Gold Earrings, Ur III, Mesopotamia

Gold Earrings, Ur III, Mesopotamia

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Imports to Ur

Imports to Ur reflect the cultural and trade connections of the Sumerian city of Ur. During the period of the Early Dynastic III royal cemetery (ca. 2600 BC), Ur was importing elite goods from geographically distant places. These objects include precious metals such as gold and silver, and semi-precious stones, namely lapis lazuli and carnelian. These objects are all the more impressive considering the distance from which they traveled to reach Mesopotamia and Ur specifically.

Mesopotamia is very well suited to agricultural production for both plants and animals but is lacking in metals, minerals and stones. These materials were traded by both land and water, although bulk transportation is only possible by water as it is cheaper and faster. River transportation greatly aided Mesopotamian crafts from very early in the fourth millennium. The Euphrates provided access to Syria and Anatolia as well as the Gulf, and many trading posts were set up along the river. The Tigris, in general, is less hospitable to travel and was therefore used less than the Euphrates for trade. Pack-animals such as donkeys and mules were used for overland trade. The combination of these means of transportation allowed access to distant areas and a vast trading network.

For first time at ISAW, ancient objects are joined by modern and contemporary art

Standing Male Figure. Alabaster, Shell, Lapis Lazuli, H. 23 cm W. 8 cm D. 7 cm. Khafajah (Nintu Temple), ca. 2650-2550 BCE. Khafaje Expedition. Penn Museum: 37-15-28 © Bruce White.

NEW YORK, NY.– A major exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World examines the fascinating process through which archaeological objects are transformed from artifacts to artworks and, sometimes, to popular icons, as they move from the sites in which they were discovered, to mass media, to museum displays. From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics includes some 50 outstanding ancient Mesopotamian objects and more than 100 illuminating documents, photographs, and drawings, with a focus on excavations from the 1920s and 30s, when many important finds were unearthed at sites in present-day Iraq. It reveals the role of archaeologists, art historians, journalists, museum curators, and conservators in constructing identities for ancient artifacts that not only resonated with Western popular and artistic culture, but that also positioned the finds as integral to the history of Western civilization.

In a first for ISAW, From Ancient to Modern includes ten works of modern and contemporary art, demonstrating the evolving influence that archaeological artifacts, and the way they were presented, had and continue to have on artists of our day.

The exhibition has been curated by Jennifer Chi, ISAW’s Director of Exhibitions and Chief Curator, and Pedro Azara, Professor of Aesthetics and the Theory of Art at Polytechnic University of Catalonia. It will remain on view through June 7, 2015.

Dr. Chi states, “From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics proposes some provocative ideas about the way that archaeological artifacts have been presented to and perceived by the public. With ancient artifacts, related material, and a selection of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition creates an unprecedented and multi-layered view of some of the most famous sites in the history of archaeology, and, importantly, illustrates the ongoing life of ancient objects. ISAW is grateful to the Penn Museum for its extremely generous loans to the exhibition. We also owe many thanks to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago for its ongoing support, which included opening the doors to its rich permanent collection and archive.”

From Ancient to Modern opens with a gallery devoted to a number of Mesopotamian archaeological sites. Concentrating on Ur, perhaps best known as the birthplace of the biblical figure of Abraham, and several sites in the Diyala River valley, the display includes many nowiconic objects. These are shown alongside documentation that opens a window onto day-to-day life at the excavations while illustrating the ways in which the finds they uncovered were carefully described and presented to the press and public in order to garner maximum appeal. Select objects are followed as they are strategically presented to an international audience, effecting their transformation from archaeological item to aesthetic object.

The most comprehensive archaeological exploration of Ur began in 1922, with a team led by British archaeologist Charles Leonard Woolley. As seen in a number of photographs that illuminate life at the site, Woolley was a dashing figure, sometimes sporting a fedora, a tight jacket, and even dress shoes amid the dust and dirt of an active dig. His team of international archaeologists included one woman, the widow Katharine Keeling, whom he would marry. (Another archaeologist there, Max Mallowan, would later marry Agatha Christie, whom he met on the site. Christie’s mystery Murder in Mesopotamia provides a rich picture of life at the dig.)

Leonard Woolley brushing an artifact, Ur. Photograph, H. 11.5 cm W. 15.3 cm, ca. 1925. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Penn Museum © Courtesy of Penn Museum

The most spectacular of Woolley’s discoveries was the tomb of Queen Puabi, represented in the exhibition through exceptionally well preserved, 4,500-year-old artifacts on loan from the Penn Museum. The tomb contained a remarkably rich concentration of jewelry, found on and with the queen’s body. Much of this was discovered as masses of gold and semi-precious beads, pendants, and other individual components with which the expedition team worked to re-create the original jewelry. The exhibition includes Puabi’s richly beaded cloak and belt, re-created from extraordinary numbers of carnelian, lapis lazuli, and gold beads, and a dazzling headdress comprising lavish gold components that include a massive floral-shaped comb, fillets of pounded sheets of gold, and botanical wreaths.

Jewelry in situ, Ur. Photograph, H. 13.3 cm W. 15.5 cm, 1929. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Penn Museum: 1363 © Courtesy of Penn Museum

An especially interesting example of the ways in which Woolley and his team re-created Puabi’s jewels is the so-called Diadem of Puabi, which the excavation team assembled from a pile of thousands of lapis beads and gold pendants found in the tomb. In its original reconstruction, represented in the exhibition through photographs, the piece has striking similarities with headbands worn during the 1920s and 30s, including a contemporaneous example designed by Cartier, though Woolley indicates in his note cards that he was reconstructing it as he felt the archaeological evidence indicated. In fact, although the Woolleys’ version of the headdress was aesthetically pleasing, more recent research by the Penn Museum indicates that it was not in fact a single ornament but most likely a series of beaded strands with pendants.

Léon Legrain adjusting Puabi’s headdress. Photograph, H. 11.5 cm W. 15.3 cm, 1929. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology © Courtesy of Penn Museum

Presented to the public at an exhibition at the British Museum and via strategically cultivated, widespread media coverage, Puabi and her astounding dress assumed an aesthetic aura that radiated the apparent power of its original owner and ignited a frisson of identification with the onetime queen that helped gain visibility for the excavation at Ur. A selection of newspaper and magazine clippings document the overwhelming popular response to the reconstructed image, revealing that Queen Puabi soon became something of a fashion and lifestyle sensation, the subject of articles with such titles as “Ancient Queen Used Rouge and Lipstick.”

Puabi&rsquos headdress and cloak. Gold, Ur, ca. 2500–2300 bce. Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, 6th season, 1927-1928. Penn: B16992A (Hair Ring), B17709 (Wreath), B16693 (Decorative Comb), B17710 (Wreath), B17711 (Wreath), B17711A (Hair Ribbon), B17712A, B (Earrings), 98-9-9A, B (Hair Rings), B17708 (Frontlet), B16694 (Necklace), 83-7-1.1–83-7-1.89 (Cloak) © Bruce White

“A Princess of 3000 bc”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday Magazine, September 28, 1930. H. 59.3 cm W. 45.6 cm. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology © Courtesy of Penn Museum

Diyala River Valley
If the jewels from Ur largely existed for the public within the aesthetic of popular design and culture, the statuary found in the Diyala region, north of Ur, constituted the first early Mesopotamian artifacts to be studied and presented as works of art. Between 1930 and 1937, four expeditions on behalf of the Oriental Institute led by Henri Frankfort, a Dutch-born, London-educated archaeologist and historian of classical art, uncovered hundreds of Sumerian statues located in architectural contexts, many identified as temples. Dating from the mid-third millennium BCE, the statues included standing male and female figures with hands clasped in front, perhaps in worship, and seated cup-bearing males, all considered the paradigms of their types.

Interior of the Iraq Expedition House, Tell Asmar. Photograph, H. 17.9 cm W. 13 cm, January 29, 1934. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. OIM: As. 1098 (P. 24084) © Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Standing Male Figure. Gypsum, Alabaster, Shell, Black Limestone, Bitumen, H. 29.5 cm W. 12.9 cm D. 10 cm, Eshnunna (Tell Asmar), ca. 2900–2600 bce. Fletcher Fund, 1940. MMA: 40.156 © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

Archaeology and Aesthetics contains ten of these exquisite statuettes, representing both the traditional types and variations within them. They are juxtaposed with articles, letters, field cards, notebooks, photographs, and other complementary material.

Viewed together, the archival material sheds light on the ways in which these artifacts were approached from an aesthetic perspective and placed within an art historical context. For example, Frankfort (who would become director of the Warburg Institute, in London) was among the first archaeologists to use the word “sculpture” to describe ancient statuary, and his descriptions frequently used the vocabulary of art historical formalism. In articles, letters, and books, he stated that the creators of the figures had “followed abstraction to its utmost limits,” and repeatedly described the statues with such terms as “form,” “mass,” and “space”—all associated with the description of early- and mid-twentieth-century art. In the introduction to his well-known book More Sculpture from the Diyala Region, for example, he stated that the statuary was marked by “a vigorous and inventive stylization with obvious traces of experiment.” The focus on form was also used to link these Sumerian objects to so-called “primitive” art, from which many contemporary artists had drawn inspiration, and to describe them as “universal,“ a term often used in association with fine art and one that helped to position the statues as the origin point of Western art.

Cup with Nude Hero, Bulls, and Lions. Stone, H. 15.2 cm W. 7.9 cm, Tell Agrab (Shara Temple), ca. 3000-2650 bce. Iraq Expedition of the Oriental Institute, 1930–1937. OIM: A17948 © Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Like the written materials, the expedition’s visual documentation of the sculptures was meticulous, scholarly, and focused on the aesthetic. Images of the objects drawn on field cards, for example, were carefully placed vis-à-vis the white space of the card, with brief descriptions positioned so as to balance the image. Similarly, many expedition photographs isolate a single statue against a dark backdrop, with no indication of the temple, palace, or tomb in which it was found, giving the image the timeless quality that imbues so much art photography.

Ostrich-Egg Vessel. Ostrich Egg, Bitumen, Mother-of-Pearl, H. 22.5 cm W. 11 cm D. 11 cm, Kish, ca. 2500-2350 bce. Lent by the Field Museum of Natural History. Field: 156986 © Photo: John Weinstein

The ramifications of Frankfort’s aesthetic perspective can hardly be overstated. It had lasting impact not only on ongoing scholarship on material from Ur, but also on the entire discourse on the origins of Western art, as well as on modern artists who were inspired by the objects displayed in European and North American museums, where they were generally installed in vitrines, without visual or didactic reference to their contexts.

Cylinder Seal, with inscription to Bilalama and modern impression. Gold, Lapis Lazuli, Bronze, H. 4.3 cm Diam. 1.5 cm, Eshnunna, ca. 2000 bce. Iraq Expedition of the Oriental Institute, 1930-1937. OIM: A7468 © Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

The Past as Present:
Modern and Contemporary Art From Ancient to Modern continues with a gallery devoted to twentieth- and twenty-first century artistic responses to ancient Mesopotamian objects. As the artifacts began to make their way into museums across pre-War Europe, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Bataille, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and others drew inspiration from Sumerian figures, while later in the United States, artists including Willem de Kooning, David Smith, and the poet Charles Olson saw in Sumerian objects and poems a kind of energy and vision they believed had been lost.

For Giacometti, who strove in his work to express the human condition, the Sumerian heads he saw at the Louvre represented a time when humans were integrally related to, rather than alienated from, both the visible and spiritual worlds. Archaeology and Aesthetics includes four drawings (both ca.1935) in which the artist explores the image of the Sumerian ruler Gudea, emphasizing the geometric planes and patterns in ancient sculptural portrayals of the king, an example of which is on view in this gallery.

Alberto Giacometti, &lsquoSeated Gudea: After a Sumerian Sculpture&rsquo.Pencil on paper, H. 26.9 cm W. 21 cm, ca. 1935. Courtesy of the Alberto Giacometti Estate. GF: 1994-0704 © Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York, NY 2014

Moore, too, was inspired by Sumerian sculptures, which he saw at the British Museum. Like Giacometti, he felt that they contained something essential about the human condition. Moore was especially fascinated by the relationship between the head and clasped hands, as seen in the statuary unearthed by Frankfort, finding there, as he put it, “a wealth of meaning.” The exhibition includes Moore’s Seated Figure and Half Figure II (both 1929), each depicting, with simple, powerful forms, a female figure with clasped hands.

Henry Moore, Half Figure II.Cast concrete, H. 39.4 cm, W. 23 cm D. 17 cm, 1929. The Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, SCVA: UEA 79 © Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, UK

Later, the strongly frontal pose and staring, hypnotic eyes of de Kooning’s iconic “Woman” series, represented here by two oil-on-paper works (1953–54 and 1967), also evoke Sumerian sculpture. Indeed, the artist, who saw artifacts from the Diyala Valley site of Tell Asmar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted that the grins on the faces of his “Woman” paintings are “rather like the Mesopotamian idols.” The examples here are shown next to an iconic Tell Asmar worshipper statue that de Kooning had surely seen at the Museum.

Willem de Kooning, Woman.Oil on Paper Board, H. 90.8 cm W. 61.9 cm, 1953-54. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection. TBM: 57.124 © The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Reflecting contemporary viewpoints, many artists today return archaeological artifacts to their role as windows onto human history and cultures rather than as aesthetic objects. Archaeology and Aesthetics highlights this with work by Jananne al-Ani, who was born in Kirkuk, Iraq, and lives and works in London, and the Chicago-based Michael Rakowitz, who is of Iraqi-Jewish heritage. Both al-Ani and Rakowitz create art expressive of the traumatic loss of human heritage caused by wars and spreading conflict in the Near- and Middle East.

Al-Ani’s subtle and moving Untitled May 1991 [Gulf War Work] takes the form of a grid of photographs of subjects ranging from family members, to Sumerian artifacts, to news images of what has become known as “the first Gulf War.” The work mixes individual with collective histories, evoking the loss of the artist’s family history and cultural heritage while providing the personal perspective of inhabitants that is so often missing from media portrayals of war.

Jananne al-Ani, Untitled, May 1991 [Gulf War Work]. Silver gelatin prints on paper, 20 units: H. 20 cm W. 20 cm (each), 1991. Courtesy of the artist. IWM: ART 16417 © Courtesy of Jananne al-Ani Estate and the Imperial War Museums.

Rakowitz’s powerful, eloquent installation The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist (Recovered, Missing, Stolen) (2003) comprises lifesized reproductions of Mesopotamian artifacts that are missing (or were in 2003) from the collection of the National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad. The work varies in size depending on where it is installed at ISAW it comprises 25 reproductions. With each object made of a mass-produced, readily available Iraqi product, including packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs and Arab newspapers, The Invisible Enemy draws a parallel between their cheap disposability and the treatment of the priceless evidence of human heritage that was looted or treated as waste after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Michael Rakowitz, &lsquoThe Invisible Enemy Should NotExist: Seated statue of Scribe Dudu&rsquo(IM55204), Middle Eastern Packaging and Newspapers, Glue, H. 54 cm W. 24.5 cm D. 34.5 cm, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Lombard Freid Gallery: 12183 © Courtesy of the artist and Lombard Freid Gallery

Queen Pu-abi of Ur. British Museum, London

I recently visited the British Museum and found some beautiful pieces and the history accompanying them that I found very interesting. I am also providing a bit of background regarding the location of the tomb in which these artifacts were discovered. Pu-abi (Akkadian: &ldquoWord of my father&rdquo), also called Shubad due to a misinterpretation by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, was an important person in the Sumerian city of Ur, during the First Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2600 BCE). Commonly labeled as a &ldquoqueen&rdquo, her status is somewhat in dispute. Several cylinder seals in her tomb identify her by the title &ldquonin&rdquo or &ldquoeresh&rdquo, a Sumerian word which can denote a queen or a priestess. The fact that Pu-abi, herself a Semitic Akkadian, was an important figure among Sumerians, indicates a high degree of cultural exchange and influence between the ancient Sumerians and their Semitic neighbors.

Extensian of the Ubaid Culture (5900-4300 BC). Wikipedia

Sumer and Akkadian Civilizations with the Location of Ur. Wikipedia

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of an early occupation at Ur and Eridu during the Ubaid period (6500-3800 BC). These early levels were sealed off (the first layers) with a sterile deposit of clay and soil that was interpreted by excavators of the 1920s as evidence for the Great Flood of the book of Genesis and Epic of Gilgamesh. It is now understood that the South Mesopotamian plain was exposed to regular floods from the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, with heavy erosion from water and wind, which may have given rise to the Mesopotamian and derivative Biblical Great Flood beliefs. The Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC) existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid period and succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period. During the Ubaid period, Ur was a seaside resort. Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was followed by the Sumerian civilization. The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age it may also be called the Protoliterate period. It was during this period that pottery painting declined as copper started to become popular, along with cylinder seals. The further occupation of Ur only becomes clear during its emergence in the third millennium BC (although it must already have been a growing urban center during the fourth millennium). The third millennium BC is generally described as the Early Bronze Age of Mesopotamia, which ends approximately after the demise of the Third Dynasty of Ur in the 21st century BC.

The ruins of Ur, with the Ziggurat of Ur visible in the background. Wikipedia

The city of Ur lost its political power after the demise of the Third Dynasty of Ur in the 21st century BC. Nevertheless, its important position which kept on providing access to the Persian Gulf ensured the ongoing economic importance of the city during the second millennium BC. The splendor of the city, the might of the empire, the greatness of King Shulgi, and undoubtedly the efficient propaganda of the state endured throughout Mesopotamian history. Shulgi was a well known historical figure for at least another 2,000 years, while historical narratives of the Mesopotamian societies of Assyria and Babylonia kept names, events, and mythologies in remembrance. Before Akkad was identified in Mesopotamian cuneiform texts, the city was only known from a single reference in Genesis 10:10 where it is written אַכַּד (Accad). The city of Akkad is mentioned more than 160 times in cuneiform sources ranging in date from the Akkadian period itself (2350&ndash2170 or 2230&ndash2050 BCE, according to respectively the Middle or Short Chronology) to the 6th century BCE. The location of Akkad is unknown but throughout the years scholars made several proposals. Whereas many older proposals put Akkad on the Euphrates, more recent discussions conclude that a location on the Tigris is more likely.

15 of the16 Tombs of Ur that Woolley considered to be royal. PG 755 is not shown since it is partially buried beneath PG 779.

The cemetery was originally dug outside the walls of the city of Ur, not far from the temple buildings and was built over by the walls of Nebuchadnezzar's larger city about 2,000 years later. Some 1,840 burials were found, dating to between 2600 BC and 2000 BC. They ranged from simple burials (with a body rolled in a mat) to elaborate burials in domed tombs reached by descending ramps. Sixteen of the early burials Woolley called 'Royal Graves' because of the rich grave-goods, the presence of burial chambers, and the bodies of the attendants who had apparently been sacrificed.

The final depth of Pit X, excavated during the last season at Ur. The shaft of this pit has been excavated down to the flood stratum, requiring the removal of more than 13,000 cubic meters of soil. The excavation staff, including Woolley and Katharine, can be seen at the bottom.

Close to temple buildings at the center of the city of Ur, a rubbish dump built up over centuries. Unable to use the area for building, the people of Ur started to bury their dead there. The cemetery was used between about 2600-2000 BC and hundreds of burials were made in pits. Many of these contained very rich materials. In one area of the cemetery a group of 16 graves was dated to the mid-third millennium. These large, shaft graves were distinct from the surrounding burials and consisted of a tomb, made of stone, rubble and bricks, built at the bottom of a pit. You can see how deep the pit could be from the above photo of Woolley at the excavation. The layout of the tombs varied, some occupied the entire floor of the pit and had multiple chambers. The majority of graves had been robbed in antiquity but where evidence survived the main burial was surrounded by many human bodies. One grave had up to 74 such sacrificial victims. It is evident that elaborate ceremonies took place as the pits were filled in that included more human burials and offerings of food and objects. The excavator, Leonard Woolley, thought the graves belonged to kings and queens. Another suggestion is that they belonged to the high priestesses of Ur.

Amédée Forestier's 1928 Interpretation of Queen Pu-tabi's Royal Grave. Photo of an Image in Room 56, originally published in the Illustrated London News

The attendants were arranged as shown, then they were given poison to drink. The oxen were also killed. The structure in the background is the domed burial chamber. The female attendants, with their elaborate headdresses, are lined up before it. The men on the left are the soldiers who will guard the tomb for all eternity.

The Tomb of Queen Pu-abi PG800 from the Notes of Charles Leonard Woolley

The tomb (PG800), measuring 4.35 x 2.8 meters, was a vaulted chamber that was built of limestone slabs and mud brick and placed on top of a raised wooden platform was a skeleton of a middle aged woman about 40 years old. According to written descriptions of the site, the woman was decorated in elaborate gold, lapis lazuli, and a carnelian headdress. Also discovered on the body were a pair of crescent-shaped gold earrings and covering the entire torso of the skeleton were gold and semi-precious beads. The royal cemetery tomb of Queen &ldquoPu-abi&rdquo at Ur, like the tomb of King Tutankhamun of Egypt, was an especially extraordinary find, because it was intact and had escaped looting throughout the millennia.

Male Crushed Skull with Metal Helmut from the Tomb of Queen Pa-ubi. University of Pennsylvania Museum

Crushed Female Skull with Gold and Lapis Lazuli Jewelry. University of Pennsylvania Museum

In addition to the precious artifacts, many other skeletons were distributed throughout the site. A total of 52 other skeletons were found, in addition to the middle aged women on the raised slab. Taking into account all the precious artifacts and the immense amount of skeletons buried with the woman, it is theorized that this woman, Pu-abi, was royalty during the dynasty of Ur and those were her servants. A sudy was recently done at the UPenn Museum on the skulls of a woman and a soldier. Both skulls show signs of premortem fractures, the kind of fracture caused by a blunt weapon. This was deemed to be the cause of death, not poisoning. The two theories, death by poison and death by blunt force trauma, are not incompatible. It suggests that the participants whose dosage of poison had not proved to be fatal were given a coup de grâce to spare them prolonged suffering and to insure that they wouldn't be buried while still alive and conscious. Sort of gross but it is what it is.

Banquet Scene, Cylinder Seal of Pu-abi. British Museum, London

Banquet Scene, Cylinder Seal with Name of Pu-abi. British Museum, London

Near Pu-abi's right shoulder, three lapis lazuli cylinder seals were found. These cylinder seals were discovered in the 'Queen's Grave' in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. Both of the above seals are engraved with banquet scenes. It has been suggested that this indicates that the owner was female, while a man's seal would have been engraved with a combat scene. Indeed, the cuneiform inscription on the bottom seal reads 'Pu-abi nin'. The Sumerian word 'nin' can be translated as either 'lady' or 'queen'. It is possible that Pu-abi (previously read as Shub-ad) may have been a high priestess in the service of the moon god, Nanna, patron of Ur. The seal is made from lapis lazuli, which would have come from Afghanistan. This not only shows the extensive trade routes that existed at this time, but also how important Pu-abi was, owning an object made of such an exotic material.

Personal Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi, Beads of Lapis Lazuli, Gold and Carnelian. British Museum, London

Personal Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi, Beads of Lapis Lazuli, Agate and Calf Pendant (left) Gold and Lapis Lazuli Pins (right). British Museum, London

Personal Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi, Gold Hair Rings. British Museum, London

Personal Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi, Gold Two-Headed Antelope (10) Two Gold Fish (8) and One Lapis Lazuli Fish (9). British Museum, London

Personal Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi, Gold Hair Pin (left) Gold Fastener (right). British Museum, London

Personal Jewelry of Queen Pu-abi, Gold Rings. British Museum, London

Queen Pu-abi wore an elaborate headdress of gold leaves, gold ribbons, strands of lapis lazuli and carnelian beads, a tall comb of gold, chokers, necklaces, and a pair of large, crescent-shaped earrings. Her upper body was covered in strings of beads made of precious metals and semi-precious stones stretching from her shoulders to her belt, while ten rings decorated all her fingers. An ornate diadem of thousands of small lapis lazuli beads with gold pendants of animals and plants was on a table near her head. Two attendants were buried in the chamber with her one crouched at her head, the other at her feet. Shell, used for cosmetics cases, pouring vessels, and cylinder seals, came from the Persian Gulf. Carnelian, a semi-precious stone used extensively for beads, came from eastern Iran and/or Gujarat in India. Lapis lazuli was used for jewelry, cylinder seals, and inlays, and came from northeastern Afghanistan. Mentioned in Mesopotamian myths and hymns as a material worthy of kings and gods, lapis would arrive in small, unfinished chunks to be worked locally into beads, cylinder seals, or inlays. Similar beads of agate and jasper came from Iran&rsquos mountains and plateau. The Sumerians, more than any other people in the world, loved lapis lazuli. For them, it represented fabulous wealth, literally and as well as figuratively. It is not indigenous to Sumer, and was mined in faraway Afghanistan. Because it had to be imported over vast distances, it was very expensive. Kim Benzel believes that the collection is not only expensive but sacred, both for the materials and for the religious process of manufacture. This mid-third millennium B.C. assemblage represents one of the earliest and richest collections of gold and precious stones from antiquity and figures as one of the most renowned and often illustrated aspects of Sumerian culture.

Queen Pu-abi, in all Her Regalia, Her Jewelry Weighed 14 pounds. This is a recent reconstruction (2009) of the queen's finery, done by the Pennsylvania University Museum. Philadelphia

Detail of Pu-abi's Beaded Cape. University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philidelphia

Details of Queen Pu-abi's Diadem, Lapis Lazuli Beads in the Background and Gold Ornamentation in the Front. University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia

Queen Pu-abi's Diadem, Lapis Lazuli Beads in the Background and Gold Ornamentation in the Front. University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia

The excavated treasures from Woolley's expedition were divided between the British Museum in London, the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the National Museum in Baghdad. Several pieces were looted from the National Museum in the aftermath of the Second Gulf War in 2003. Recently, in 2000, several of the more spectacular pieces from Pu-abi's grave have been the feature of a highly successful Art and History Museum tour through the United Kingdom and America. In this post I am going to focus on the pieces in the British Museum and I present the above items just to give you an idea of the University of Pennsylvania Museum presentation, where the majority of the personal jewelry of Pu-ali ended up, which I hope to visit in the future. The gold ornamentations of the diadem were originally labeled as &ldquostalks of grain&rdquo, but were later identified as apples and the male and female flowers of the date palm, all of which are believed to be symbols of fertility.

Queen Pu-abi Attendant's Jewelry, Lapis Lazuli, Carnelian and Gold Leaf Necklace. British Museum, London

Queen Pu-abi Attendant's Jewelry, Gold Earrings. British Museum, London

Queen Pu-abi Attendant's Jewelry, Silver Hairpins with Lapis Lazuli Heads (3) Lapis Lazuli Necklace (4) Gold Beads (6). British Museum, London

Queen Pu-abi Attendant's Jewelry, Lapis Lazuli, Carnelian and Gold Man's Headdress. British Museum, London

The Sumerians believed it was necessary to bring gifts (bribes) for the gods and goddesses of the underworld to insure the deceased had a comfortable stay in the afterlife. For instance, King Ur-Namma made sure to bring many expensive gifts for the deities of the netherworld. This is the reason why many feminine articles (jewelry) were found in the graves of men, and many masculine articles (daggers) were found in the graves of women. Even the attendants were given fine jewelry for the afterlife.

Beaten Gold Bowl, Tomb of Queen Pa-ubi. British Museum, London

Silver Drinking Straw Inlaid with Gold and Lapis Lazuli 4 Feet Long! Tomb of Queen Pu-abi. University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia

Golden Bowl, Made of a Gold and Copper Alloy (left) Electrum Drinking Vessel (center) Spouted Gold Bowl (right), Tomb of Queen Pu-abi. British Museum, London

Bottom of Electrum Drinking Vessel, Tomb of Queen Pu-abi. British Museum, London. Photo from Sumarian Shakespeare

Bottom of Golden Bowl, Made of a Gold and Copper Alloy, Tomb of Queen Pu-ali. British Museum, London. Photo from Sumarian Shakespeare

Gold Strainer, Tomb of Queen Pu-ali. British Museum, London

Pu-abi's gold cup. The handle is actually a hollow spout. It was used like a straw to avoid the unsavory foam on top of the beer and the dregs on the bottom. British Museum, London

This ostrich egg bowl is actually made of gold. It is inlaid with shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone. Tomb of Queen Pu-ali

The bowl was found very close to Pu-abi. It is made from beaten gold with small tubes of gold attached to the sides by brazing (or hard-soldering). Through these lugs, two strands of gold wire, twisted to give a cable effect, have been threaded to form a handle. The excavator Leonard Woolley found a silver tube inside the bowl, which may have been a drinking straw. Each of these vessels is unique and utilizes a special use of gold. Even the unseen bottoms are decorated. There are no deposits of gold in Mesopotamia, and the metal would probably have been imported from Iran or Anatolia (modern Turkey). However, these vessels were almost certainly manufactured in Mesopotamia.

Electrum Vessel with Green Eye Powder and Gold Shell, Tomb of Queen Pu-ali. British Museum, London

This goblet comes from the Queen's Grave in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. It was one of four vessels (including a gold cup) found together on the floor of the pit where most of the sacrificial victims lay. The vessel is made not of gold but electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold). It contains green eye paint like the gold imitation shells found in 'Queen' Pu-abi's tomb chamber. The upper part is made of a double layer of metal and the foot is joined to the bowl by brazing (hard-soldering).

Lyre with Bearded Bull's Head and Inlaid Panel, Royal Cemetery, Ur, Iraq, Early Dynastic III, 2550-2450 BCE, Wood, lapis lazuli, gold, silver, shell, bitumen, H. 35.6 cm. Penn Museum Object B17694 (right) British Museum ME 121198a (right), Tomb of Queen Pu-ali

Leonard Woolley discovered several lyres in the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. These were the two that he found in the grave of 'Queen' Pu-abi. The front panels are made of lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone originally set in bitumen. The gold mask of the bull decorating the front of the sounding box had been crushed and had to be restored. While the horns from the British Museum are modern, the beard, hair and eyes are original and made of lapis lazuli.

Stone Jar from the Grave of Queen Pu-abi. British Museum, London

This stone jar was found in the tomb of 'Queen' Pu-abi, one of the best preserved in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The four holes through the sides of the jar below the rim are roughly equidistant, and may have been for securing the lid with strings through the hole in the middle of the lid.

Lapis Lazuli Cup from the Death Pit of Queen Pu-abi

This cup carved from lapis lazuli must have been fabulously expensive, considering that the stone was from Afghanistan. Perhaps it was considered a sacred object and was buried with the priestess.

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley and His Wife Katherine Woolley

The royal cemetery excavations of that early era in archaeology remain one of the most remarkable technical achievements of Near Eastern archaeology, and they helped to catapult Sir Charles Leonard Woolley&rsquos career. Indeed, at the time of its discovery, the royal cemetery at Ur competed only with Howard Carter&rsquos discovery of the intact tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun for public attention. By the end of the excavation in 1934, Woolley had become, as the Illustrated London News termed him, &ldquoa famous archaeologist,&rdquo with his own series on BBC Radio, and in a little more than a year he was awarded knighthood. His archaeological career was interrupted by the United Kingdom's entry into World War II, and he became part of the &ldquoMonuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section&rdquo of the Allied armies made famous in the movie &ldquoMonuments Men&rdquo. His wife Katherine died in 1945. One of Sir Leonard Woolley's colleagues, archaeologist Max Mallowan, met the detective novelist Agatha Christie at the excavations of Sir Leonard Woolley. Mallowan later married Agatha Christie, and her book Murder in Mesopotamia is based on her experiences at the excavations at Ur. The murder victim in the Agatha Christie's detective is Katherine Woolley, Sir Leonard's wife.

I do not often recommend a specific site for more information, but in this case I make an exception. Jerald Jack Starr from Nashville has created an exceptional website, Sumerian Shakespeare, which you should visit if you have an interest in Sumeria.

Gold Earrings, Ur III, Mesopotamia - History

Guaranteed Authentic.

Ancient Coins & Artifacts:

Sumerian and Mesopotamian artifacts are quite rare, and prized on the collector market. Because of this, countless destructive archaeological atrocities have been committed, including the pillaging of museums and looting of archaeological sites throughout the Middle East. This destruction must stop, and I hope that all of those ill-gotten artifacts find their way back to where they belong. Every single item I offer for sale here has been painstakingly authenticated and the legal origin of their source determined. These come from old private collections, museum deaccessions, and auctions with proven legal ownership outside their country of origin prior to 1970 and the UNESCO treaty. Enjoy!

Ancient Sumeria/Mesopotamia. Old Babylonian, c. 1900 - 1750 BC. Nice Old Babylonian bulla with cuneiform text. The bulla bears the roll-out impression from a cylinder seal with two vertical columns of cuneiform text and two standing figures. Still pierced through where the ancient twine once held the bulla to an important document or parcel. Now fired hard from mostly likely a fire which originally destroyed the presumably administrative building or storehouse where the item or items this bulla protected were kept. 38x22x16 mm (1 1/2" x 15/16" x 5/8"). Dark gray color (not well represented in the photo). Finger-prints of the ancient maker still visible on edge! ex-David Liebert, The Time Machine, New York. #AP2445: $750
Cuneiform Tablet for Beer!
Mesopotamia/Sumeria. Old Babylonian period, 1900-1700 BC. Rare cuneiform tablet. Administrative tablet, account of beer! The only one for beer I have ever come across. Sharp cuneiform characters, traces of a rolled cylinder seal impression on one side. Measures 38x33x19 mm (1 1/2" x x1 5/16" x 3/4"). Repaired from original pieces. ex-Upstate New York collection ex-New York gallery. #AP2462: $650 SOLD


After World War I, archaeologists from Europe and the United States began several excavations throughout Iraq. In an effort to keep those findings from leaving Iraq, British traveller, intelligence agent, archaeologist, and author Gertrude Bell began collecting the artefacts in a government building in Baghdad in 1922. In 1926, the Iraqi government moved the collection to a new building and established the Baghdad Antiquities Museum, with Bell as its director. [1] Bell died later that year the new director was Sidney Smith.

In 1966, the collection was moved again, to a two-story, 45,000-square-meter (480,000-square-foot) building in Baghdad's Al-Ṣāliḥiyyah neighborhood in the Al-Karkh district on the east side of the Tigris River. It is with this move that the name of the museum was changed to the Iraq Museum. It was originally known as the Baghdad Archaeological Museum.

Bahija Khalil became the director of the Iraq Museum in 1983. She was the first woman director [2] and she held that role until 1989.

Due to the archaeological riches of Mesopotamia, the museum's collections are considered to be among the most important in the world, and it has a fine record of scholarship and display. The British connection with the museum — and with Iraq — has resulted in exhibits always being displayed bilingually, in both English and Arabic. It contains important artefacts from the over 5,000-year-long history of Mesopotamia in 28 galleries and vaults.

The collections of The Iraq Museum include art and artefacts from ancient Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations. The museum also has galleries devoted to collections of both pre-Islamic and Islamic Arabian art and artefacts. Of its many noteworthy collections, the Nimrud gold collection—which features gold jewellery and figures of the precious stone that date to the 9th-century BCE—and the collection of stone carvings and cuneiform tablets from Uruk are exceptional. The Uruk treasures date to between 3500 and 3000 BCE. [1]

In the months preceding the 2003 Iraq war, starting in December and January, various antiquities experts, including representatives from the American Council for Cultural Policy asked the Pentagon and the UK government to ensure the museum's safety from both combat and looting. But no promises were made, and fortunately, the U.S. forces did not bomb the site, despite them bombing a number of uninhabited Iraqi archaeological sites.

On April 9, 2003, the last of the museum curators and staff left the museum. Iraqi forces engaged U.S. forces a few blocks away, as well as the nearby Special Republican Guard compound. Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz of the U.S. third Infantry Division declared that he "was unable to enter the compound and secure it since they attempted to avoid returning fire at the building. Sniper positions, discarded ammunition, and 15 Iraqi Army uniforms were later discovered in the building". The positions turned out to be museum arranged sandbags and protective foam support and mitigation barriers for large size artefacts, the uniforms and ammunition turning out to belong to the museum curators and staff (being reserve military personnel in state of war) and to the contrary to the U.S. statement, no traces of any serious engagement were detected anywhere in the museum and its surrounding yard. Iraqi staff as a protective measure had built a fortified wall along the western side of the compound, allowing concealed movement between the front and rear of the museum, and the U.S. forces could have secured the museum by simply encircling and isolating it preventing the looters from accessing the facility. [3]

Thefts took place between April 10 and 12, and when a number of museum staff returned to the building on April 12, they fended off further attempts by looters to enter the museum and had to wait till April 16 for the deployment of the U.S. forces around the museum. A special team headed by Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos initiated an investigation on April 21. His investigation indicated that there were three separate thefts by three distinct groups over the four days. While the staff instituted a storage plan to prevent theft and damage (also used during the Iran–Iraq War and the first Gulf War), many larger statues, steles, and friezes had been left in the public galleries, protected with foam and surrounded by sandbags. [4] Forty pieces were stolen from these galleries, mostly the more valuable ones. Of these only 13 had been recovered as of January 2005, including the three most valuable: the Sacred Vase of Warka (though broken in fourteen pieces, which was the original state it was found in when first excavated), the Mask of Warka, and the Bassetki Statue. [3]

According to museum officials, the looters concentrated on the heart of the exhibition: "the Warka Vase, a Sumerian alabaster piece more than 5,000 years old a bronze Uruk statue from the Akkadian period, also 5,000 years old, which weighs 660 pounds and the headless statue of Entemena. The Harp of Ur was torn apart by looters who removed its gold inlay." [5] Among the stolen artefacts is the bronze Bassetki Statue, a life-size statue of a young man, originally found in the village Basitke in the northern part of Iraq, an Akkadian Empire piece that goes back to 2300 B.C. and the stone statue of King Schalmanezer, from the eighth century B.C. [6]

In addition, the museum's above-ground storage rooms were looted. Approximately 3,100 excavation site pieces (jars, vessels, pottery shards, etc.) were stolen, of which only 3,000 have been recovered. The thefts did not appear to be discriminating for example, an entire shelf of fakes was stolen, while an adjacent shelf of much greater value was undisturbed. [3]

The third occurrence of theft was in the underground storage rooms. The thieves attempted to steal the most easily transportable objects, which had been intentionally stored in the most remote location possible. Of the four rooms, the only portion disturbed was a single corner in the furthest room, where cabinets contained 100 small boxes containing cylinder seals, beads, and jewelry. Evidence indicated that the thieves possessed special master keys to the cabinets but dropped them in the dark. Instead, they stole 10,000 small objects that were lying in plastic boxes on the floor. Of them, only 2,500 have approximately been recovered. [3]

One of the most valuable artifacts looted was a headless stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash. The Entemena statue, "estimated to be 4,400 years old, is the first significant artifact returned all the way from the United States and by far the most important piece found outside Iraq. American officials declined to discuss how they recovered the statue." [7] [8] The statue of the king, located in the center of the museum's second-floor Sumerian Hall, weighs hundreds of pounds, making it the heaviest piece stolen from the museum – the looters "probably rolled or slid it down marble stairs to remove it, smashing the steps and damaging other artifacts." [7] [8]

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the recovery of the statue of King Entemena of Lagash on July 25, 2006, in the United States again. The statue was returned to the Iraq government. [9] It was discovered in the United States with the help of Hicham Aboutaam, an art dealer in New York. [9]

International reaction to the looting Edit

The U.S. government was criticised for doing nothing to protect the museum after occupying Baghdad. [10] Dr Irving Finkel of the British Museum said the looting was "entirely predictable and could easily have been stopped." [11] Martin E. Sullivan, chairman of the U.S. President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, and U.S. State Department cultural advisers Gary Vikan and Richard S. Lanier resigned in protest at the failure of US forces to prevent the looting. [12]

The extent of the looting of The Iraq Museum has been disputed. Based on a miscommunication by the first crews on the scene, and the empty display cases in the main galleries that in most cases had held objects which museum curators had removed before the First Gulf War and invasion, news organizations for weeks reported that as much as 170,000 catalogued lots (501,000 pieces) had been looted. The accurate figure was around 15,000 items, including 5,000 extremely valuable cylinder seals.

On April 12, 2003, The Associated Press reported: "The famed Iraq National Museum, home of extraordinary Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian collections and rare Islamic texts, sat empty Saturday – except for shattered glass display cases and cracked pottery bowls that littered the floor."

On April 14, National Public Radio's Robert Siegel announced on All Things Considered: "As it turned out, American troops were but a few hundred yards away as the country's heritage was stripped bare."

Reacting to the loss, French President Jacques Chirac on April 16, 2003, declared the incident "a crime against humanity." [ citation needed ]

When asked why the U.S. military did not try to guard the museum in the days after the invasion succeeded, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "If you remember, when some of that looting was going on, people were being killed, people were being wounded . It's as much as anything else a matter of priorities." Civil Affairs expert William Sumner, who was tasked with handling arts, monuments and archives, explained that the postwar Civil Affairs planners "didn't foresee the marines as going out and assigning marine units as security . The issue of archaeological sites was considered a targeting problem," to be dealt with by those flying bombing missions. [13] Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking about the museum's looting, said "stuff happens" [14] and "to try to pass off the fact of that unfortunate activity to a deficit in the war plan strikes me as a stretch", and described the period of looting in general as "untidiness". Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "The United States understands its obligations and will be taking a leading role with respect to antiquities in general but this museum in particular.", but all such promises were only partially honoured considering the staggering increase in Iraqi archaeological site looting during the U.S. occupation period of Iraq.

Two weeks after the museum thefts, Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, General Director Research Studies for the Board of Antiquities in Iraq, stated of the looting, "It's the crime of the century because it affects the heritage of all mankind". After the U.S. Marines set up headquarters in Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, Dr Youkhanna confirmed that he personally went there to plead for troops to protect the Museum's onsite collection, but no guards were sent for another three days.

Attempts to recover lost items Edit

A few days later, agents of the FBI were sent to Iraq to search for stolen Museum property. UNESCO organized an emergency meeting of antiquities experts on April 17, 2003 in Paris to deal with the aftermath of the looting and its effects on the global art and antiquities market.

On April 18, 2003, the Baghdad Museum Project was formed in the United States with a proposal to assure the Iraq Museum every possibility of the eventual safe return of its collection, even if that is to take hundreds of years. Rather than focus only on law enforcement and the current antiquities market, the group set its mission as being to (1) establish a comprehensive online catalog of all cultural artifacts in the museum's collection, (2) create a virtual Baghdad Museum that is accessible to the general public over the Internet, (3) build a 3D collaborative workspace within the virtual Baghdad Museum for design and fundraising purposes, and (4) establish a resource center within the virtual Baghdad Museum for community cultural development. Various ancient items believed looted from the museum have surfaced in neighboring countries on their way to the United States, Israel, Europe, Switzerland, and Japan, and on even on eBay.

On May 7, 2003, U.S. officials announced that nearly 40,000 manuscripts and 700 artifacts belonging to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad were recovered by U.S. Customs agents working with museum experts in Iraq. Some looters had returned items after promises of rewards and amnesty, and many items previously reported missing had actually been hidden in secret storage vaults prior to the outbreak of war. On June 7, 2003, the U.S. occupation authorities announced that world-famous treasures of Nimrud were preserved in a secret vault in the Iraqi Central Bank. [15] The artifacts included necklaces, plates, gold earrings, finger and toe rings, bowls and flasks. But, around 15,000 and the tiny items including some of the most valuable artifacts on the antiquities markets remain missing.

The museum has been protected since its looting, but archaeological sites in Iraq were left almost entirely unprotected by coalition forces, and there has been massive looting, starting from the early days of the warfare and between summer 2003 and the end of 2007. Estimates are that 400–600,000 artifacts have been plundered. Iraqi sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat spearheaded efforts by the Iraqi artist community to recover artworks looted from the museum. [16] Approximately 150 of Hikmat's pieces were stolen from the museum alone. [16] Hikmat's group has only recovered approximately 100 of the museum's works, as of September 2011. [16]

United States Marine Colonel, and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos led the search for these stolen artifacts for over five years from 2003. [17] Up to the year 2006 approximately 10,000 artifacts were recovered through his efforts. [18] [19] Antiquities recovered include the Warka Vase and the Mask of Warka. [18] [20]

At various Iraq reconstruction conferences, the Baghdad Museum Project gave presentations to the reconstruction community advocating the preservation of Iraq's cultural heritage in rebuilding projects. On August 27, 2006, Iraq's museum director Dr. Donny Youkhanna fled the country to Syria, as a result of murder threats he and his family members had received from terrorist groups that were assassinating all remaining Iraqi intellectuals and scientists. [21] Youkhanna held the position of visiting professor in the anthropology department of Stony Brook State University of New York until his death in March 2011. [22]

On June 9, 2009, the treasures of the Iraq Museum went online for the first time as Italy inaugurated the Virtual Museum of Iraq. [23] On November 24, 2009, Google announced that it would create a virtual copy of the museum's collections at its own expense, and make images of four millennia of archaeological treasures available online, free, by early 2010. [24] [25] It is unclear the extent by which Google's effort overlaps with Italy's previous initiative. Google's Street View service was used to image much of the museum's exhibit areas and, as of November 2011, these images are online.

In 2017, forty ancient Iraqi artefacts drawn from the Iraq Museum and spanning six millennia, from the Neolithic Age to the Parthian Period, were shown alongside contemporary artworks at the Venice Biennale. [26] Most of these objects had never previously left Iraq, excluding a few that were recently recovered after the 2003 lootings of the Museum. Commissioned by Ruya Foundation, the exhibition 'Archaic' attracted over 5,500 visitors during the preview week of the 57th Biennale, and was critically acclaimed by the press. [27] [28] [29]

The museum has opened its doors only partially since September 1980 during the Iran-Iraq War. Since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, it has opened only rarely, opened on July 3, 2003 for several hours for a visit by journalists and Coalition Provisional Authority head J. Paul Bremer, as a signal that things were returning to normal. In December 2008, the museum was opened for a photo opportunity for Ahmad Chalabi, who returned a number of artifacts supposedly handed in to him by Iraqis. The latest opening occurred on February 23, 2009, at the behest of Iraqi prime minister Maliki, to demonstrate that things were returning to normal. Many archaeological officials protested against this opening, arguing that conditions were not yet safe enough to put the museum at risk the museum's director was fired for airing her objections.

In a ceremony to mark the occasion, Qahtan Abbas, Iraq's tourism and antiquities minister, said that only 6,000 of the 15,000 items looted from the museum in 2003 had been returned. [30] And an estimated 600,000 archaeological pieces were looted by groups and militias allied with the United States since 2003, according to a book published in 2009. [31] In September 2011 Iraqi officials announced the renovated museum will permanently reopen in November, protected by new climate control and security systems. The United States and Italian governments have both contributed to the renovation effort. [32]

Official reopening Edit

On February 28, 2015 the museum was officially reopened by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. [33] The museum also has items taken from the Mosul Museum, as ISIS has taken it over. [ citation needed ]

On September 7, 2010, the Associated Press reported that 540 looted treasures were returned to Iraq. [34] [35] [36]

638 stolen artifacts were returned to the Iraq Museum after they were located in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [37]

On January 30, 2012, a 6,500-year-old Sumerian gold jar, the head of a Sumerian battle axe and a stone from an Assyrian palace were among 45 relics returned to Iraq by Germany. Up to 10,000 of the Iraq Museum pieces are still missing, said Amira Eidan, general director of the museum at the time of the recovery. [38]

Archaeological Wonders of Mesopotamia: The Royal Cemetery at Ur

Detail from Standard of Ur found in a royal tomb of Ur. (Image: Photographed by Michel wal/British Museum)

Initial excavations began in the mid-19th century when collectors found several texts that were sent back to various European museums. After the First World War, Sir Leonard Woolley led a joint expedition sponsored by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania. He knew that the temple of Nanna was there—she was the patron deity of the city—and so he had reason to believe that further excavations there would be fruitful. Woolley cleared the ziggurat and continued to explore the temple of Nanna, including portions that had been restored and expanded by the king, Nebuchadnezzar.

Sir Leonard Woolley led a joint expedition sponsored by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania to excavate the cemetery at Ur. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

In the sixth year of excavations, the team began to uncover a large group of graves that lay below the foundation of these later structures. In the following year, Woolley focused his attention on these graves. Almost 2,000 graves were discovered, but a small group of about 16 burials found in 1927–1929 was so spectacular that newspapers reported their excavation in detail.

These royal graves, as they were quickly termed, contained lavish quantities of gold, silver, and semiprecious stones—striking enough on their own—but the most surprising feature of the burials was the suggestion that they provided evidence of human sacrifice.

No other known burials from Mesopotamia could prepare the excavators for this discovery. Few other archaeological discoveries were as widely publicized only King Tut’s intact grave in Egypt, discovered in 1922, had garnered the same attention.

This is a transcript from the video series Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia. Watch it now, on The Great Courses.

Most Mesopotamian graves were simple pit graves dug into the ground. These royal graves were chambers made of brick or stone, small vaulted rectangular rooms beneath the earth, with a ramp leading down inside the grave. Inside the chamber would be a body surrounded by grave objects and sometimes a vehicle and the oxen or donkeys that brought the corpse inside. Sometimes numerous other bodies were found either lying in the chamber or more often outside of it, for which Woolley coined the phrase “death pit.” These were attendants or family members who accompanied the occupant of the chamber.

Within these 16 royal graves, there’s a great variation in both the size of the tombs and in the number of bodies buried in them, and they included both male and female bodies. Most of them were robbed in antiquity, although not completely despite the theft, there exists a massive quantity of artifacts that were left behind by the looters.

One of the graves was for a woman named Pu-Abi. Her name was inscribed on a cylinder seal with the title Nin, which means queen. She is the first identified queen from Mesopotamia. She was about 40, and she was buried in a chamber tomb of about 12 by 6 feet, similar to another tomb for a male.

The reconstructed headgear and necklaces of Puabi found in her tomb. (Image: Photographed by JMiall /British Museum)

Her burial costume was very elaborate: Her gold headdress was made of strips of sheet gold that were woven together to create a cap of glittering leaves and flowers. A comb at the back of her head rose above and had large gold flowers that would have swayed as she walked.

On the head itself was a wreath of flowers, made of gold, lapis, and carnelian, and also a row of willow leaves encircled the head these were made of gold, as well. Finally, immediately across the forehead was a row of gold rings. Several long ribbons of gold were looped along the side of her head, probably weaving in and out of Pu-Abi’s hair or even a wig. We know that Mesopotamian women wore wigs to make their hair even larger and more dominant.

The queen wore a beaded cape composed of gold, silver, lapis, carnelian, and agate beads. These long strings of colorful beads would hang from her shoulders to her waist. This was quite heavy, but would also create a shimmering effect as she walked with strings encircling her body.

Beneath the cape was a belt of horizontal beads—mostly lapis with alternating rows of gold, lapis, and carnelian—and a row of gold hoops dangled along the lower edge of the belt. As if this weren’t enough, she has other jewelry as well: no fewer than three necklaces made of gold, some stone beads that would create a necklace over her beaded cape, gold pins, large basket-like earrings made of sheet gold, 10 finger rings—sometimes multiple rings would be stacked on a single finger—and other miscellaneous adornments.

Three other bodies were found in Pu-Abi’s chamber tomb a male lay near the queen and a female at her feet. These figures did not have a significant number of grave goods buried with them, so it doesn’t seem as if they were family members but rather attendants.

The queen had other objects buried with her—gold and silver cups, stone bowls made of agate, furniture inlays that would have decorated perhaps a chair or a stool those that survive are silver lion heads with very wide, inlaid eyes. Several cosmetic boxes survive that were also decorated.

Bull’s Head of the Queens Lyre found in her tomb. (Image: Photographed by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP/British Museum)

On a ramp leading to the burial chamber of Pu-Abi were the bodies of several attendants, both male and female. Ten women were set in rows opposite each other, carrying musical instruments, harps, and lyres. The women wore costumes similar to Pu-Abi, but they were much less elaborate. The headdresses were mostly ribbons of gold a few had combs with flowers like Pu-Abi wore, and they had gold and bead jewelry. There’s a clear distinction between what the Nin wore and what these attendants wore.

The bodies of the men associated with this death pit were also adorned with jewelry—necklaces, rings, and a single earring, in contrast to the two earrings that women wore. They also carried a dagger and a whetstone, so they would have both a defensive weapon and a way to sharpen it always with them, carried at their waist. In addition to the humans found in the grave, the bones of two oxen were identified in the death pit.

The graves, the goods, and the bodies associated with them are extraordinary. They provide definite evidence for human sacrifice accompanying the burial of a person of high status—in this instance the wife of the ruler. The amount of gold and other expensive goods buried in the chamber tombs gives us an idea of what a king and queen would use, and it shows an enormous amount of wealth.

The tombs let us imagine the funeral ritual, which often is not preserved by any archaeological evidence or written sources. We can’t know if the elaborate costume that Pu-Abi wore was something special, reserved just for the grave, or maybe represented what she wore on certain ceremonial occasions. But if it was similar to what she would wear at a religious festival—queens were very closely associated with temples—then we see how her dress would set her apart from the rest of the population and make her the center of attention.

Perhaps the musical instruments played a dirge or a hymn which was followed by the death of the attendants—perhaps by some poison, as Woolley suggested. This gives us the ultimate symbol of a ruler’s power: He could take his attendants, his courtiers, his subjects with him after death. This ritual suicide could very well have been voluntary. It’s hard to reconstruct the particulars of this we don’t even know how they died. Woolley suggested poison as reinforced by cups found in these great death pits, but no trace has survived to reveal any poison.

These graves give us remarkable insight into the power of the rulers in the early dynastic period. Scholars continue to puzzle over the significance of these tombs, especially since they remain unique discoveries. Archaeologists always want to find something unique, but then once you do, they aren’t sure how to interpret it.

This is exactly the situation with the royal graves at Ur.

Common Questions About the Cemetery at Ur

There were 16 royal tombs discovered with valuable objects inside in the Cemetery at Ur .

Treasures with Semi-Precious Stones

Apart from precious metals, many of the treasures from the royal cemetery of Ur have semi-precious stones in them. The most common of these is lapis lazuli, which had to be brought all the way from Afghanistan. The use of this stone can be seen, for instance, in the ‘Standard of Ur’, a rather curious object, the original function of which is still unclear.

Woolley was of the opinion that this object was carried aloft during royal processions, hence its designation as a ‘standard’. The ‘Standard of Ur’ is also interesting for its decorations, which depict scenes of warfare on one side and victory celebrations on the other. These scenes are essentially mosaics that were created using pieces of lapis lazuli, red limestone, and cut shell.

Gold Earrings, Ur III, Mesopotamia - History

The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms


The cradle of homogenous yet diverse cultures. Mesopotamia nurtured a wealth ot native art forms that cast their influence well beyond the country's geographical boundaries. The city-states of Ur, Lagash,
and Mari were established after the long protohistorical phase of the fourth millennium, during the Early Dynastic period (2800-2350bc). The theocratic organization of Sumerian (Southern Mesopo-tamian) society affected ever>' aspect of artistic activity. Architecture found its principal outlet in temples and sanctuaries. The temple, constructed of brick, was the city's religious and economic centre: adjacent to it were storerooms, workrooms, and administrative offices. A central courtyard, as in the temple or Sin at Khafajeh, was reached through a monumental entrance and up an imposing staircase. Plastic art gave pride of place to the figure of the worshipper. Craftsmen produced statuettes in limestone, alabaster, and terracotta, endlessly repeating the image of a traditional, anonymous model. Ranging from small statues of gods, priests, and the faithful as found at Tell Asmar, to the naturalistic seated figure of the temple superintendent Ebih-il, statuary portrayed the act of dedication, symbol of the perpetual honour that must be paid to the divinity, thereby guaranteeing the eternal presence within the temple. The hands clasped against the chest, the rapt expression, and the large attentive eyes outlined in bitumen all proclaim a close relationship with the god in an attitude of humble reverence. The generally small dimensions, far removed from the colossal size of Egyptian effigies, are explained partly by the fact that such durable material as stone was hard to obtain and partly because of different religious beliefs: the power of the monarch was conveyed by the monumental nature of the overall architectural and decorative design. The Sumerians also made a number of seals, which are examplary of their inventive fantasy, narrative flair, and lively realism. The seals were enlivened by rams and oxen and scenes of fighting animals.

The objects recovered from the royal tombs of Ur testify to the richness of Sumerian decorative arts. In Mesopotamia, the afterlife inspired only dread and anguish, as revealed in sources such as the Gilgamesh epic, one of the best-known works of ancient literature. The resting places of the dead were less important than palaces or temples, and tombs were built only in underground hypogea. However, the wish to demonstrate the power in life of the dead monarch is evident in such works as the celebrated standard of peace and war, inlaid with lapis lazuli, shell, and limestone. Among the other important treasures is the funerary
hoard of Queen Puabi (2600-2500bc), including diadems and earrings, testimony to the technical skill of craftsmen working with precious metals.

A masterpiece of the Early Dynastic period, the Ur Standard was probably once displayed in a palace or temple. It consist of two rectangular panels of wood joined by trapezoidal ends. The two sides are ornamented in mosaic with limestone, shell, and lapis lazuli, set in black bitumen paste.
On each panel historical figures are depicted in three rows, or registers: one side shows peaceful activities, the other scenes of war. The registers are framed with coloured friezes that enliven the surfaces. The standard was discovered by the English archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, who excavated Ur during the 1920s and '30s. He identifed. among other things, the tombs of the city's early rulers. Ur (Genesis 11:31 ) was the land of Abraham, founder of the Hebrew race.

The Royal Standard of UR 2600bc
"Peace" side
British Museum, London


Prosperous from local agriculture and traffic control on the River Euphrates, the Mesopotamians built their temples and palaces with rows of rooms opening onto one or more inner courtyards. The only difference between the two was that the temple accommodated an altar. Particularly impressive was the enormous residence of the reigning dynasty at Mari during the period that followed Akkadian rule. This was added to by successive rulers, the last of which was King Zimri-Lim. Built mainly of mud-brick, it was arranged around two courtyards and contained 300 rooms. It was 200 metres (650 feet) long and 120 metres (390 feet) wide and covered an
area of two and a half hectares (six acres). The rooms in the palace included the private apartments of the king and his queens, domestic quarters, and diplomatic record offices. The existing fragments of the wall decorations provide testimoniy to both style and subject in Mesopotamian painting. Among the identifiable subjects are sacrificial scenes and Zimri-Lim's investiture at Mari by the goddess Ishtar. There are also geometric compositions, glimpses of landscape, and lively representations of contemporary society dress and customs.

Neo-Sumerian Period

Akkadian Rile ended with the invasion of the Guti (c.2150bc). Order was restored by the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur, and central power returned to the south (c.2112-2004bc). Neo-Sumerian artistic activity consisted mainly of monumental religious architecture. One notable example was the impressive ziggurat of Ur-Nammu, which consisted of a system of superimposed terraces, at the top of which stood the temple dedicated to Nanna, god of the moon. Religious statuary, too, enjoyed a renaissance, recovering the strength and imaginative power of earlier Sumerian art. The effigies of Gudea, governor of Lagash, in the garb of a worshipper, seated or standing, are finely modelled in green or black diorite, a naturally smooth, shiny material. The conquest of Sumer by the Amorites led to the formation of a series of independent states, whose history is documented in the royal archives of Mari.

After his conquest of Mari, Larsa, and Eshnunna, Hammurabi, king of Babylon, reunited the whole of Mesopotamia and proclaimed himself universal monarch. The art of the Old Babylonian period (c.19OO-1595bc) retained Neo-Sumerian motifs and styles, including a wealth of fantastic animals, bulls, and lions, posted as guards to the palaces and temples. In sculpture, repetition of compositional structure and subject are revealed in the relief carved at the top of the stele inscribed with the code of Hammurabi. The king stands in worship before the seated god of the sun and justice, Shamash. Around 1595bc, the political geography of the Near East was once again thrown into confusion as the kingdom of Babylon crumbled under the onslaught of the invading Hittites from Anatolia. In the first millennium bc, Assyrian might was reflected in the creation of an immense empire. Assyrian art, for the most part secular, found expression in the narrative reliefs that once adorned the walls of their palaces. These bas-reliefs provide visual evidence of conquests, with scenes that illustrate military techniques and the exploits of the king, as valiant in his hunting of wild beasts as on the battlefield. Ashurnasirpal II (883-859bc) was the first Assyrian monarch to decorate the lower part of the throne room and other areas of his palace at Nimrud with a frieze in relief on hundreds of white limestone slabs. The narrative, which depicts chiefly mythological scenes and images of fertility rites, is told in juxtaposed episodes that build up independently towards a climactic event not shown. In the reign of Shalmaneser III (858-824bc), the gates of his royal palace at Balawat were decorated with bas-reliefs on bronze sheets. The gigantic palace of Sargon II (721-705bc) in the city of Khorsabad was encircled by massive walls. Figures of bulls with human heads, designed to ward off evil spirits, stood guard at the entrance gates. The use of five feet for the winged monster made it possible for the spectator to see the bull either as immobile (when viewed from the front) or in movement (when viewed from the side). After the fall of Nineveh in 612bc, the revival in southern Mesopotamia was marked principally by its architecture. During the reign of the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, this was exemplified in temples, imposing palaces with hanging gardens, and ziggurats standing more than 100 metres (330 feet) high -inspiration for the biblical Tower of Babel. In 539RC, Babylonia was taken by Cyrus and became part of the vast Persian Empire.

Nowhere are the descriptive and symbolic intents of Neo-Assyrian relief carvers better exemplified than in the decorations of the palace of Ashurbanipal (669-62бвс) at Nineveh. The depictions of the exploits and everyday occupations of the king had the double effect of extolling the glory of the sovereign and of astonishing the observer. This art is fresh and lively, and the spirit of the landscape is impressively conveyed. Traditional hunting scenes are animated by realistic and dramatic episodes in which wild beasts leap up at the king's chariot or fall wounded by his arrows. Men and animals are strongly portrayed: the artist is eager to emphasize the powerful physique of the monarch and his warriors, and his rendering of animals is also exceptionally naturalistic. The war scenes are crowded with people: accounts of miltary activity include the army crossing rivers and attacking fortresses. There are also episodes of minor significance: daily life in camp, a horseman calling to his companions who have climbed a hill, and an Elamite noble who, handed over to the enemy, spits in the face of his own king.

Stone panel from the north-west palace of Ashurbanipal ii - 883-889bc

Stone panel from the north-west palace of Ashurbanipal ii - 883-889bc

Stone panel from the north-west palace of Ashurbanipal ii - 883-889bc

The Greek historian Herodotus (fifth century вс) describes with admiration the new
Babylon created by King Nebuchadnezzar IL "Apart from its size, its beauty is unequalled by any other city we know."
The seven-terraced ziggurat, dedicated to Marduk, god of Babylon, dominated the city and was entered by way of a long processional street that began at the gate of Lshtar, goddess of love and war. The gate, the most splendid of all Mesopotamia's monuments, opened in the centre of walls so massive that, according to Herodotus, a four-horse chariot could turn on them. The enormous gate is a fine example of the technique of brick construction prevalent in ancient Mesopotamia. On a blue enamelled background were relief decorations of bulls, dragons, lions, and stylized symbolic images. The marvellous reconstruction of the gate in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin, gives an idea of its colossal dimensions and the colourful effect of the original bricks. The decorative art of relief on enamelled bricks was widespread in the East, one example being the palace of Darius at Susa.

Syrian and Palestinian Art

Bordered at one end by Anatolia and Mesopotamia and at the other by Egypt is a Mediterranean coastal strip that acts as a centre of lanes of communication linking three continents. The geographical situation helps to explain its enduring political fragmentation. From as early as the third millennium bc, successive Semitic-speaking populations -known as Canaanites bv the Hebrews who had followed them to the Promised Land -fell under the sway of powerful neighbouring states. Architecture from the third millennium onwards provides evidence of sophisticated levels of urban civilization, notably in the palaces of Ebla (royal palace G) and Alalakh (level VII). The palace of Yarim-Lim at Alalakh (18th century ne) shows similar originality in its design. It was built on three successive floors, the lowest of which was designed for public use, with orthostats in basalt, similar to those that appeared later in Anatolia and Assyria. Entrance to the principal room was through a smaller room with an opening supported by columns, anticipating the bit hilani, the princely dwelling that was to appear in the first millennium. In the realm of figurative art, originality appears in designs on the seals used in royal correspondence. Formal sculpture, too, was of a high quality, as represented by the head of King Yarim-Lim. The palace was destroyed by the Hittites, but the fortunes of the city revived under Idrimi in about 1500BC, although his statue is less sophisticated than that of his predecessor. Decorated with hunting scenes and bulls, gold bowls from the nearby city of Ugarit are the precursors of Phoenician bowls of the first millennium bc.
Both Alalakh and Ugarit were destroyed during the invasion of the "Sea Peoples" (c.1200bc). leading to massive migrations. The influx of Hebrews from the south and Arameaens from the north left only the coastal strip to its former inhabitants. The Phoenician city-states, as they should now be called, sought new trading outlets and established Punic colonies throughout the Mediterranean. They are renowned for the manufacture of glass, metal bowls, carved ivories, and jewellery. The Phoenicians were eclectic artists who were open to cultural influences. They borrowed motifs from both East and West, skilfully incorporating them into-their own designs. They were thus able to combine the Mesopo-tamian love of symmetry and the Aegean taste for galloping animals with the Syrian taste for groups of fighting animals - not to mention the sphinxes and griffins of Levantine origin. Production of small bronzes, which had Syrian precedents, were also revived in the first millennium bc. Evidence of Egyptian influence can be found in the statuette of Heracles-Melqart (shown in the typical pose of the "warrior god"), most notably in the short skirt and headgear. The vitality of the Phoenician merchants did not cease with the conquest of their territory by the armies of Persia: the Punic colonies they founded on the coasts of the western Mediterranean and, above all, the city of Carthage, would keep their heritage alive for centuries to come.


An important urban centre in northern Syria, Ebla (modern Tell Mardikh) flourished in the third millennium bc and may have extended its rule into Mesopotamia. Destroyed by Sargon I after a phase of decline, Ebla was rebuilt during the first decades of the second millennium. Protected by massive ramparts of up to 22 metres (66 feet) high, with a ring of stones and jagged rocks at the base, the city's most important buildings were the temples, including that of Ishtar. and the royal palace E. Temple D consisted of three successive rooms, axial in plan, built along lines that were later to be developed by the Phoenicians in their construction of the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
In the lower city was the royal necropolis (18th-17th century bc): of the three hypogea excavated, the tombs of the Lord of the Goats and of the Princess contained vessels, jewellery, bronze weapons, and ivory amulets. Finds of ritual basins, rectangular in shape and comprising two sections, proved important for their stone carvings. They testify, both in their form and subject matter — banqueting scenes and animals shown from side and front views — to considerable autonomy in the treatment of common models derived from Mesopotamia.


Precious because of its scarcity, ivory has always been a symbol of a high social status, making it a suitable material for both ritual and private use. From the second millennium bc, there were flourishing schools of ivory engravers across the Syrian-Palestinian region. Particularly famous are the spoons, combs, boxes, and decorative plaques for furniture from Megiddo (12th century bc). These traditions were revived by the Phoenicians and Syrians in the first millennium bc. Ivories were produced in a series of workshops in a variety of styles, and letters incised on the backs of some indicate that they belonged to palaces. The Assyrians plundered the cities of the Levant and seized craftsmen, who produced ivories for their new masters. The storerooms excavated at Nimrud were full of ivories and others have been found in wells, where they were thrown during the sack of the city in 612bc. When the wells were excavated in the 1950s, the ivory of the Lioness Attacking an Ethiopian in a Papyrus Grove was found. In addition to the gold leaf decoration, the work was inlaid with pieces of lapis lazuli and carnelian.

A view of the cliff at Naqsh-e Rustam, showing the tombs of
Artaxerxes I (464 - 424 BC) on the left, and Darius (522 - 486 BC).
In the centre at the base of the cliff is
a Sassanian relief showing Shapur I (AD 240 - 72)
triumphing over the Roman Emperor Valerian.

Persian Art

When Alexander the Great invaded Persian territory in 331bc, he was captivated by the grand scale of the Achaemenid palaces and their decoration. In the southwest region of the Persian plateau, the Elamite civilization, with its capital of Susa, had flourished since the fourth millennium bc, when its handmade ceramics were decorated with geometrical patterns (triangles, lozenges, crosses, concentric circles, and swastikas) and animal and plant motifs. Human figures were rarer and, although stylized, displayed a lively naturalism. In the second half of the third millennium bc, the kings of Elam went to war against Sumer and Akkad, and the influence of Meso-potamian culture is clearly visible in the statue of the goddess Innin (analogous to the Babylonian Ishtar) and in the production of stelae. A new phase of cultural autonomy marked the rise of the Elamite state (13th󈟜th century bc). The gracefully monumental bronze statue of Napir-Asu, wife of King Untash-Khuban of Susa, the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil, and the reliefs of Kurangan, which herald the figurations of the Achaemenid palace, are all significant manifestations of art from this period.
During the first millennium bc, the expansion of Iranian-speaking Mede and Persian peoples altered the political aspect of the region. The ephemeral Median Kingdom, with its capital of Ectabana founded in 722bc, was overthrown by Cyrus II the Great and came under Persian rule in 539bc. Cyrus, having overthrown Astyages, king of the Medes, laid the foundations of his future empire, the bounds of which would extend from the Nile to the Indus. Persian art continued in the great Mesopotamian tradition, inheriting its fundamental characteristics. Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and other Persian kings vied with the magnificence of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the embellishment of their main cities, Pasargadae, Susa, and Persepolis. The gates of the palaces were protected by statues of animals like those found in Mesopotamia, while Persian sculptors derived the bas-relief from Assyrian art. In 518bc. Darius I initiated the building of Persepolis, which was to become the hub of the Persian empire. Conceived as the symbol of universality, the focal point where heaven and earth met. the palace of Persepolis was decorated with reliefs and monuments proclaiming the power of the dynasty. The spacious throne room and reception rooms boasted parallel rows of fluted columns more than 20 metres (64 feet) high. The axial plan was continued throughout the palace, the pivot of which was the columned apadana, or audience chamber. Processions of dignitaries and nobles decorated the staircase that led to the great hall. The Persians had succeeded in transforming the dramatic force of their Mesopotamian models into a serene magnificence that was to be the hallmark of their art. In 331BC, Alexander the Great, following his victory over the last of the Achaemenid kings, Darius III, decreed the end of the empire and opened a new chapter in history: for the first time East and West were united under the rule of a single overlord.

The political, diplomatic, and administrative capital of the Persian Empire, the city of Susa enjoyed its period of greatest splendour during the reign of Darius I. The king was responsible for the construction of all the Achaemenid buildings in the city, and he employed workmen from far and wide. The royal palace, built on raised ground, was similar in style to the Babylonian palaces, with its three large inner courtyards surrounded by offices and residential quarters. Next to the palace was the apadana (audience chamber), with 72 columns, almost 20 metres (64 feet) tall, supporting the ceiling. These columns were the pride of Achaemenid architecture more slender than their Greek prototypes and adorned with capitals featuring the foreparts of animals, they seemed to multiply until they merged with the side walls. The full length of the walls was taken up by a procession of soldiers flanked by benevolent spirits in the guise of winged lions and bulls: these were the so-called "Immortals", faithful guards of the king's person who formed a symbolic garrison.

Anatolian marble idol
Kusura-Beycesultan type, c. 2700 - 2100.
Private Collection, Germany

Anatolian Art

Often classified as peripheral to Mesopotamia!! culture, the art of Anatolia exhibits original features that have their roots in the pre-Hittite period. An initial burst of artistic activity saw modelling in gold, silver, and bronze, evincing a high level of workmanship from as long ago as the second half of the third millennium. The advanced state of urban development is shown by the city of Beycesultan on the Maeander river. The lower part of the imposing palace (mid-19th century bc) was constructed of stone and the upper part of mud reinforced with wooden beams. The palace, with its painted decorations, consisted of a series of courtyards flanked by rooms. The advance of the Hittites, an Indo-European people, altered the appearance of the region The Hittite state had a strong central structure, at least in its second imperial phase (1450-1200bc). and this was reflected in the supremacy of Hattusas (present-day Bogazkoy) over the other cities. Capital of the empire and centre of military and political power, its palaces and walls reflect the Hittite ambition for power and the urge to glorify the king. A double fortification with towers encircled the city, following the contours of the hillside, and the monumental arched gates, often compared to that at Mycenae, were guarded not only by sphinxes and lions, as in the Babylonian temples, but also by an armed divinity. On the north side of the King's Gate, the orthostat with the god perfectly demonstrates the link between sculpture and architecture. Special importance was attached by the Hittites to monumental carving, as seen on the walls of the major cities. The Hittite relief was essentially a form of commemorative art, in which, in contrast to the friezes in Mesopotamian palaces and Egyptian temples, the artist did not try to tell a story. The ostentation and affirmation of power were conveyed not in a historical description of warlike events but in the representation of divinity and the ritual ceremonies, in which the king was the protagonist. At the end of the second millennium, the invasion of the "Sea Peoples" overthrew the Hittite empire (c.1200 bc), and the colonies established in Syria were all that remained of Indo-European power. A new cultural and artistic phase now originated with the fusion of Hittite and Semitic traditions. On the Hittite relief illustrated below, for instance, the king wears a Hittite robe and carries a curved stick as his royal insignia. He faces the Syrian version of the Storm-god, who, characteristically, has his hair in a long curl, wears a kilt with a curved sword in his belt, brandishes a weapon, and holds lightning. However, his kilt, with its curved hem and his tall, horned headdress, is Hittite in style, and the Storm-god in the chariot behind him also derives from Hittite tradition. Sphinxes and lions continued to guard the city gates, but the sphinxes often betray the Egyptian influence that was widespread in the Levant. The Assyrians campaigning in Syria in the ninth century bc saw these figures and reliefs and created their own versions to decorate their palaces. In the late eighth century bc, the Assyrians annexed the city-states of Syria and imposed their own art and architecture.


Pioneer of the discovery of Mycenean civilization, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann identified and excavated the site of Troy. A dedicated reader of Homer, he explored the places described in the Iliad-And the Odyssey. He-was convinced that the objects in gold, silver, and amber found in the second level of Troy were associated with the legendary King Priam. Attributable to the middle of the third millennium hc, the jewels are nevertheless of an earlier date than that which Greek historians give for the Achaean expedition led by Agamemnon. (The dating of Troy Vila, to which the Homeric account of the war may refer, is believed to be between 1300 and 1230bc.) In any event, the jewels testify to the culture and prosperity of Trov. a fortified city.

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1 Mallowan , M. E. L. Twenty-Five Years of Mesopotamian Discovery , 1956 , pp. 24 – 38 Google Scholar .

2 Tobler , A. J. , Excavations at Tepe Gatvra , II , pl. XCI, aGoogle Scholar .

3 Langdon , , Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms ( 1939 ), pp. 350 ffGoogle Scholar .

4 Legrain , , U.E.T. , III , Business documents of the Third Dynasty of Ur , No. 1498Google Scholar . See also J.N.E.S. VIII ( 1949 ), p. 172 Google Scholar .

5 A. Haller, Die Gräber und Gräfte von Assur, Taf. 27–35.

7 Ibid., Taf. 34, z, y, Taf. 35, p, q. Frankfort , , A note on the Lady of Birth , J.N.E.S. , 3 ( 1944 ), p. 198 . Figs. 2, 3Google Scholar . For a discussion of the distribution of the looped double spiral amulet see my Bronze lugged axe or adire blades in Iraq XVI , Pt. 1, p. 77 fGoogle Scholar .

8 Ashur, Haller, op. cit., Taf. 10, a Uruk , , U.V.B. , XVII , 1937 , p. 23 and Taf. 39Google Scholar . For Kassite gold work sec Iraq, Supplement 1944–45, Pl. xxvii.

8a Frankfort , , Iraq Excavations of Ku Oriental Institute ( 1932 – 1933 ). Fig. 29Google Scholar .

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