Lisa Cooper

Research Interests

  • The Archaeology of ‘Greater Mesopotamia’ (ancient Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey)
  • Ancient Near Eastern urban origins, growth and collapse
  • History of archaeological exploration and archaeological practice in Mesopotamia, particularly in the early 20th century
  • Orientalism, colonialism and archaeology
  • Pottery, and Bronze Age chronologies
  • The material manifestations of Assyrian imperial growth in the Near East


Archaeological Excavations at Bestansur, Iraqi Kurdistan

My current archaeological investigations are focused on the site of Bestansur, located in the Sulaymaniyah Province of Iraqi Kurdistan. Working under the aegis of the Central Zagros Archaeology Project, directed by Reading University professors Roger and Wendy Matthews, and funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, I aim to understand the late Assyrian period occupation of Bestansur (c. 7th century BCE). At this time, the region in which Bestansur is located was controlled by the Neo-Assyrian empire. Among my research objectives is the documentation of this imperial presence, or lack thereof, through the site’s material culture, and efforts to clarify the particular social-cultural identities that may have been present at the settlement during this period, be they inhabitants indigenous to the region, or foreigners (either Assyrians or deported populations). In 2013, I worked at Bestansur with Chelsea Gardner, then a UBC doctoral student, while in 2017, I was joined by Dr. Lynn Welton, a former post-doctoral fellow of UBC and currently a researcher at the University of Toronto (and soon to be a Marie-Curie post-doctoral Fellow at Durham University), and Sheri Pak (UBC). Both assisted with the excavations and planning of the trenches together with a very capable crew of Kurdish workers from the modern village of Bestansur. Pak also initiated a photogrammetric recording of architectural features and deposits, this greatly enhancing a visualization of the built domestic spaces and their associated furnishings, and further assisting in our aim to understand the movement and behaviours of the people who once inhabited these places. To date, the areas exposed have revealed the presence of several domestic units, separate from one another by alleyways and open areas, some paved with pebbles. Although not far under the current surface, many of the units’ occupation surfaces were found intact, some with clusters of smashed pots still in situ on the floors as well as other associated artifacts such as metal blades, arrowheads, beads and loom weights. These spaces appear to have been used for cooking, the storage of foodstuffs and places where food was served and consumed. My next field season at Bestansur is planned for the Spring of 2019.

Gertrude Bell’s Archaeological Achievements

Gertrude Bell was an intrepid Englishwoman of the early 20th century who ventured into many remote corners of the Ottoman Empire, befriending local Bedouin tribes and playing a major role in the political events that shaped the modern Middle East after World War I. In spite of a wealth of information about Bell in published biographies and other reports, few have attempted to provide significant details on an aspect of Gertrude Bell’s life that frequently dictated her travels and continued to be one of the main passions of her eventful life: archaeology. My research attempts to fill that gap in one’s knowledge of the life of Gertrude Bell by highlighting her archaeological achievements. In particular, I am especially interested in Bell’s 1909 trip of exploration down the eastern bank of the Euphrates River from Syria into Iraq, and her subsequent journey in 1911 to re-visit several of the ancient sites in these regions and to take further observations. Bell’s journeys culminated in her visit to the remote desert site of Ukhaidir in Iraq, and her published description and study of that 8th century Abbasid palace and mosque (Bell 1914). In all, these trips represent Bell at a stage in her life when she was most fascinated and aware of the antiquity of the lands through which she passed, and through which she hoped to leave her mark with detailed archaeological descriptions and analyses. My book on this subject, entitled In Search of Kings and Conquerors: Gertrude Bell and the Archaeology of the Middle East (London, I.B. Tauris) was published in 2016. The book was awarded the runner-up prize by the British-Kuwait Friendship Society in October 2017.

Urbanism during the Early Bronze Age of Syria

Fieldwork and ceramic studies of Bronze Age archaeological material in the Euphrates River valley of Syria prompted me to study further the rise and collapse of urban society in this region during the Early Bronze Age (circa. 3200—1900 BCE). My work on this period culminated in the publication of a book, Early Urbanism on the Syrian Euphrates (London: Routledge, 2006). The book highlights the remarkably rich urban culture of the Euphrates region, detailing the unique riverine environment in which a flexible economy based on a combination of agriculture, pastoralism and hunting was successfully maintained and played an important role in sustaining the Euphrates’ urban character over a long period of time. The book examines the persistent tribal background of the populations settled in this region, which prompted a high degree of social stability and heterarchical relationships, and contributed to the cultural resilience of the Early Bronze urban communities. The combination of these key factors forms an interesting and enduring settlement history that provides an illuminating counterpoint to that witnessed in other regions of Mesopotamia and the rest of the Near East during the Early Bronze Age.


B.A. (1986): University of Toronto, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Ancient Syria∕Palestine and Assyriology.
M.A. (1987): University of Toronto, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Assyriology.
M.Phil (1988): University of Cambridge, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Assyriology.
Ph.D. (1997): University of Toronto, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, West Asian Archaeology.  Thesis: “The Middle Bronze Age of the Euphrates Valley, Syria: Chronology, Regional Interaction and Cultural Exchange”


1998—1999: Departmental Associate, Department of Near Eastern and Asian Civilizations, Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto).
1999—2006: Assistant Professor, Dept. of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies, University of British Columbia (Vancouver).
2006—2017: Associate Professor, Dept. of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies, University of British Columbia (Vancouver)
2017—present: Professor, Dept. of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies, University of British Columbia (Vancouver).



I am happy to supervise graduate students in any of the areas of my research interests and/or expertise, these including Near Eastern urban origins and demise, the history of archaeological research in Iraq and Syria, Near Eastern Bronze and Iron Age pottery chronologies, Neo-Assyrian imperialism, and studies of ethnicity and identity in the archaeological record. As I am still doing active fieldwork in the Middle East, my students may have an opportunity to accompany me on excavation projects. Students with an interest and aptitude in ceramics research would be especially welcome. I would be keen to hear from prospective students in Iraq and Syria.



“Gertrude Bell’s Mesopotamian Archaeological Photographs,” Near Eastern Archaeology 81 (2018): 108-119.

“Half-Empty or Half-Full? Past and Present Research on EBIV Caliciform Goblets and their Chronological and Socio-Economic Implications,” in Ebla and Beyond: Ancient Near Eastern Studies after Fifty Years of Discoveries at Tell Mardikh. Proceedings of the International Conference Held in Rome, 15th-17thDecember 2014, edited by Paolo Matthiae, Frances Pinnock and Marta D’Andrea. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2018, pp. 181-208.

(with Lynn Welton and Sheri Pak) “Spring Excavations in Kurdistan: Bestansur 2017,” The Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies Journal 11-12 (2016-2017): 57-59.


“Gertrude Bell and the Monuments of Nineveh,” in Nineveh, the Great City. Symbol of Beauty and Power. Edited by L.P. Petit, and D. Morandi Bonacossi. Leiden: Sidestone Press, 2017, pp. 87-90.

‘‘‘Better than any ruined site in the world’ – Gertrude Bell and the ancient site of Assur,” in Gertrude Bell and Iraq – A Life and Legacy. Edited by Charles Tripp and Paul Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, for the British Academy, 2017, pp. 77-95.


In Search of Kings and Conquerors: Gertrude Bell and the Archaeology of the Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris. 

“Queen of the Desert,” Minerva (2016 March–April), in press.


“Gertrude Bell and the Archaeology of Mesopotamia,” British Archaeology (March¬–April 2014): 38–41.

(With M. Fortin and M-C Boileau) “Rapport préliminaire et études céramologiques sur les campagnes de fouilles 2009 et 2010 à Tell ‘Acharneh, vallée du Ghab, Syrie,” Syria 91 (2014): 173–220.

(With Lynn Welton) “Caliciform Ware,” in Associated Chronologies of the Ancient Near East:  Interregional Vol. 1: Ceramics. Edited by Marc Lebeau. Turnhout: Brepols, 2014, pp. 325–54.

“The Early Bronze Age in Syria,” The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant (8000-332 BCE). Edited by Margaret L. Steiner and Ann E. Killebrew. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 278–91.

(With Michel Fortin) “Nouvelle prospection archéologique dans la moyenne vallée de l’Orontes: entre Chezar et Tell Qarqur,” in New Perspectives in the Orontes Region. First Results of Archaeological Fieldwork. Edited by Karin Bartl and Michel al-Maqdissi. Berlin: Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2014, pp. 85–105.


“Archaeology and Acrimony: Gertrude Bell, Ernst Herzfeld and the Study of Early Mesopotamia.” Iraq 75 (2013): 143–69.

(With Michel Fortin) “Shedding New Light on the Elusive Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages at Tell ‘Acharneh (Syria),” in Across the Border: Late Bronze – Iron Age Relations between Syria and Anatolia. Proceedings of a Symposium held at the Research Center of Anatolian Studies, Koç University, Istanbul, May 31—June 1st, 2010. Edited by K. Aslıhan Yener. Leuven: Peeters, 2013, pp. 147–171.

(With Chelsea Gardner) ‘Excavations in Trench 14 (Bestansur),’ in Central Zagros Archaeological Project: Excavations at Bestansur, Archive Report, 2013. Edited by Roger and Wendy Matthews, University of Reading, 2013, pp. 35–55


“Cultural Developments in Western Syria and the Middle Euphrates Valley during the Third Millennium BC,” in The Sumerian World. Edited by Harriet Crawford. London: Routledge 2012, pp. 478-497.

“Continuity and Change in the Upper Euphrates Region of Syria,” in Looking North: The Socioeconomic Dynamics of Northern Mesopotamia and Anatolian Regions during the Late Third and Early Second Millennium BC. Edited by N. Laneri, P. Pfälzner and S. Valentini. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012, pp. 81-92.

 (With Zuhair Rijib and Sabr Ahmed) “Neo-Assyrian and Sasanian pottery,” in Archive Report: Central Zagros Archaeology Project. Excavations at Bestansur, Sulaimaniyeh Province, Kurdistan Regional Government, Republic of Iraq, 17th March – 24th April, 2012.


“Review of P. Parr (ed) The Levant in Transition: Proceedings of a Conference held at the British Museum on 20-21 April 2004, (Palestine Exploration Fund Annual 9. Leeds: Maney Publishing, 2009).” In Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 361 (2011): 97-99.

(With Michel Fortin) “Tell ‘Acharneh: Campagne de 2009,” Chronique archéologique en Syrie. Excavations Reports of 2009. Damascus: Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, 2011, pp. 131-136.


“Urban Elements in Early Bronze Age Settlements of the Northern Euphrates Valley of Syria,” Al-Rafidan. Journal of Western Asiatic Studies. Special Issue 2010. (Formation of Tribal Communities: Integrated Research in the Middle Euphrates, Syria), pp. 177-190.

“States of Hegemony: Early Forms of Political Control in Syria during the Third Millennium BC,” in The Development of Pre-State Communities in the ancient Near East: Studies in Honour of Edgar Peltenburg. Edited by Diane Bolger and Louise Maguire. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010, pp. 87-94.


“The Archaeological Achievements of Gertrude Bell,” British Institute for the Study of Iraq Newsletter 21, May 2008, pp. 6-9.


“Early Bronze Age Burial Types and Social-Cultural Identity with the Northern Euphrates Valley”, in Euphrates River Valley Settlement. The Carchemish Sector in the Third Millennium BC. Edited by Edgar Peltenburg. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2007, pp. 55-70.

(With Michel Fortin) “La mission canadienne à Tell ‘Acharneh (Syrie): à la recherché de l’ancienne Tunip,” Mouseion (September 2007): 1-28.

“Exploring the Heartland of the Early Bronze Age ‘Caliciform ‘Culture.” Journal of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies 2 (2007): 43-50.


Early Urbanism on the Syrian Euphrates. London: Routledge, 2006.

(With Robert C. Henrickson) “The Pottery of Yemniyeh”, in Studia Euphratica. Le moyen Euphrate iraquien révélé par les fouilles préventive de Haditha. Edited by Christine Kepinski, Olivier Lecomte and Aline Tenu. Paris: De Boccard, 2006, pp. 291-318.

“The Demise and Regeneration of Bronze Age Urban Centers in the Euphrates Valley of Syria”, in After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies. Edited by Glenn M. Schwartz and John J. Nichols. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 2006, pp. 18-37.

“The Pottery from Tell ‘Acharneh, Part 1: Typological Considerations and Dating According to Excavated Areas in the Upper and Lower Towns, 1998—2002,” in Tell ‘Acharneh: the 1998-2004 Seasons of Excavations and Study. A Preliminary Report. Edited by Michel Fortin. Subartu 18. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006, pp. 140-190.

Review of J.-P. Thalmann, Tell Arqa – I. Les niveaux de l’âge du Bronze. 2 Volumes. In Paléorient 32.2 (2006): 198-202.

(With Thomas Hikade) “Europe and the Mediterranean: Ancient Near East Geography, World View, and Mapmaking,” in Oxford Companion to Exploration. Edited by David Buisseret. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 262-265.

“Gilgamesh Epic”, in Oxford Companion to Exploration. Edited by David Buisseret. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 348-349.


(With Michel Fortin) “Tell ‘Acharneh in the Middle Orontes Valley and the Assyrian Presence in Syria,” in From the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea: Studies on the History of Assyria and Babylonia in Honour of A.K. Grayson. Edited by Grant Frame. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten, 2004, pp. 17-51.


“A. Douglas Tushingham,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada, Seventh Series, Vol. 1, 2002: 243-45.


(With Michel Fortin) “Analyse pétrographique de la céramique de Tell‘Acharneh, en Syrie (3000-700 av. J.-C.): résultats preliminaries” in Journées d’étude du groupe de recherches en archéométrie du CELAT (1997-1999).Québec: Université Laval, 2001, pp. 137-148.


“Archaeological Perspectives on the Political History of the Euphrates Valley, during the Early Second Millennium B.C.” in Canadian Research on Ancient Syria. Annual Symposium of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies, September 21-23, 2000. Edited by Michel Fortin. Québec: Musée de la Civilisation, 2000, pp. 79-86.


“Pottery of the EB-MB Transitional Period in the Northern Euphrates Valley” in Archaeology of the Upper Syrian Euphrates: The Tishrin Dam Area. Proceedings of the International Symposium Held at Barcelona, January 28th – 30th 1998. Edited by G. del Olmo Lete. Barcelona: Editorial Ausa, 1999, pp. 321-32.

(With Robert B. Mason) “Grog, Petrology and Early Transcaucasians at Godin Tepe,” Iran 36 (1999): 25-31.

(With Robert B. Mason) “Petrographic Analysis of Bronze Age Pottery from Tell Hadidi, Syria,” Levant 31 (1999): 135-47.


“The EB-MB Transitional Period at Tell Kabir, Syria” in Espace Naturel, Espace Habité: Actes du colloque tenu à l’Université Laval (Québec) du 5 au 7 mai 1997. Edited by Michel Fortin. Lyon: Maison de L’Orient Méditerranéen, 1998, pp. 271-80.


(with Michel Fortin) “Canadian Excavations at Tell ‘Atij (Syria) 1992-93″, The Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies Bulletin 27 (May 1994): 1-17.


“Trade, Trouble and Taxation along the Caravan Routes of the Mari Period” in Death and Taxes in the Ancient Near East, edited by Sara Orel. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992, pp. 1-15.

Review of Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History, by J.N. Postgate (London: Routledge, 1992), in The Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies Bulletin 24: (1992): pp. 51-53.

Other publications and broadcasts for a general audience

Interview for Globe and Mail, “Mesopotamia: the First Urban Centre,” June 21st, 2013

Podcast: Ancient Sources. Women in Archaeology: Lisa Cooper on Gertrude Bell (2011). 

Radio Interview for CBC One: “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera: Verdi’s Nabucco” (Commentary on Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus and Babylon), October 11th, 2008.

“Postcards from the Edge: Exploring Syria’s Ancient Past,” UBC Reports. Vancouver, September 12th, 2006, p. 52.

“Tragedy of Highest Order has Befallen Precious Warka Vase,” Vancouver Sun, Saturday, April 26th, 2003.