Although other sites, including Kish and Abu Salabikh, have yielded important evidence, the Royal Cemetery at Ur provides unparalleled insights into early Mesopotamian elite funerary customs. But, what exactly does it tell us?
During the later part of the Early Dynastic period, the inhabitants of Ur expended considerable energy to construct tombs for their deceased elites. Though we do not know their identities with certainty, written evidence suggests that these elites were the city-state’s kings and queens, who may have fulfilled a number of important roles in life. We do not know whether the burial pits were dug and tomb chambers constructed before the death of their occupants or whether they were hastily prepared afterwards, the more likely alternative. But the considerable wealth in the tombs, including the animals and attendants buried with Ur’s kings and queens, testify to the power or pretensions to power of these elites and their ability to intimidate.
[stextbox id=”grey”]The considerable wealth in the tombs testifies to the power of these elites.[/stextbox]
Elaborate and extended mourning rituals followed their deaths. Documentary sources describe music and feasting that extended over a period of days. PG789 and PG800, with soldiers or guards, ox-drawn carts, musicians, and mourners, clearly illustrate the funeral procession that brought the deceased monarch to their final resting place with all the necessary provisions for the Netherworld gods and their own needs in the afterlife. Similarly, PG1237 displays a funerary feast, with banqueters, their attendants, musicians, and mourners. The royal tombs are, therefore, elaborate tableaux morts, graphically illustrating what followed the death of Ur’s early kings and queens.