Many of the stone vessels found in the Royal Cemetery were made of alabaster, a light-colored calcareous stone found on the Iranian Plateau. The most common shape is a cylinder with a flat rim that is paralleled at Iranian sites where workshops have been found (Shahdad, Konar Sandal South, Shahr-i Sohkta). Similarly, a dark greenish gray soft stone (chlorite or steatite) was also commonly used for bowls that nested inside one another for efficient storage and travel. The most distinctive example is the carved canister from Puabi’s tomb, which is decorated with a pattern identical to ones found in south central Iran (Tepe Yahya), the ancient Land of Marhashi.
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’s mountains and plateau.
Metal arrived as ingots that could be cast or hammered into a variety of forms. Copper, used for vessels, tools, and decorative pieces, came from sources in Iran and Anatolia, while silver and gold came from a number of places. New sourcing techniques may soon allow scientists to identify the unique chemical features of these metals, helping us pinpoint their source.
Dividing the Collection
According to Woolley’s provisional excavation permit (October 31, 1922), artifacts found during excavation were to be divided between the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and the two excavating institutions: the British Museum and the Penn Museum. This arrangement was later confirmed by an official license issued under Iraq’s 1924 Antiquities Law. Woolley also received permission to take cuneiform tablets and other inscribed artifacts out of the country for study since Iraq had no trained Assyriologists to read them. After publication they would be divided accordingly and Baghdad’s share returned to Iraq. Major finds assigned to Baghdad were sometimes also sent to London for reproduction before their return to Iraq.
Gertrude Bell developed the procedure to divide the finds. At season’s end, she sent an assistant to Ur to make a catalogue of finds. She then traveled to the site and selected artifacts for the Iraq Museum. Both Bell and Woolley recounted their discussions in letters, musing on how their institutions had fared.
Once the artifacts were divided, the excavators’ portion was exported to Britain with the appropriate permits. Major finds were exhibited in the British Museum each summer. Some artifacts required extensive conservation, which Woolley personally supervised. The division of finds between the British Museum and Penn occurred in late summer or early fall, with Father Léon Legrain, the Curator of the Babylonian Section, representing the Penn Museum. He recounted the process, which often took days, in detail.