Statement of Significance

The following is an updated version of the significance and impact statement of the original grant proposal:

The long and intense habitation of the city of Ur in the modern country of Iraq is vital to the study of ancient Mesopotamian life in all its aspects. As one of the first cities in human history, the site of Ur is fundamental to the understanding of the so-called Urban Revolution, leading to what we know as ‘civilization’ itself. Its royal tombs shed light on powerful Early Dynastic rulers; its extensive clay tablets inform on politics, economics, culture and religion of the day; its architecture elucidates building techniques as well as social stratification and urban development; its countless artifacts give a picture of life, work and play through more than three millennia of history.

From 1922-1934, Sir Leonard Woolley led a major archaeological expedition at this most significant of sites. Yet, the primary records of the largest and longest-lived excavations ever conducted in the southern Mesopotamian flood plain exist primarily in handwritten form in the British Museum archives. Rarely seen and difficult to access, the seventy-eight volumes of field notes and catalogues are enlightening documents that can benefit scholars if disseminated more thoroughly. Unduplicated, there is the potential for permanent loss and these notes should not only be copied, but also combined with other original data from the extensive expedition to Ur and presented in such a way as to make research into this ancient city an easier and more revealing task.

crew pose for end of season photo

At the end of the 1928-29 season, the crew and expedition members pose for a photo. In front center are Rev. E. Burrows, K. Woolley, C.L. Woolley, and M. Mallowan.

The Penn Museum was jointly responsible with the British Museum for the twelve years of excavation at Ur and therefore much original data exists in Philadelphia as well as in London. This division complicates the researcher’s quest; a complete collection and duplication of original photographs, catalogues, letters and notes found at these institutions has never been conducted. The techniques available today would allow not only for digital duplication of field texts and photos, but also the creation of a research product that can encompass digital photographs of all objects from Ur, which were subjected to a tripartite division amongst Baghdad, London and Philadelphia.

The ultimate goal of this project, then, is a truly modern, evolving publication of the site–online and accessible to researchers, students and the public alike. The website will contain a searchable dataset of all field notes, catalogues, photos and letters from the excavation years 1922-1934 and hopefully much more, to include a complete bibliography of studies and general interest articles and books concerning Ur, biographies of people who worked at the site, and additional information from other excavations at Ur, both early and recent. We envision all of the data interlinked on this site, connecting internal references between notes, letters, publications and catalogues, connecting artifacts to their find-spots on maps, and connecting wherever possible to other websites or similar datastores for comparison and analysis. With such a tool, researchers can analyze the site in new ways and more quickly/efficiently than ever before. In this way, our understanding of Ur and the ancient Near East can increase dramatically, and the results of these studies can continue to fuel the growing, evolving modern publication.

The location and discussion of original finds combined with pictures of objects and original excavation notes and photos will help to clarify find locations, contexts of excavation, structural form and development as well as to provide initial insights from those who were present at the site itself during the period of excavation. It will be essential information gathered together in one place, helpful to archaeologists, architectural historians, anthropologists, art historians, philologists, educators, students, and the interested general public.

This is the Ur of the Chaldees Digitization Project, creating a Virtual Vision of Sir Leonard Woolley’s Excavations of the ancient city. It is made possible primarily through a generous grant of the Leon Levy Foundation.

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