Mr. Woolley’s Report from Ur

Originally Published in 1930

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THE Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania has now, at the end of January, completed one part of its programme for the winter season. The ancient cemetery which for the last two years has proved so amazingly productive, has been exhausted, a large number of graves have been dug and have yielded good objects, though nothing to rival the riches of the royal tombs, its limits have been found, and the excavators are now at liberty to turn to other parts of the site less sensational, perhaps, but not less important for the working out of the city’s history.

Two figures of women with snake faces
Plate II — Prehistoric Terra-Cotta Figurines Ur of the Chaldees; Fourth Millennium B.C.
Museum Object Number: 31-16-733

But if the graves were not up to last year’s standand the cemetery area had other surprises in store for us. Shafts driven from the modern ground surface to sea level have shown us in successive well-defined strata almost the whole history of Ur from 3000 B.C. back to a dateless antiquity; and deep below the main cemetery, separated from it by a heavy stratum of rubbish containing written documents much older in style than those found in the royal tombs, we have come upon a number of graves rich in stone vases and pottery belonging to a period hitherto not represented at Ur. The results obtained here have been checked and confirmed by those from a great pit sunk inside the limits of the prehistoric town. In this pit eight levels of buildings, of which the latest goes hack to at least 3200 B.C., were noted and removed, then came a thick stratum formed from the debris of a potter’s factory, and below this again graves containing painted pottery. Such pottery was well known to us from fragments, and three or four more or less complete examples of it had been obtained from al ‘Ubaid in the excavations of five years ago; it was obviously very old, and of late I had come to the conclusion that it was an antediluvian ware belonging to the earliest settlers in the marshes of southern Mesopotamia. This guess is now proved correct- the painted pottery, which last year we found below the clay deposit left by the Flood, fills the lowest stratum in the occupation-levels of the site and rests on virgin soil sixty feet below that series of buildings which we date before 3200 B.C.

The graves have given us quantities of vessels, mostly crushed by the weight of the soil but complete and capable of restoration, vessels decorated in black or brown paint with simple but satisfactory designs; and with these we have found terra-cotta figurines of women [Plate II], sometimes holding children, which must be connected with the religion of the land’s first inhabitants. Few things that we have discovered at Ur are more interesting than these little figures which with a grotesqueness perhaps intentional combine, at the beginning of history, that sense of style which was to characterize the art work of the great age of the royal tombs.

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"Mr. Woolley’s Report from Ur." Museum Bulletin I, no. 4 (April, 1930): 5-6. Accessed July 15, 2024.

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