Excavations at Ur

Originally Published in 1931

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SINCE completing the excavation of the royal tombs at Ur, the main scene of operations has been the residential quarter. Some attention has, however, been given to the completion of a deep pit, in the neighborhood of the Ziggurat, similar to that which is the subject of Mr. Smith’s painting mentioned elsewhere. This pit has now been sunk to water level and has yielded stratification and building remains which amplify and support our chronology of the earliest ages of Sumerian civilization.

In the residential district, it has been the aim to obtain an example of the town planning of one period over as large an area as will give contemporary buildings. The period is the traditional one of Abraham, dating between 2000 and 1900 B.C.; actually, the buildings seem to have been looted and destroyed in 1910 B.C., when Hammurabi of Babylon at last crushed the resistance of the king of Larsa and conquered the south country. There have now been laid bare four streets bordered by some forty buildings: private houses, shops, chapels and one unusually large building which may have been an inn. A view of one of the streets is shown in Plate IV.

An excavated street with brick walls at Ur
Plate IV — A Street Scene at Ur in the Level of the Abrahamic Period, 2000-1900 B.C.

One house proved of especial interest. The original ground plan was quite normal; the front door leading through a little lobby on one side to a passage running around the house, and on the other side to the open court on to which opened the rooms of the ground floor. At a later period, however, the court, which had been given a separate entrance from the street, was isolated by the walling up of three of its doors; there were left open only the doors of the lavatory and of the big reception room. Scattered on the floor of the building were numerous tablets, about four hundred complete or nearly so and a thousand fragments. Among the complete tablets are a hundred and forty-five business and legal documents, many of which appear to deal with temple property, and twenty-two private letters; also fifty religious texts: hymns to gods, liturgies, and incantations; and further, a hundred and fifty school exercise tablets, as well as mathematical texts, syllabaries, historical, medical, and mythological texts. Apparently the building was the home of a priest who was also a school-master; the peculiarities of his house are explained if we suppose that he held his classes in the court-yard and reception room and had these walled off so as to secure privacy for his domestic quarters. The study of so numerous and so well associated a collection of tablets is likely to yield a fairly clear and detailed record of the educational methods and curriculum used in a Sumerian school in the second half of the twentieth century B.C.

Of considerable interest is a much broken and fragmentary tablet found in another house; it was quite large and much of the text remains. The tablet elucidates the conjugation of the Sumerian verb, which is set forth in parallel columns with the equivalent in the Semitic language of Babylon; paradigms are given for five different classes of verbal stems with their prefixes, suffixes, and so on, all duly explained. Undoubtedly many of the difficulties which have hitherto baffled scholars in the interpretation of the Sumerian verbal elements will find their solution in this unique tablet, which is of far greater value than any other bilingual text that we possess.

Cite This Article

"Excavations at Ur." Museum Bulletin II, no. 6 (April, 1931): 182-186. Accessed July 15, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/754/


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