Finding the Cemetery

Aerial photograph taken March 12, 1930, showing the excavations of the Royal Cemetery. The finger-like projections are dumps of excavated soil.
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Aerial photograph taken March 12, 1930, showing the excavations of the Royal Cemetery. The finger-like projections are dumps of excavated soil.
Aerial photograph taken March 12, 1930, showing the excavations of the Royal Cemetery. The finger-like projections are dumps of excavated soil.

By 1927, Woolley had uncovered Ur’s ziggurat and the major public buildings around it. The only area left untouched was the site of Trial Trench A, where he had discovered burials back in 1922. Expanding this trench, Woolley excavated nearly 600 burials in three months. Over the next three seasons, he would uncover 1,100 more, including his most spectacular discoveries—the royal tombs—which included stone-built chambers, a wealth of artifacts made of gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, and evidence for the burial of court attendants alongside deceased kings and queens. In all, by 1934, he uncovered almost 2,000 burials.

Woolley identified 16 “royal tombs” based on their construction, material wealth, and buried court attendants. There were considerable differences among these tombs. For example, PG789 and PG800 had stone-built chambers reserved for deceased royalty at the bottom of pits to which ramps provided access. Several court attendants were found in the chamber, but most were arrayed outside in the “death pits.” In contrast, PG777, PG779, and PG1236 were large stone-built multi-room structures, with one room reserved for the main burial. The tombs were just deep enough below ground to cover their corbelled vaults and domes, and stairs and ramps provided access. Different again, PG1050 and PG1054 consisted of deep shafts with a complex series of constructions: royal burials at the bottom and mudbrick structures with multiple burials and grave offerings in the upper fill of the shafts. Finally, PG1618, PG1631, and PG1648 were smaller tombs with a chamber with a small court for attendants.

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