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Department of Archaeology



Twitter: @Augusta_McMahon

Augusta McMahon has a BA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania) and an M.A. and PhD in Mesopotamian Archaeology from the University of Chicago. She has excavated in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Yemen and has been a member of the Archaeology Department since 1995. She is Course Co-ordinator for Assyriology and Mesopotamian archaeology


  • Archaeology of Mesopotamia
  • Early urbanism and sustainability
  • Warfare and violent conflict
  • Sensory archaeology

My research focuses on late prehistoric and historic Mesopotamia (Iraq, SW Iran, NE Syria, SE Turkey), particularly issues of early urbanism and urban sustainability, social stress and warfare, political economy, and settlement archaeology, during the 5th through 1st millennia BC. My current project examines 3rd millennium BC urbanism through excavation and survey at the ancient city of Lagash (Tell al-Hiba, south Iraq), in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania and the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. See : ARWA lecture  for description of our 2019 results.

My previous project (Tell Brak, northeast Syria, 2006-2011) addressed northern Mesopotamian urbanism and economic complexity during the 5th-4th millennia BC and traced settlement continuity throughout episodes of political change during the 2nd millennium BC. Excavations at Tell Brak have expanded our knowledge of early urban economies, especially the shift of production from households to clustered workshops. We have also shown that this industrialisation of production, together with urban population growth, generated intractable quantities of rubbish, leading to creation of one of the world's earliest rubbish tips, in the early 4th millennium BC. This rubbish tip was located within a dynamic, low density, urban edge zone also used for human burials and the unregulated 'grey' economy. Urban growth at Brak in the mid-4th millennium BC was accompanied by power shifts and internal social stresses that resulted in several episodes of violent conflict, evidenced by mass graves.

I am also interested in combining empirical and phenomenological approaches in sensory archaeology, particularly examining the lived experience of imperial architecture.

Information for Prospective Postgraduate Students

Please don't hesitate to make contact (by email is best) if you are interested in graduate research in Mesopotamian archaeological topics. I am always happy to discuss your interests and goals and to advise on whether we are able to support and supervise you here. My own interests and expertise range from late prehistory through the late 1st millennium BC, with particular emphasis on social questions: mobility and migration, inequity and conflict, resources and sustainability. I am also happy to supervise art historical and material culture based topics using a range of theoretical approaches and scientific methods. Here in Cambridge, there is access to a rich collection of unpublished or under-analysed material from excavations at Tell Brak and Chagar Bazar (Syria) and Lagash (Iraq) which is available for student projects--just ask!  We have a vibrant and supportive Assyriology/Mesopotamian Studies graduate community within the larger Archaeology Department, and our students interrogate data using methods ranging from textual criticism to trace element analyses.


Key publications: 
  • McMahon, A. 2021. Pieces of String: Cordage in Late Chalcolithic Northern Mesopotamia. In. M. Altaweel & C. Hritz, eds. From Sherds to Landscapes: Studies on the Ancient Near East in Honor of McGuire Gibson. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 71. Chicago: Oriental Institute: 167-182.
  • McMahon, A., 2021. Urban Sustainability in Northern Mesopotamia: Late Chalcolithic Tell Brak. In M. van Ess, ed., 8th International Colloquium of the German Oriental Society; Uruk – Ancient Near Eastern Metropolis and Cultural Centre. Harrassowitz. 271-284.
  • McMahon, A. 2020. Experiments in Recording Practices in 4th millennium BC Northern Mesopotamia. In F. Balossi Restelli, A. Cardarelli, G.M. di Nocera, L. Manzanilla, L. Mori, G. Palumbi & H. Pittman, eds. Pathways Through Arslantepe; Essays in Honour of Marcella Frangipane. Rome: Sapienza Università, 337-346.
  • McMahon, A.  2019 online; 2020 print. Early Northern Mesopotamian Urbanism. Journal of Archaeological Research 28(3): 289-337.
  • McMahon, A. 2019. The Sensory World of Mesopotamia. In J. Day & R. Skeates, eds. Routledge Handbook of Sensory Archaeology. London: Routledge.
  • McMahon, A. 2019. The Mitanni Palace and Settlement at Tell Brak, Northeast Syria. In D. Wicke, ed. Der Palast im antiken und islamischen Orient. 9th International Colloquium of the German Oriental Society. Harassowitz: 109-120.
  • McMahon, A. 2017. How Many Sumerians Does It Take to Put Out the Rubbish? In Heffron, Y., Stone, A., and Worthington, M. (eds.), At the Dawn of History, Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honour of J.N. Postgate. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake: 373-392.
  • McMahon, A. 2016. Urbanisation ancienne, tensions sociales et violence: les fosses communes de Tell Brak (Syrie, IVe millénaire avant notre ère). In J. Guilaine & J. Sémelin, eds. Violences de guerre, violences de masse, Une approche archéologique. Institut national de recherches archéologiques preventives. Paris: La Découverte. 37-49.
  • McMahon, A. 2016. The Encultured Vulture; Late Chalcolithic Sealing Images and the challenges of urbanism in 4th millennium BC northern Mesopotamia. Paléorient 42.1: 169-183.
  • McMahon, A. 2016. A Feast for the Ears: Neo-Assyrian Royal Architecture and Acoustics. In J. MacGinnis, D. Wicke & T. Greenfield, eds. Assyrian Provinces Conference Proceedings. Cambridge: McDonald Institute, 129-139.
  • McMahon, A. 2016. Reframing the Ziggurat: Looking at (and from) ancient Mesopotamian Temple Towers. In. T. Sørensen & M. Bille, eds. Elements of Architecture, Assembling Archaeology, Atmosphere and the Performance of Building Spaces. Routledge, 321-339.
  • McMahon, A. 2015. State Warfare and Pre-state Violent Conflict: Battle’s Aftermath at Late Chalcolithic Tell Brak. In A. McMahon & H. Crawford, eds. Preludes to Urbanism, The Late Chalcolithic of Mesopotamia. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.
  •  McMahon, A. 2015. Waste Management in Early Urban Southern Mesopotamia. In P. Mitchell, ed. Sanitation, Latrines and Intestinal Parasites in Past Populations. Farnham: Ashgate, 19-39.
  • McMahon, A. 2015. A New World of Work: Inequality and Inequity in 4th Millennium BC Mesopotamia. Origini 38: 15-29.
  • McMahon A. 2013. The Mesopotamian city. P. Clark (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 31-48.
  • McMahon, A.  2013.  Tell Brak, Early Northern Mesopotamian Urbanism, Economic Complexity and Social Stress, fifth-fourth millennia BC.  In D. Bonatz and L. Martin, eds. 100 Jahre Archäeologische Feldforschungen in Nordost-Syrien – Eine Bilanz.  Weisbaden: Harrassowitz, 65-78.
  • McMahon, A. and A. Stone. 2013. The Edge of the City: Urban Growth and Burial Space in 4th Millennium BC Mesopotamia. Origini 35: 83-109.
  • McMahon, A. 2013. Space, Sound and Light: Towards a Sensory Experience of Ancient Monumental Architecture. American Journal of Archaeology 117(2): 163-179.
  • McMahon, A.  2012.  Post-Akkadian ceramic assemblages of the central Upper Khabur: What can pottery tell us about political and climate change?  In H. Weiss, ed., Seven Generations Since the Fall of Akkad.  Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 25-44.
  • McMahon, A.  2012.  North Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium BC.  In H. Crawford, ed. The Sumerian World.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 460-475.
  • McMahon, A.  2012.  The Akkadian Empire: Environment and Imagination.  In D.T. Potts, ed. A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.  Oxford: Blackwells, 649-667.
  • McMahon A.M., Sołtysiak A. and Weber J. 2011. Late Chalcolithic mass graves at Tell Brak, Syria, and violent conflict during the growth of early city-states. Journal of Field Archaeology, 36(3), 201-220. DOI: 10.1179/009346911X12991472411123.
  • McMahon, A., C. Colantoni, J. Frane, and A. Soltysiak.  2009.  Once There Was A Place: Settlement Archaeology at Chagar Bazar 1999-2002.  London: British Institute for the Study of Iraq.
  • McMahon, A. 2009. The Lion, the King and the Cage: Late Chalcolithic Iconography and Ideology in Northern Mesopotamia. Iraq 71: 115-124.
  • McMahon, A. and J. Oates. 2007. Excavations at Tell Brak, 2006-2007. Iraq 69: 145-171.
  • McMahon, A.  2006.  Nippur V:  The Early Dynastic to Akkadian Transition, The Area WF Sounding.  Chicago: Oriental Institute Publications 129.
  • McMahon, A., C. Colantoni, and M. Semple. 2005. British Excavations at Chagar Bazar 2001-2002. Iraq 67/2: 1-16.
  • McMahon, A.  2005.  From Sedentism to States, 10,000 to 3000 BCE.  In D. Snell, ed. A Companion to the Ancient Near East. Oxford: Blackwells, 20-33.
  • McMahon, A., Ö. Tunca, and A-M. Baghdo. 2001. New Excavations at Chagar Bazar, 1999 and 2000. Iraq 63: 201-222.
  • McMahon, A. 1998. The Area KG Sounding at Nineveh, Iraq, 1989 and 1990 Seasons.  al-Rafidan 19: 1-32.
  • Trash and Toilets in Mesopotamia: Sanitation and Early Urbanism.
Other publications: 
[1] Styring A.K., Charles M., Fantone F., Hald M.M., McMahon A., Meadow R.H., Nicholls G.K., Patel A.K., Pitre M.C., Smith A., Sołtysiak A., Stein G., Weber J.A., Weiss H. and Bogaard A. 2017. New isotope evidence for agricultural extensification reveals how the world’s first cities were fed. Nature Plants 3: 17076. doi:10.1038/nplants.2017.76
[2] Khalidi, L., B. Gratuze, G. Stein, A. McMahon, S. al-Quntar, R. Carter, R. Culter, P. Dreschler, E. Healey, M-L. Inizan, D. Mouralis, E. Pernicka and A-K. Robin. 2016. The growth of early social networks: New geochemical results of obsidian from the Ubaid to the Chalcolithic Period in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 9: 743-757.
[3] McMahon, A. & H. Crawford, eds. 2015. Preludes to Urbanism, The Late Chalcolithic of Mesopotamia. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.
[4] Oates, J., A. McMahon, P. Karsgaard, S. al-Kuntar, and J. Ur. 2007. Early Mesopotamian Urbanism: a new view from the north. Antiquity 81: 585-600.


[1] McMahon A.M. (2006). Nippur V: The Early Dynastic to Akkadian Transition, The Area WF Sounding. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
[2] Gibson M. and McMahon A.M. (1992). Lost Heritage, Antiquities Stolen from Iraq’s Regional Museums, Chicago: American Association for Research in Baghdad.


Edited books

[1] J. Oates, A.M. McMahon and H. Martin (eds.), (2002). Of Pots and Plans: Papers on the Archaeology and History of Mesopotamia and Syria Presented to David Oates in Honour of His 75th Birthday. London: Nabu Publications.


Other Articles & Chapters

[1] McMahon A.M.(2014). Carinated, Ridged-Shoulder 'Akkadian' Jars. Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, Vol. IR-1, Ceramics. Brepols. 245-252.
[2] McMahon A.M. and Quenet P. (2007). A late third millennium BC pottery assemblage from Chagar Bazar (Area D, Phase II). Chagar Bazar (Syrie) II: Les Vestiges Post-Akkadiens du Chantier D et Études Diverses. Leuven: Peeters. 69-242.
[3] McMahon A.M.(1999). Chagar Bazar. C. Trümpler (ed.), Agatha Christie und der Orient, Kriminalistik und Archäeologie. Essen: Scherz. 105-120.
[4] Breton J.F., McMahon A.M. and Warburton D.A. (1998). Two seasons at Hajar-Am-Dhaybiyya, Yemen. ARAB ARCHAEOL EPIGR, 9(1), 90-111.
[5] Gibson M., Armstrong J. and McMahon A.M. (1998). The city walls of Nippur and an Islamic site beyond: Oriental Institute excavations, 17th season, 1987. Iraq, 60, 11-44.
[6] Gibson M. and McMahon A.M. (1997). The Early Dynastic-Akkadian Transition, part 2: The authors’ response. Iraq, 59, 9-14.
[7] Stein G.J., Bernbeck R., Coursey C., McMahon A.M., Miller N.F., Misir A., Nicola J., Pittman H., Pollock S. and Wright H. (1996). Uruk colonies and Anatolian communities: An interim report on the 1992-1993 excavations at Hacinebi, Turkey. American Journal of Archaeology, 100(2), 205-260.
[8] Gibson M. and McMahon A.M. (1995). Investigation of the Early Dynastic-Akkadian Transition: Report of the 18th and 19th seasons of excavation in Area WF, Nippur. Iraq, 57, 1-39.

Teaching and Supervisions


I contribute to the following BA and MPhil courses:

  • A 1: World Archaeology
  • A 3: Introduction to the Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia
  • A 4: Being Human: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
  • A 25: Mesopotamian Archaeology I: Prehistory to Early States
  • A 26: Mesopotamian Archaeology II: Territorial States to Empires
  • G 07: Mesopotamian Archaeology I: Prehistory to Early States
  • G 08: Mesopotamian Archaeology II: Territorial States to Empires
Research supervision: 

I am available to supervise graduate students in many subjects within Mesopotamian archaeology, particularly topics in settlement archaeology, architecture, sensory archaeology and material culture studies.

   Current Students:

   Past Students:

  • Salam al-Kuntar
  • Daniela Arroyo Barrantes
  • Christina Bouthillier-Reade
  • Carlo Colantoni
  • Tina Greenfield
  • Lamya Khalidi
  • Marco Iamoni
  • Konstantinos Koutsadelis
  • Christina Tsouparopoulou


Other Professional Activities

  • Editorial Board of the journal Iraq
  • Co-Editor, Iraq
  • Cambridge Representative, British Association for Near Eastern Archaeology (BANEA)

Job Titles

Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology
Fellow of Newnham College
Director of Studies, Newnham

General Info

Takes PhD students
Available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Material Culture
Built Environment
Archaeological Theory
Field Methods

Contact Details

Faculty Building
Downing Street
amm36 [at]
01223 (3)33526


Person keywords: 
Early violent conflict
Sensory Archaeology
Assyriology and Mesopotamian Archaeology
Material Culture
Rethinking Complexity
Geographical areas: 
Mesopotamia and the Near East