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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.
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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.
Lyre with Bearded Bull’s Head and Inlaid Panel

Most of the headlines currently coming out of Iraq are filled with reports of violence. With such media coverage, it is easy to forget the long and rich history of the “cradle of civilization.” Modern Iraq lies at the heart of Mesopotamia—the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is here that modern society—states with urban centers ruled by kings who recorded their economic activities in writing—began around 3500 BCE. We know about Mesopotamian civilization from the material remains buried in ruin mounds that dot the country’s landscape. When archaeologists systematically excavate these mounds, we can reconstruct many facets of Iraq’s ancient past.

In 1922—the same year that Howard Carter shocked the world with his discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt—a little-known British archaeologist, Charles Leonard Woolley, began excavations near the town of Nasiriyah at the site of Ur—one of ancient Mesopotamia’s most important cities. His most remarkable discovery was a massive cemetery with thousands of burials, including a small number of rich tombs belonging to the kings and queens of Ur from around 2500 BCE. The Royal Cemetery of Ur and its spectacular finds still fascinate and challenge us today. In this exhibition, you will encounter one of the top ten archaeological discoveries of all time and explore early Mesopotamia through the lens of research carried out in the decades following Woolley’s incredible discovery.

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