The Cosmos in Storage

 I know I’m not alone when I say that I get excited on Sunday nights to sit down and watch Cosmos. The re-envisioned Carl Sagan classic airs on Fox on Sunday nights with Neil deGrasse Tyson as host. I’m not going to gush about how he’s been my favorite astrophysicist since I basically learned what an astrophysicist was, but lets just say we’re glued to the TV when this show comes on each week.

This past week opened with a lot of great objects featured while he discussed not only Mesopotamia in general, but Enheduanna in particular. This screen shot features objects I work with every day–from a variety of places in ancient Iraq. I thought I’d take the chance to show off our awesome collection.

Ubaid columns, Enheduanna, and jewelry from the Royal Cemetery at Ur

Ubaid columns, Enheduanna, and jewelry from the Royal Cemetery at Ur

 The first thing you really see is that beautiful inlaid column. Its from the site of Ubaid, excavated by Leonard Woolley on behalf of our museum and the British Museum. We have one, and the BM has one as well. Ours was recently loaned to an exhibit in Spain, and it was such a great addition, that their head of exhibits and I posed with it when finished.

La Caixa's head of exhibits Carles, Katy Blanchard (NE keeper), and Anne Brancati (loans registrar) pose with the Penn Museum's Ubaid column

La Caixa’s head of exhibits Carles, Katy Blanchard (NE keeper), and Anne Brancati (loans registrar) pose with the Penn Museum’s Ubaid column

I can see what led the Cosmos designers to include it in their fictional Cosmos world. While shown indoors in the program, we know they were found on the exterior of a building, likely flanking the top of a grand stairway. The columns would have originally stood outside the entrance of the Ninhursang Temple at the site of Tell al Ubaid. Dating to about 2400-2250 BCE, they are made of small pieces of shell, pink limestone, and black shale cut into shapes. They had a small wire on the back of each one that was set into a layer of bitumen which covered the log at the center of each column.

The next thing I really notice is her jewelry. One of our most famous set of artifacts is the jewelry of Queen Puabi. While Puabi is indeed a queen and has more jewelry than any other person excavated at the Royal Cemetery, her grandeur really gives you an idea of the types of materials found on the buried individuals.

Queen Puabi's burial jewelry includes more than 10 pounds of gold and lapis on her head.

Queen Puabi’s burial jewelry includes more than 10 pounds of gold and lapis on her head.

Our Cosmos-imagined Enheduanna clearly doesn’t have all this. One of the graves at Ur, PG1237, is known as The Great Death Pit. In this one grave, 74 bodies were found, most of which were women. They were dressed as “hand maidens” and would have included a muted version of Puabi’s jewelry. So you see a hair comb, which is made of silver as well as three flowers of gold, paste and shell. You see that she wears a single wreath of gold leaves. She wears two large lunate earrings. Around her neck, you see what is affectionately called a “dog collar“: a band of interlaced lapis and gold triangles worn tight against the neck. Below that? You see lovely strands of beads, made of carnelian, lapis, and gold–all imported materials. We date Puabi as to the time period slightly before the Ubaid column, from about 2600-2450 BCE.

And we can’t forget Enheduanna herself! She’s lovely in her traditional flounced skirt, seen below on the disk that bears her name,  as she writes her poetry. Enheduanna was indeed a real person, discussed fully by my colleague Brad Hafford, here on the blog. Our disk dates to about 2300, so we date her dedications to about that time.

Enheduanna is third from the right on this disk that bears her name (on the back). Her face is still preserved

Enheduanna is third from the right on this disk that bears her name (on the back). Her face is still preserved.
Museum Object Number: B16665

 

All in all? Cosmos did an amazing job this week, using real objects almost in their correct context, and dating close enough to the same date that I would love to have seen them all together, kind of like this.

All of the objects featured on Cosmos this week, can be found in the storeroom here at the Penn Museum.

All of the objects featured on Cosmos this week, can be found in the storeroom here at the Penn Museum.

This entry was posted in Fun!, Museum and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • medievalprof

    Cosmos and ancient artifacts! I dont’ think it gets any better than this.