The Joint Expedition to Ur

Originally Published in 1933

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THE eleventh season of the Joint Expedition to Ur of the University Museum and the British Museum has commenced with the excavation of two sites both intimately connected with the great Ziggurat, or staged tower. In one area the excavators under Mr. C. Leonard Woolley are examining the defences of the Temenos, or Sacred Area, in one corner of which the Ziggurat stood; in another area, at the tower’s foot, they are probing beneath the floor of its terrace to discover traces of the similar buildings which occupied the same site in the prehistoric period before the Ziggurat which we know had been planned.

Gypsum bricks lying scattered in a pit
Plate II — Gypsum Blocks-Possibly an Altar Foundation-In an Early Temple at Ur. Fragments of a Much Later Temple Immediately Above
Image Number: 192185

The Sacred Area of Ur was surrounded in Nebuchadnezzar’s time by a wall which was excavated several years ago, but hitherto no evidence has been forthcoming that it was so defined in earlier times. Now, from a tangle of broken walls patched and rebuilt by one ruler after another, we are beginning to learn the history of the site back to the twenty-third century B. C. and to see how strongly it was fortified throughout that history. In the early days the Sacred Area rose as a walled terrace above the general level of the city; but we can now see how with the constant decay and rebuilding of private houses the level of the town rose until the terrace disappeared, and when Nebuchadnezzar built his great wall, the last of the series, the ground inside it was actually lower than the outside.

Close to the Ziggurat a temple is being unearthed which, in about 3000 B. C., occupied a corner of the platform on which the Ziggurat stood, while fragments of a still earlier building have also been found. It becomes increasingly evident that the great tower built by Ur-Engur in about 2300 B. C. covered and replaced older editions of itself. The temple of 3000 B. C. with its heavy walls and extraordinary pavements of burnt brick and bitumen fifteen courses thick, had been rebuilt perhaps three centuries later, but of the new building little remained except the boundary wall and the mud-brick floor of its court. Into this floor there had been dug pits, three rectangular and one round; these were very neatly cut and filled with clean soil of a reddish tint, and at the bottom of one were gypsum blocks measuring up to four feet in length [Plate II]. The gypsum must have been brought from a great distance and was carefully laid in courses; there is nothing below the stones, so whatever object they served was above ground, though the light soil covering them proves that they were not meant to strengthen the foundations of any heavy structure. Mr. Woolley suggests, in explanation of these peculiar pits, that they may have been the foundations for altars that stood in the court and had been prepared in accordance with the Sumerian custom of bringing clean earth for the foundations of a sacred structure-a notable instance being the Harbour Temple, excavated two years ago, which was built on foundations that were themselves a complete temple filled in solidly with clean sand so that no man might enter it.

Cite This Article

"The Joint Expedition to Ur." Museum Bulletin IV, no. 3 (April, 1933): 62-63. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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