University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Ur Digitization Project: December 2012

January 3, 2013

Archival documents of the month
Spotlight on Field Photo Numbers 0002 and 1365
The Dig House

Archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley spent as much as five months (typically November to March) every year in the field, living at a small house he had built near the site of Ur. It was a basic Expedition house for the small supervisory staff to live in as well as for cataloguing and temporary storage of some of the artifacts.

Woolley’s Expedition House in 1922; field photo number 2

The first report sent from the field, dated Nov. 2, 1922, has this to say:

Reaching Ur on Oct. 27th, we were accomodated temporarily in the Railway Institute, comfortable quarters but too far from the site to be of permanent use. We visited the mound and selected alternative sites for the Expedition house and arranged methods for getting regular food supplies.

Woolley left the architect F.G. Newton in charge and went on to Baghdad. Here he met with H.M. King Faisal and Hon. Director of Antiquities, Gertrude Bell, among others. The antiquities law was being examined by the Cabinet but had not yet been passed, so they gave Woolley a temporary permit and he returned to Ur.

I reached Ur again on Nov. 2nd … [Mr. Newton] had already engaged a few men and had made trial trenches on the sites suggested for the house; as the first site at once produced walls of a building obviously important, he had selected the alternative site, which is against the outer wall of the ancient town, and had marked out the ground plan and had started digging the foundations.

More men have now been engaged and the numbers of the gang will be steadily increased up to the limit of our requirements. Tomorrow I propose to move away from the vicinity of the railway station and to pitch tents on the mound itself, where we can live close to our work pending the completion of the Expedition house.

The house was finished relatively quickly. Basic and perhaps not extraordinarily comfortable, it served its purpose.

Digging was conducted in the winter months in order to avoid the heat. But it meant that the holiday season was spent away from home working intensely. In fact, Woolley reports that at most 2 days holiday were taken by the staff, and he himself typically worked every day. His report dated Dec. 31, 1923 shows this well:

Christmas Day was observed as a holiday; the opportunity was taken to visit some of the small sites in the neighbourhood from which antiquities have been occasionally brought in to us. Otherwise work in the field has been continuous.

Despite the intense work, seasons were exhilarating and the crew were uncovering one of the most important ancient cities in history. Conditions in the dig house continued to improve, especially under the guidance of Katharine Keeling who was later to become Mrs. Woolley.

Supervisory staff in front of the improved Expedition house at end of season 1928-29; field photo 1365.

This photo shows Katharine at center holding the house cat they adopted mostly to control mice. It is an end of season photo for the excavation year 1928-29 and everyone seems cheerful (except perhaps the cat).

Happy Holidays from the Ur Project! And a special thanks to all those who have helped in transcribing reports, letters and notes from the field like the ones quoted here. If you would like to help in transcribing, please go to

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