Excavations at Ur

Originally Published in 1931

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THE clearing of the royal tombs of the Third Dynasty of Ur is proceeding apace; the latest reports indicate that only the two largest have yet to be completed. As the work has progressed, two remarkable characteristics of the buildings became evident. In the first place, the tombs were apparently built before the superstructure instead of afterwards, differing in this from the ‘family vaults’ under the private houses of the Third Dynasty and Larsa periods. In the second place, the superstructure, though undoubtedly a temple for the worship of the deified king, was modelled not on the conventional temple but on the private house, implying the continued occupation of the building by a deity who was primarily human. Thus, the rooms were turned to uses unknown in the ordinary dwelling, and in many of them were altars for sacrifice and libation. One of these altars, built of brick and bitumen, was found almost intact [Plate XII]; on top of it were narrow channels for carrying libation oils from vases, set above the channels, down to ix separate hearths beneath.

A libation chamber with an altar
Plate XII — Dungi’s Libation Chamber with Altar for Burning Scented Oils, Ur
Image Number: 191688

Town sites at Ur usually produce little of interest other than the buildings and inscribed tablets. But at a place in the southeast quarter where four roads met was found a small chapel dedicated, according to the inscription on a votive mace-head, to the little-known deity, Pa-Sag, ‘the protector of desert paths.’ It was a small, humble place, dating from about 2000 B.C., with a single room on to which opened a tiny sanctuary. In the sanctuary niche stood a white lime tone statue of the deity [Plate XIII] which had been broken and mended in antiquity with bitumen. In front of the door was a limestone pillar with cupped top and with sides crudely decorated with figures of men and birds. In the main room was a larger limestone statue, fallen to the ground and with the head broken off; this showed the flounced dress of the period and on the head was represented the gold ribbon head-dress such as was found in the much earlier graves of the Royal Cemetery. Various votive objects lay about and the skull of a buffalo apparently had adorned the wall. In the street outside was found a terra-cotta relief two feet high of the bull-footed demon who is the regular guardian of a door. The building was surprisingly complete, undisturbed since the day when it was last used; indeed, so little had it been disturbed that, when the four or five foot layer of rubbish had been removed, it was possible to photograph the statue in the sanctuary through the door (of wood and reeds that had left their imprint in the hard soil and then crumbled away) which had been left half-open by the last worshippers in this little wayside shrine.

A small statuette in situ in a temple
Plate XIII — Statuette of Pa-Sag as Found in a Wayside Chapel at Ur

Cite This Article

"Excavations at Ur." Museum Bulletin II, no. 5 (March, 1931): 166-170. Accessed May 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/736/

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