THE fifth and very successful campaign of the Joint Expedition of the British Museum and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania at Ur of the Chaldees, the work of which was begun on October 28, 1926, came to a close on February 19th of this year. The discovery of the oldest cemetery, going back to prehistoric times, with its hoards of gold and semiprecious stones and very ancient reliefs, is one of the most remarkable results of this campaign. The news of this treasure reached Dr. Gordon by cable before his death and made him the more happy and confident in the issue of the Expedition.
The Director of the Expedition, Mr. C. Leonard Woolley, had with him Mr. M. E. Mallowan as general archaeological assistant and Mr. A. S. Whitburn as architect. Father E. Burrows, S. J., from Oxford, was in charge of the inscriptional material and Mrs. K. Keeling—today Mrs. Woolley—gave her free services in the work of drawing and cataloguing specimens.
The following is from Mr. Woolley’s report of the four months’ campaign.
A Quarter of the City Outside of the Temple
The work began on October 28th. I had engaged a hundred and sixty men, the largest number which in my opinion could advantageously be employed on the site selected, which was the large mound just outside the southwest wall of the Temenos where preliminary borings had been made at the end of last season, bringing to light well preserved house ruins and resulting in the discovery of a number of interesting tablets of a literary nature.
In spite of the height of the mound—it is almost the highest on the site—the surface had been heavily denuded; of the Neo-Babylonian period virtually nothing remained, and even the Kassite buildings were so ruined as in most cases to be not worth planning. It was only when we reached a lower level that well preserved remains were found. These were private houses of the Isin-Larsa period, about 2100 to 2000 B. c. The floor levels of these lay as much as twenty feet below the surface and work was in consequence extremely heavy, an enormous amount of earth having to be shifted, but the walls were correspondingly preserved and the ruins are imposing in appearance as well as interesting in plan.
The area excavated measures roughly sixty metres by forty. Within this were found a number of houses, large and small, in blocks separated by narrow lanes running more or less at right angles. While the individual houses differ considerably in size and in their internal arrangements, they still conform roughly to a uniform plan, and this plan is of a quite unexpected character. The front door leads through a small entrance chamber to a central court off which open the kitchen, the reception room and various domestic offices, while a brick staircase leads up to the main living quarters. These upper rooms seem to have opened onto a wooden gallery, sometimes protected by a penthouse roof, which ran round the central court and was entered directly from the stairhead. Instead of the low and flimsily built mud huts, consisting of two or three rooms giving off a yard, which characterised sixth century Babylon, we have at Ur in the 20th Century B. C. an almost exact counterpart of the wealthier houses of modern Baghdad.
From the point of view of objects discovered the excavation of the houses was not remunerative. There were graves below the floors of the upper Kassite buildings as well as below those of the Isin town blocks, and these yielded a great quantity of pottery, some good cylinder seals, a few bronzes, but little else. The principal finds were a fine bottle of blue and black glass, Phoenician work of about 1400 B. c., found in a Kassite grave (it was broken in antiquity and incomplete, but has been restored), a pilgrim flask of light blue glaze, also Kassite, a copper adze of the Isin period and a few small gold and silver trinkets. But the outstanding discovery was that of tablets. A few turned up in the same room that produced last season’s hoard, and high up in one of the streets was another collection, perhaps the contents of a large storage jar. No. 7 Quiet Street gave us the best results of all. Here, on a mud floor of the Larsa period and underneath a wall of a Kassite house, in a heavily burnt stratum, there were unearthed between thirty and forty large tablets which, having been baked by the fire which destroyed the building, were in remarkably good condition; in the next room were a number more (not baked), and below the mud floor in and near the door of a small chamber with a shelf along two of its sides, which had prob-ably been their original storage place, were many more tablets of a slightly earlier date. Only of the set of accidentally baked tablets can anything be even provisionally said. They include hymns, one addressed to Rim-Sin, records of pious foundations by various Larsa kings, the text sometimes in part reproducing known texts on the building cones of the kings, lists of words and phrases, tables of square and cube roots and lists of solid or liquid measurements. On one archaic tablet, not yet sufficiently cleaned to be wholly legible, there is mention of an otherwise unknown king of Ur, possibly one of the rulers of the Second Dynasty of the city. Amongst the tablets which have yet to be fired there are a number which appear to be of a literary character, and it is likely that the collection is by far the most important yet found here.
Filling Gaps in the Plan of the Temple
Between the Tomb Mound dug last year and the “Palace” site first excavated by Dr. Hall there was a considerable area about which nothing was known although its denuded appearance did not inspire any high hopes. At the same time it was most desirable to fill in the large gap which it represented on the plan of the Temenos, and I therefore transferred the men to it as their work on the houses drew to an end. In the first hour or two the surface soil yielded a building cone of Libit-Ishtar, a diorite head of a ram, and the forepart and head of a small lion carved in calcite, the base of a statuette of a god. But these good objects had no successors, and the site did not detain us long; it was proved that there had been here a large building of the Larsa period, but it was so completely denuded that even the limits of its ground plan could not be determined and of the interior virtually nothing remained, the interest was therefore wholly topographical.
In the north corner of the Temenos there was a wide space of unexplored ground between the Great Courtyard and the line of the northeast temenos wall—the line which in 1922-23 we had failed to trace and therefore had dotted only conjecturally on the plan. Now work here has brought to light a deep and wide recess in the late Temenos wall containing a new gateway, the biggest in the wall’s whole circuit: it lines up directly with the entrance of the Great Courtyard and gives a new significance to that building which I feel sure was in Nebuchadnezzar’s time the courtyard of the main temple of Nannar. This discovery completed the plan of the late Temenos enclosure and was eminently worth while.
The Large Building at Diqdiqqeh Cemetery
In the meantime a report from a dismissed workman of the finding at Diqdiqqeh of an apparently important building had induced me to send there Mr. Mallowan with a gang to excavate it. The building, which lies on the edge of the cemetery, was found to be a part—only the northwest end remained—of a large and important structure put up by Sin-idinnam of Larsa. Its importance lay in the character of the ground plan: there could be no doubt that the building had originally been roofed by means of arches and vaults. Until recently such features would have been considered wholly incompatible with the date 2100 B. c., but the fact that the doors of the private houses of the period were arched and the analogy of the barrel vaults over contemporary tombs justify the assumption of the architectural features which the plan demands. It is also interesting to find that royal buildings exist at a distance of over a mile from the walls of the Temenos; clearly the excavation of the Temenos will by no means exhaust the possibilities of the site of Ur.
The Finds at E-Nun-Maḫ and Southwest of the Ziggurat
Trenches cut on either side of the newly found gateway in the northeast Temenos wall failed to discover further buildings, and it appeared that in the later periods at least this corner of the sacred area was unoccupied. As the work here drew to an end the gangs were shifted by degrees to E-Nun-Maḫ.
When E-Nun-Maḫ was dug in 1922-23 excavation inside the sanctuary was carried down only to the Neo-Babylonian level, since it seemed a pity to destroy the finely preserved Nebuchadnezzar pavements in what was then our show building. Now the time had come for further work. Fresh light was thrown on the history of the temple by four doorsockets, found in situ, bearing inscriptions of Marduk-nadin-ahi, 1117-1100 B. c., a king of whom no record had previously been found at Ur, though his activities fit in well with those of Raman-aplu-idinnam two generations later. More remarkable was the discovery below the pavement of an ivory box lid with an inscription in Phoenician; I believe this to be the first Phoenician text discovered in Mesopotamia. Also below the pavement we found a whole toilet set in ivory, certainly Phoenician work; the best objects included in it were a small paint pot in the form of a sphinx, closely resembling a column base from Assyria now in the British Museum, and a comb having on either side an engraving of a bull, extraordinarily fine both in design and in execution. There also was found a brick with an inscription in a script which we have not been able to identify.
From E-Nun-Maḫ the gang was transferred to the southwest face of the Ziggurat. The original excavations here had gone down only to the Neo-Babylonian level, and Mr. Mallowan’s work at the end of last season, when he discovered walls of the Third Dynasty and earlier, still had to be completed. I was also anxious to obtain material for a full plan of the surroundings of the Ziggurat in the Third Dynasty and Larsa periods, with a view to complete publication. This work is now almost finished; the plans of the southwest side are being drawn up by Mr. Whitburn and only a few details may have to be ascertained by further digging. One good object turned up in the Ziggurat work, a complete diorite duck weight with an inscription of Dungi.
The Oldest Ur Cemetery
On the twenty-sixth of November most of the men were moved, this time to cut a long and deep trial trench across the unexplored part of the site lying between the southeast wall of the Nebuchadnezzar Temenos and the heavy buttressed wall running southeast of the “Palace,” which I believe to be itself the boundary wall of the earlier Temenos. The trench showed that the greater part of the area between E-Ḫarsag and the southeast wall of Nebuchadnezzar’s Temenos had never been occupied by buildings—most of it was an open mud-floored space—thus strengthening the theory I had previously formed that the older Temenos did not include this area but stopped short at the retaining wall of the E-Ḫarsag terrace; but towards its northwest end the trench produced groups of pottery and tombs resembling those found in the neighbouring trench dug in the first weeks of our first season here. Further to test the ground I started a second trench roughly at right angles to the first and extending to the corner of the southeast gate of the late Temenos, and almost at once hit upon more graves of so interesting a character that the excavation of the whole area was obviously necessary. The graves at the southeast end of the Temenos, of which we had at the end of December excavated 180, are in every way remarkable. They are found at all depths from half a metre to four metres and a half, but though there is naturally some difference of date between them, all are very early.
Some of the burials are in clay coffins, circular or oval, the former are always empty, the latter poor; most of the bodies were wrapped in matting and laid in the earth with or without a ritual burning. These graves are often extremely rich.
The clay pots are very numerous but not, for the most part, very interesting, the best are the tall offering tables of clay (examples in limestone also occur) decorated with incised patterns; one has applied figures of stags. Of stone vessels we have some eighty examples, representing a wide variety of types and a good range of materials, decoration is rare and when it occurs simple, and only one piece is inscribed with the name of its owner, but they form a very fine collection. Copper is most abundant: bowls and large pots occur frequently, also strainers of a curiously classical form. Owing to the thinness of the metal the last are often in bad condition, but well preserved examples are occasionally found. The copper tools and weapons are most interesting: we have quantities of axes, adzes, spearheads, daggers and knives, toilet reticules, some of which could be polished up and used today. The variety of types is great and affords admirable material for study. But the novel feature of these graves is their richness in jewellery, we have already a wonderful collection of objects in gold and silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian and shell. Long pins of copper or silver with heads of lapis set in silver or gold are common; beads are astonishingly numerous and vary in size from the minutest rings running three or four to a millimetre to lentoids of gold and stone eight and a half centimetres long; earrings of silver and gold were common but are simple in design, as are also the finger-rings—generally a spiral coil of fairly thick wire—but the earrings make up for their simplicity by their size, being as much as four centimetres across. One curious object is a large silver head ornament in the form of a lotus on a long stem, the ends of the petals decorated with balls of lapis and gold ; it was one of a pair worn against the ears and rising over the head after the fashion of ornaments shewn in early carvings. A chain of very fine gold links set with lapis has a parallel in a silver chain unfortunately poorly preserved; it is a strangely modern looking piece. A small gold statuette of a seated bull wearing a false beard tied under its chin, the bull deified, is a fine example of the goldsmith’s work. Of the gold diadems the best has elaborate decoration in outline impressed in the thin metal, men and animals very delicately drawn, stags and rams, a hunter returning from the chase with his gamebag, a man riding and another driving beasts. In shell we have a very good carving in the round of a bull, and, more unusual, an actual shell made into a duck with a stone head, the colours of the breast represented by incrustation in mother-of-pearl and lapis on a bitumen background ; an ostrich shell similarly incrusted, but unfortunately in bad condition, shows that the technique was normal. Not from the cemetery but resulting from a chance find is an excellent shell plaque with an engraving of a priest at sacrifice, still retaining traces of the red and black colour with which the engraved lines were filled. It is perhaps the best shell engraving yet found.
Cylinder seals in white shell, steatite, lapis lazuli and rock crystal occur fairly frequently; amongst them are some particularly fine specimens, including two of crystal with copper caps wherein the hole through the center has been filled up with white and scarlet paste to form a series of chevron patterns visible through the crystal walls. Generally the style of the cylinders is what would be called Sargonid or pre-Sargonid, which is surprising if the tombs are really as early as the Farah analogies suggest.
Rich Gold Find
The Dating of the Tombs
The work of the Expedition during the month of January fully justified the confidence inspired by the success obtained at the end of the previous month. At that time we had just discovered a cemetery of a period earlier than any of the city’s buildings yet laid bare; now a considerable area was systematically explored and over four hundred graves were found, and every day of the month added to our collection fresh monuments for the history of an age hitherto unknown.
It is now possible to say definitely that the period covered by the main cemetery lies between 3500 and 3200 B. C. ; in other words, we have gone back of the First Dynasty of Ur, the historical existence of which was first proved by the discoveries made by this Expedition three years ago, and are in that nebulous epoch assigned by ancient Sumerian chronologers to a dynasty of kings of Erech who reigned for periods that make Methusaleh look young. That Ur was already then a royal—though not an imperial—city is shown by the names of kings engraved on their cylinder seals; that the country, divided up as it must have been into a number of city states, had already achieved a high level of culture and enjoyed a certain uniformity of civilization is made clear by the character of the objects found in the graves, and by the analogies which they present to the contents of more or less contemporary tombs excavated by Mr. Mackay at Kish, a hundred and fifty miles away in the North. Indeed the state of civilization illustrated by our discoveries is astonishing and, though it does not settle the question, throws new light upon the old dispute as to whether the civilization of the Euphrates or that of the Nile valley can claim the priority in time; our cemetery belongs to the period when Menes was establishing the First Dynasty of Egypt, and already writing is here no less advanced than on the Nile, and the technique of the arts and crafts is definitely superior. The unification of Egypt in about 3400 B. C. is marked by the appearance of new art forms and methods which seem to have been introduced from abroad or at least modified by foreign influences; the contemporary civilization of Mesopotamia is no less evidently the outcome of steady development in the country itself, and since change was demonstrably slow the origins of that civilization must go back to an immemorial antiquity.
The graves themselves are simple enough. In most cases the body, fully dressed, was wrapped in matting and laid on a mat spread over the bottom of the tomb shaft; personal belongings, jewellery, etc., were placed with the body, and between the hands or against the mouth was set a cup of clay or copper which presumably contained drink, just as a cup of water is often set over a modern Arab grave so that the dead man may wet his tongue before replying to the cross-examination of the recording angel. Against the roll of matting were placed other clay or metal vases containing food and drink, more matting might be spread over the top of these, and then the earth was flung back into the pit. In some cases a fire was lit against the head of the dead man, and body and offerings were partly consumed before the grave was filled in, but the custom, clearly a survival of cremation, was already dying out, and in the later graves we find little or no trace of fire. In the higher levels a square wickerwork basket or coffin is sometimes substituted for the simple matting of an earlier age, and wooden coffins have been found, though such seem to mark a distinction in wealth rather than in date. Through-out the whole period we find, side by side with the inhumation burials, bath-shaped clay coffins whose furniture, though generally poorer in quality, is uniform with that of the matting tombs. It is tempting to assume that here we have evidence of the mixture of races, Sumerian and Semitic, which throughout the historical period characterises the Euphrates valley. In many of the graves the head is found to be resting on a pile of clean sand: the modern Arab of southern Mesopotamia has no such practice, but in northern Syria whenever a man is buried a basketful of clean sand, fetched if possible from the river, is spread beneath his head, and the parallel may well be one argument more for an early cultural connection between Sumeria and the North.
What strikes one most is the degree of wealth and comfort evinced by the graves. The pottery indeed is coarse, but that is precisely because, with better materials at hand, pottery was cheap and little regarded. For other than the most utilitarian purposes vessels were made of fine stone, alabaster or coloured soapstone, of copper or of silver, and the shapes of these show an astonishing variety and an admirable understanding of form. For ornamental purposes silver and gold are very common, the latter is sometimes used in the form of thin leaf laid over copper, but sometimes is solid and heavy; a “manicure set” of tweezers and prick in solid gold has a curiously modern look, and so have the heavy gold chains found in several graves. Gold beads of various shapes are most numerous, and we have such refinements of jewellery as a necklace of two rows of lapis lazuli beads with gold flower rosettes set at intervals and gold mulberry leaf pendants, gold pendants of filigree or of cloisonne work inlaid with lapis and carnelian, or triangles formed of a number of small gold beads soldered together which alternate with triangles of lapis and carnelian beads. Beads of stone and gold two and three inches long made a sort of fob, hanging from the belt, to which was attached a little whetstone, a very necessary article, one may imagine, when tools and knives were but of copper and would require constant sharpening. Rich people wore diadems of gold tied round the head with twisted gold wire; rings of gold and silver are found on the fingers, and sometimes copper rings on the toes. In one grave there were several yards of narrow ribbon cut out of thin gold plate, but it did not lie on the body and so one could not tell how it was worn. A belt might have been adorned with large square beads of gold and coloured stone, and big round buckles of silver filigree not unlike those of present day Armenia may have secured a cloak.
Naturally the bulk of the objects from the graves is of this personal sort, articles of use or adornment, but other things also occur: a panther’s head carved in white shell with eyes and tongue inlaid in colour, little plaques of shell with engravings of animals, perhaps from the sides of some jewel casket, inlaid gaming pieces, a whip handle in shell and black stone, and, most remarkable of all, a fragment of a limestone relief—probably the earliest Mesopotamian sculpture known—which may well portray the funeral procession of a prehistoric king. The relief shows a chariot drawn by four lions, it is empty, and the reins are held by a man who walks behind, while another guides the way in front and a third follows carrying some kind of burden. Over the car is thrown a leopard’s skin and to the front of it are tied spears, a quiverful of arrows and a battle axe, the panoply, perhaps, of the dead ruler. It is an extraordinarily interesting fragment, and if its subject be rightly interpreted by us gains in interest yet more from the fact that on two of the exquisitely engraved cylinder seals which the cemetery has produced there are inscribed the names of kings who ruled at Ur, and they may have been buried in these very graves, before the city’s history began.
The Cemetery of the Prehistoric Kings
Gold Jewels and Arms
As the clearing of the cemetery proceeded the stratification of the graves became more obvious, thanks to the different configuration of the soil in antiquity, and it was possible to obtain a relative dating which, though it agrees with the views I had formed previously, can now be considered certain instead of hypothetical. A proper analysis of the contents of the graves will in time produce more detailed information, but we can already get a very good perspective of the history of the site.
In two graves found close to what was the surface of the ground in the Third Dynasty (a level which had been denuded from the part of the cemetery area dug earlier in the season) we obtained cylinder seals of members of the household of that daughter of Sargon of Akkad who dedicated the circular calcite stela found last year. The furniture found with these cylinders seems to differ considerably from that of other graves. From a plundered grave also on the top level came the lapis lazuli cylinder seal of the wife of Mesannipadda, first king of the First Dynasty of Ur. In the top stratum therefore we have either the remains of two periods, or of one period ranging from 3200 to 2600 B.C. Comparison with the al Ubaid graves makes it fairly clear that the former alternative is the correct one, and that the site was used for graves before and up to the First Dynasty, and then after a lapse, reused in the Sargonid period. The next stratum contains graves of a uniform character from which we have obtained two cylinder seals giving the names of three prehistoric kings of Ur. Then, after a barren stratum, we reach at about five metres depth from the present surface, a new series of graves distinguished by cylinder seals of the most primitive types, by semipictographic tablets, and by an astonishing wealth of gold. These graves cannot be much later than 3500 B.C.
One of the finest objects found consists of a set of four shell plaques engraved with animal subjects and four with linear patterns framed in pink limestone and lapis lazuli. In some ways more remarkable, though of less artistic merit, is a gaming board consisting of twenty shell plaques with engraved linear designs inlaid with lapis and red paste; the plaques are framed in lapis and the whole board is bordered with ivory, lapis and mother-of-pearl. The wood and the bitumen which had held the plaques had perished, but the gaming board was finally removed in one piece and when remounted and cleaned will look extraordinarily well.
Of the gold objects found early in the month the best were a heavy diadem of gold decorated with a star, the gold wires for tying it round the head still attached, and a minute but beautifully worked figure of a pigeon in gold with a lapis tail.
At the very end of the season we came, at a depth of nearly six metres, on something unlike any tomb yet found, in that over a space measuring some seven metres by four there were spread two layers of matting between which was a great hoard of objects in copper and in gold. I am not yet sure whether it was really all one tomb (no trace of any body was detected) or a group of votive deposits, or a group of offerings made at a grave which itself has yet to be found. At one end of the area we discovered a large collection of copper spears and chisels, two gold chisels and a full size gold spearhead. These lay at the edge of our trench and to advance the work heavy digging was required. At first this seemed unproductive, only one lapis cylinder seal being found, but on the last Saturday of the season the area began to yield quantities of plain gold binding from what had been wooden handles covered with gesso and painted red, so when work as a whole ceased I kept on ten men to finish out the place. In the course of the next two days we made the best discoveries of the year. There were found bundles of copper spears, quiverfuls of arrows of various types, and about forty curious copper objects like small helmets, but as they contained traces of wood it was evident, apart from their size, that they served some other pm-pose which I cannot determine. In one spot there were scattered a great number of beads of carnelian and lapis and gold, together with gold pendants of different types. Close to them was a gold adze with the gold binding of its red wooden handle capped with silver, a very fine piece. At some distance from these there lay a broad silver baldric (again with no sign of any body) to which were attached a cylinder seal of white shell much decayed, a “vanity case,” and a dagger. The vanity case was of gold, decorated with applied filigree work, and in it, held together by a silver ring, were a pick, tweezers and spoon, all of gold. The dagger was even finer. The handle was a single piece of richly coloured lapis adorned with gold studs, the guard of gold filigree, the sheath was all of gold, the back plain except for two bands of beading, the front entirely covered with exquisite filigree of admirable design. It is in perfect condition, the finest object yet found in any Mesopotamian excavations and one of the earliest known examples of working in gold, dating as it does from about 3500 B.C.
The Campaign’s Contribution to Early History
The Expedition has now brought to an end its fifth season. Once more we have carried back the history of the city and of the land into periods for which there existed no records, and now we are able to picture in detail the civilization of Mesopotamia as early as 3500 B.C. What is truly surprising is the wealth and the high level of culture of that remote time, and the farther we go back the more elaborate and the more finished seems to be the art of Sumeria. In the last three weeks we have found cylinder seals bearing the names of no less than five early kings of whom three were unknown to history, while the other two have afforded accurate dating for our graves; we have discovered the finest and the earliest examples of gold work known from Mesopotamia, amongst the earliest in the world, and we have good reasons for expecting at the beginning of next year’s work results even better than those hitherto obtained.
caption width=”900″]The early grave in which were found the paint pots, gold diadem, and ornaments of gold and silver and semi-precious stones. Prior to 3000 B.C.
Image Number: 9190, 5847, 8829, 9190, 190817[/caption]