across the hillsides. After a short nap to recover from our early wakeup, we ate a breakfast of pancakes and hard boiled eggs. From there we walked up the steep hillside to a secondary school with kids our own age. We toured around and learned how the school worked. After our tour, we played a basketball game against them. Although we won (side comment: our kids could only play hockey-length shifts and so the game couldn´t have continued much longer. Smiles everywhere. Our kids lined up for the handshakes - it was awesome, and then Tyler gave them the ball.) We walked across the island, which consisted of many stairs (524, but Susie and I were not counting at 12,000 feet...) On the boat ride back, we played many intense card games and relaxed in the sun on roof deck. When we pulled into the port of Puno, we were driven to the center of the city in 7 bicycle cabs (taxicholo) and walked around the city blacks and plazas.

Saturday, June 20. The last day of fall. As you may have heard local farmers are protesting the planned privatization of water and have blocked the two roads between Puno and Cuzco, which changed our day a bit. We flew (actually very quickly and efficiently - thanks to quick work by Andean Treks) to Lima and then Cusco, arriving at noon. We had a leisurely lunch, and did some drawing on a hillside, listening to the braying of donkeys, watching workers on the tops of huge hayfilled trucks laughing on their ways down the road. Griffin Green says, We saw glacier topped mountains, which were stunning, and then we saw the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The hotel that we are staying in is an old manastery with very fine art. ¨We spent most of the day traveling, but we saw some amazing scenery.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg. We´ll try to blog again, but reentry to the real world... Everyone is happy and healthy, our guide is fantastic with the kids, and we are having a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from David Burzillo, who will be studying Sumerian."


David Burzillo


As I noted in my last blog, Sumerian and Egyptian are the oldest languages for which writing exists.  Most scholars view cuneiform, the writing system invented for Sumerian, as being slightly older than hieroglyphics, the writing system invented for Egyptian.  (Some Egyptologists have argued, based on recently discovered drawings from the Egyptian desert, that Egyptian writing is older than the oldest cuneiform, but they have not forged a consensus.)


Writing is best defined as “visible speech.” Writing systems make spoken words “visible” in three basic ways.  First, the individual sounds of a language--its phonemes or vowels and consonants--can be represented by individual symbols, called an alphabet. The writing system we use for the English language is a good example of this.  This type of system requires a person to memorize somewhere between 20-30 symbols, which can be combined to represent words.  A second method breaks up spoken words syllabically, and the symbols of the writing system represent various combinations of vowels and consonants.  Syllabic systems require a person to memorize somewhere between 40-85 symbols. A syllabic writing system is still used today to represent the Cherokee language.  A third type of writing system, logographic, is composed of symbols, which represent entire words.  These systems often have hundreds of symbols to memorize; in some cases, like Chinese, there are thousands of symbols. 


The cuneiform writing of the Sumerians consists of about 600 signs.  It is not purely alphabetic, syllabic, or logographic, but rather the signs are drawn from each category.  A handful of signs represent individual vowels; most signs represent either syllables or whole words.  In many cases, an individual sign can have multiple functions. 


In the first image below, part of an inscription of the King Amar-Suen of the Ur III Dynasty, one sign will nicely illustrate the versatility of cuneiform signs.  (Note that the inscription has a curve to it because it was written around a door socket.)  The second image shows one sign, which probably was a representation of a star initially.  It appears in many contexts in the inscription. Look for this sign in the following lines:


In line 9, this sign is used as a determinative.  Determinatives were used by Sumerian scribes to indicate the class of things that a word belonged to.  These signs were not pronounced in spoken language, but they were important in writing, and there were determinatives for wooden objects, stone objects, cities, gods, men, women, etc….  In this case the sign means that the name of a god follows.  In this case the god is Enlil, the chief god of Sumeria.  Interestingly, some of the kings of this dynasty thought of themselves as gods, which was typical in Egypt but unusual in Sumeria, and so their names contain this sign in written texts. 


In line 10, this sign is used as a logograph and represents the word “dingir” or god.  Coupled with the “zid” sign, which means “true or effective,” the line translates as “the effective god.”


Finally, in line 14, this same sign is used syllabically, as “an.” Coupled with the sign that follows it, it is one of two syllables which form the word “anub, “ which means “corner.”  It is part of a longer expression that is often used to refer to powerful kings in Sumeria.  This expression translates best in English as “the king of the four quarters.”


David Burzillo

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 1-3: St. Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona

This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from Alaina Cotillo, who is participating in the five-week St. James’ Way hike that starts at St. Jean Pied de Port, France and ends at Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Studying abroad in Madrid in college, I became intrigued by the Camino de Santiago, its history, and those who choose to walk it. Never having been to rural Spain or traveling much in the northern part of the country, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to further immerse myself in the Spanish culture, discover new places, and be part of a tradition that has existed for over over 1,000 years. I began my trek 3 days ago in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, a small, picturesque town just north of the Pyrenees Mountains. It was by far the hardest day thus far and perhaps will be during the entirety of my pilgrimage. Covering about 17 miles in 7 hours, I climbed steadily for nearly 5.5 of them through the mountains. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking with lush greenery, small villages nestled in amongst the mountains, and a bright, blue sky with very few clouds. As I climbed, my quads burned and lower back ached from my 25 pound pack; however, it was not until the descent that I realized how much more I actually enjoyed the climb. The continuous pounding on my feet caused the soles to become sore and my toes to hurt. Moreover, I had to look only at the ground so as not to trip or turn my ankle; consequently was not able to enjoy the view. Upon arriving in Roncesvalles, the first town you reach once crossing the French-Spanish border, I stayed in my first pilgrim hostel. An experience unlike any other in my life, I slept in a cavernous, church-like room with 100+ people in bunk beds before waking up for another day on the Camino. Between my hikes yesterday and today I walked more than 26 miles, with some ascents and some descents but the majority of the time the land was flatter. Covering only 9 miles today in order to spend the night in Pamplona, the first city on the Camino, I am looking forward to getting lost in the winding, narrow streets and perhaps seeing a bull or two running through the streets.

Alaina Cotillo

Monday, June 15, 2009

This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from Ben Leeming, who is traveling to Zacatecas, Mexico to study the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl.

So, why am I spending the summer in Zacatecas, Mexico? Two reasons. First, it has always been a long-term goal of mine to spend time abroad with my entire family (I am married with four children ages 3-10), especially in Spanish-speaking countries. Both my wife and I speak Spanish and have a love of hispanic culture; we have both had formative experiences living and traveling in Spanish-speaking countries (I in Mexico and Spain, my wife in Argentina) and desire similar exposure for our children. The kids are also in a bilingual elementary school program, which has been a very important part of their childhood experiences – learning in Spanish 80% of the day, making friends with Spanish-speaking kids, and learning about hispanic culture. So, for these reasons, living in Mexico for two months fits in with that larger plan.

The second reason is related to my professional development. VERY long story short: in addition to working as a history/art history teacher at Rivers, in the 4-5 years since completing my masters program at Harvard I have been conducting independent research in early colonial Mexican history, with a focus on the ethnohistory of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico (otherwise known as the Aztecs), in particular the way in which indigenous peoples understood and adapted to the introduction of Catholicism in the 16th-17th centuries. Getting even more specific than that, I have been learning to read what is called Classical Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people which was adopted by the Spanish as a second language of colonial administration. My goal is to be able to translate and analyze some of the massive corpus of colonial-era Nahuatl-language documentation that sits in archives and libraries around the world unused by scholars because so few know the language. This summer I will be attending an intensive immersion course in Nahuatl, both Classical and one of the modern dialects still spoken today (Nahuatl is the indigenous language spoken by the largest number of Mexicans today, approx. 2 million people). During the week I will be attending classes at the local university in Zacatecas. I will spend two hours in the morning learning to speak Nahuatl with native speakers, two hours in classroom instruction in the older, “Classical” Nahuatl, and one hour one-on-one working with a tutor on a project of my choosing.

In my next post, I will explain in more detail why the study of Nahuatl has been such an important part of my professional growth and I will also introduce you to my current translation project. Stay tuned!

"This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from David Burzillo, who will be studying Sumerian." 

David Burzillo

I have always been fascinated by the early civilizations of Mesopotamia--the name ancient Greek writers gave to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, an area now familiar to most people as Iraq.  Some years ago, I received a faculty enrichment grant to study one of the early languages of this region, Akkadian, a language better known by its Babylonian and Assyrian dialects.  This summer I will be studying Sumerian.


As an historian, language and writing have always fascinated me because of their importance to the story of human history and the evidence they provide for historians to do their work. The use of language is one of the most important characteristics differentiating our species from other animals. Linguists differ on the date of the first use of language by humans, but even the most recent date goes back to about 50,000 years ago. Linguists typically define writing as “visible speech,” and as such, you cannot have writing without language. The first evidence of human writing comes from about 5000 years ago, long after the first use of language. Note that writing is not necessary for language to exist.   


Sumerian and Egyptian are the oldest human languages for which written records exist.  Knowledge of ancient Egypt was never lost, but knowledge of its language was, only to be spectacularly recovered by Jean Francois Champollion in the 1820’s primarily through his work on the Rosetta Stone. In contrast, knowledge of the Sumerians, their language, and their writing system were all lost until the middle of the nineteenth century.  Enthusiasm for Biblical archaeology led to numerous excavations in the Near East by Europeans at sites such as Nineveh, Nimrud, and many others, revealing the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, many of which had played important roles in the stories of the Old Testament.  In the process archaeologists unearthed thousands of clay tablets with wedge-shaped symbols on them, a writing system which today is known as cuneiform.  Old Persian and Babylonian were some of the first languages of the region that were deciphered by scholars.  As knowledge of Babylonian improved, some scholars who could not make sense of odd words in certain tablets suggested that another language was present in them.  As it turns out Babylonian scribes produced numerous tablets with Babylonian words in one column and their Sumerian equivalents in the other. These tablets are now known as lexical lists and were used to teach Sumerian to Babylonian scribes.   By the late 1860’s, scholars were able to correctly label the unknown language in these columns as Sumerian.  While some scholars were initially unwilling to accept the existence of the Sumerians and their language, excavations at Nineveh and Lagash later in the century provided unequivocal proof of the existence of this people and language.  


The study of Sumerian poses a number of challenges.  While the language is considered deciphered, and scholars can read numerous texts in Sumerian, the language is far from fully understood. Because of this, some historians of language and writing classify the Sumerian language as “unknown.” There are many obstacles to a complete understanding of the language.  First, linguists group languages in families, and questions about an unknown language can sometimes be answered by analogy to known languages from that family.  Sumerian, unfortunately, is an isolate—it is not related to any other language, living or dead--so analogy cannot be used to shed light on obscure elements of it.  Second, the largest number of documents in Sumerian come from a period called Ur III by historians.  This period began in 2112 BCE, perhaps two thousand years after Sumerian began to be spoken, so linguists are unsure how close this form of Sumerian is to the original form of the language.  Finally, linguists worry about the extent to which our knowledge of Sumerian is influenced by its usage by Babylonian scribes.  Since the lexical lists composed by these scribes are so important to our knowledge of Sumerian, how much of what they wrote down about Sumerian was influenced by these languages? How reliable a picture of Sumerian do these texts actually present?  Sumerian studies have come a long way in the past 130 years, but there is still a great deal that we don’t know about the language.


A final thought: a Sumerian student in 3000 BCE, would learn the Sumerian language in the same way that I learned English: at home from listening to and interacting with family.  Once he started attending school, there was already some facility with the language.  At school the finer points of grammar might be learned and practiced and more complex, technical vocabulary learned, but the young scribe could focus on learning the 500 or so signs that were needed to write the language.  A modern student of Sumerian needs to learn the language and the signs at the same time.  This, I suppose, is the biggest challenge of learning Sumerian: as a modern student of the language, I am not bringing any knowledge of the language to the table as I begin “scribal school.”  I must learn the language and the writing system simultaneously.


The attached image is an inscription from a clay brick.  It celebrates Ur Nammu, the founder of the Ur III dynasty, and his building of the city wall of Ur and a temple for the moon god Nanna.  

David Burzillo