A Report from Ur

Originally Published in 1932

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A REMARKABLE Second Dynasty tomb has been found by the Joint Expedition to Ur. At the bottom of a rectangular shaft, sunk to a depth of about twenty feet, eighteen people were buried: three of them men, two children, and thirteen women. Most of the women had gold ornaments and beads, while the men also-and one in particular-were richly adorned with gold. All the bodies were buried independently, though all must have been contemporary and one elaborate ritual must have served for all alike.

Drawing of the excavated tomb layers
Plate I — A Second Dynasty Tomb at Ur, Iraq

Plate I shows a diagrammatic section of the shaft. Above the graves was spread a clay floor covering the whole area of the shaft; in it were fireplaces and over the principal burial was a brick-walled enclosure wherein the remains of food were found [Plate II]. Above this came a thick packing of mud bricks and then another floor on which was a low wall forming a niche to enclose an altar. Rubbish filling; another floor with its altar; and a level of brick packing completed the filling of the shaft. Evidently the burial had been completed by stages, each marked by its ceremonies of fire and sacrifice.

One of the coffins, long since crumbled away, had left in the surrounding soil an impression of itself so clear that for the first time it is possible to obtain an excellent idea of what this type of reed coffin, with its ribbed sides and gabled top, was like. Among the furnishings of the graves was a bitumen model of a boat, about five feet long. A circular seal, carved with the figure of a bull and bearing an inscription in the Indus Valley script, affords a fresh link between the civilizations of Sumer and Mohenjo-daro, the extraordinary site in India where excavations in recent years have revealed a city contemporaneous with those of Mesopotamia.

The graves date from the Second Dynasty of Ur (about 2600 B.C.), a period about which nothing is known. They produced no written record and no such riches as would justify their being called royal tombs, yet the old royal tombs afford the only other instances of group burial. The present tomb, with its independent bodies so uniformly attired and its succession of funeral rites celebrated as the pit was gradually filled in, is a complete mystery.

An excavated tomb with two altars, a man standing in the tomb
Plate II — A Second Dynasty Tomb at Ur, Showing the Two Altars and the Walled Enclosure

Work is now in progress on the northwest side of the ziggurat, or great staged tower. Already one series of buildings dating to about 3000 B. C. has been revealed, while separated from this by two strata of buildings as yet very fragmentary, there is a massive complex of walls and chambers of even earlier date. It is evident that the present ziggurat is at least the third to occupy the same site and that the original foundation must go back to the very early days of the city. Of later date is the façade of a fortress tower; inscriptions on two large clay cones set in the brickwork state that the fort was constructed by Warad-Sin, king of Larsa about 1950 B.C. The structure was elaborately decorated with half columns in relief, and has an ornamental false door flanked with free columns in the round. This is a discovery of prime importance for the history of Mesopotamian architecture, which until recently was supposed to have ignored the use of the column.

Cite This Article

"A Report from Ur." Museum Bulletin III, no. 5 (March, 1932): 109-111. Accessed July 25, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/897/


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