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Dr Augusta McMahon

Dr Augusta McMahon

Reader in Mesopotamian Archaeology

Fellow of Newnham College


Ancient Near East

Augusta McMahon is accepting applications for PhD students.

Augusta McMahon is available for consultancy.

Faculty Building
Downing Street
Cambridge CB2 3DZ

Office Phone: 01223 333526


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 Graduate Admissions Officer for Archaeology.

Research Interests

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, ancient economies, and settlement archaeology, during the 5th through 1st millennia BC.  I am also interested in combining empirical and phenomenological approaches in sensory archaeology, particularly examining the lived experience of imperial architecture.

My 2006-2011 project at Tell Brak (northeast Syria) examined 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 some 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.

In the spring of 2019, I will begin excavation at the ancient city of Lagash (Tell al-Hiba, S Iraq), in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.

Research Supervision

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

   Current Students:

Silvia Ferreri

Kirk Roberts

   Past Students:

Salam al-Kuntar

Daniela Arroyo Barrantes

Christina Bouthillier-Reade

Carlo Colantoni

Tina Greenfield

Lamya Khalidi

Marco Iamoni

Konstantinos Koutsadelis

Christina Tsouparopoulou


I contribute to the following BA and MPhil courses:

ARC 1: Introduction to Archaeology

ARC 3: Introduction to Mesopotamia and Egypt

ARC 7: Archaeological Theory & Practice

ARC 22: Mesopotamian Archaeology I

ARC 23: Mesopotamian Archaeology II

G 02: Core Archaeology

G 24: Mesopotamian Archaeology I

G 25: Mesopotamian Archaeology II

G 28: Topics in Mesopotamian Archaeology & History

Other Professional Activities

Council Member, British Institute for the Study of Iraq

Chair, Publications Committee, British Institute for the Study of Iraq

Editorial Board of the journal Iraq

Associate Editor, Cambridge Archaeological Journal


  • Material Culture
  • The Near East
  • Urbanism
  • State formation
  • Archaeology

Key Publications

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. 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. & H. Crawford, eds. 2015. Preludes to Urbanism, The Late Chalcolithic of Mesopotamia. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.

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.  2006.  Nippur V:  The Early Dynastic to Akkadian Transition, The Area WF Sounding.  Chicago: Oriental Institute Publications 129.

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.

Trash and Toilets in Mesopotamia: Sanitation and Early Urbanism.

Other Publications


McMahon A.M.(2013). The Mesopotamian city. P. Clark (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 31-48.


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.M., Colantoni C., Frane J. and Soltysiak A. (2009). Once There Was a Place: Settlement Archaeology at Chagar Bazar, 1999-2002. British Institute for the Study of Iraq.




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.


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


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.


Articles & Chapters


McMahon A.M.(2016). Reframing the Ziggurat: Looking at (and from) ancient Mesopotamian Temple Towers. T. Sørensen and M. Bille (eds.), Elements of Architecture Assembling archaeology, atmosphere and the performance of building spaces. Routledge. 321-339.


McMahon A.M.(2015). Waste management in Early Urban Southern Mesopotamia. P. Mitchell (ed.), Sanitation, Latrines and Intestinal Parasites in Past Populations. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. 19-39.


McMahon A.M.(2015). State warfare and pre-state violent conflict: Battle’s aftermath at Late Chalcolithic Tell Brak. A. McMahon and H. Crawford (eds.), Preludes to Urbanism: The Late Chalcolithic of Mesopotamia. (McDonald Institute Monographs.) Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. 175-188.


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.


Petrie C.A.(2014). Iran and Uruk Mesopotamia: Chronologies and connections in the 4th millennium BC. A. McMahon and H. Crawford (eds.), Preludes to Urbanism in the Ancient Near East: A Conference in Honour of Joan Oates. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs. 137-155.


McMahon A.M.(2013). Space, sound, and light: Toward a sensory experience of ancient monumental architecture. American Journal of Archaeology, 117(2), 163-179. DOI: 10.3764/aja.117.2.0163.


McMahon A.M.(2013). North Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. H. Crawford (ed.), The Sumerian World. Abingdon: Routledge. 460-475.


McMahon A.M.(2013). Tell Brak, Early Northern Mesopotamian urbanism, economic complexity and social stress, fifth-fourth millennia BC. D. Bonatz and L. Martin (eds.), 100 Jahre Archäeologische Feldforschungen in Nordost-Syrien – Eine Bilanz. Weisbaden: Harrassowitz. 67-80.


McMahon A.M. and Stone A. (2013). The Edge of the City: Urban Growth and Burial Space in 4th Millennium BC Mesopotamia. Origini, 35, 83-109.


McMahon A.M.(2012). Post-Akkadian ceramic assemblages of the central Upper Khabur: What can pottery tell us about political and climate change?. H. Weiss (ed.), Seven Generations Since the Fall of Akkad. Weisbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. 25-44.


McMahon A.M.(2012). The Akkadian Empire: Environment and imagination. D.T. Potts (ed.), A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 649-667.


McMahon A.M.(2009). The Lion, the King and the Cage: Late Chalcolithic iconography and ideology in Northern Mesopotamia. Iraq, 71, 115-124.


McMahon A.M., Oates J., al-Quntar S., Charles M., Colantoni C., Hald M.M., Karsgaard P., Khalidi L., Soltysiak A., Stone A. and Weber J. (2007). Excavations at Tell Brak, 2006–2007. Iraq, 69, 1-27.


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.


Oates J., McMahon A.M., Karsgaard P., Kuntar S.A. and Ur J. (2007). Early Mesopotamian urbanism: A new view from the north. Antiquity, 81, 585-600.


McMahon A.M.(2005). From sedentism to states, 10,000 to 3000 BCE. D. Snell (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Near East (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World). Oxford: Blackwells. 20-33.


McMahon A.M., Colantoni C. and Semple M.J. (2005). British excavations at Chagar Bazar, 2001–2002. Iraq, 67, 1-16.


McMahon A.M., Tunca Ö and Bagdo A-M. (2001). New excavations at Chagar Bazar, 1999 and 2000. Iraq, 63, 201-222.


McMahon A.M.(1999). Chagar Bazar. C. Trümpler (ed.), Agatha Christie und der Orient, Kriminalistik und Archäeologie. Essen: Scherz. 105-120.


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.


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.


Gibson M. and McMahon A.M. (1997). The Early Dynastic-Akkadian Transition, part 2: The authors’ response. Iraq, 59, 9-14.


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.


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.