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Category Archives: Tombs

Did Mesopotamians also invent gender equality?

A woman's hand mirror with a handle in the shape of a palm found in a tomb at Nimrud. (Source)

We’ve established the fact that Mesopotamians were really into extravagant burials of their important folk.

Let’s now talk about more than just material wealth and human sacrifice in the tombs of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Let’s talk about what these tombs tell us about the status of women and the issue of gender in Ancient Mesopotamia.

I mentioned in the last post (which has undergone a slight change since I posted it) that the most interesting aspect of the most lavish tombs found in Mesopotamia is that they were the tombs of women who ranked high in their societies.

Queen Pu’abi seems to have been a big deal with her headdress, her 26 attendants and all-around lavish burial fit for a queen, and although nobody knows for sure whether she was indeed a queen or just a high priestess, her extravagant burial serves not only as an indication of her own importance, but that elite women, at least, had the same privileges as men of the elite.

To prove this point further, one need only move about 500 miles north, away from Ur, to the city of Nimrud. Formerly known as Kalhu, the capital of the Assyrian Empire for over 150 years, is where the Royal Tombs of Nimrud were unearthed.

The tombs at Nimrud, along with Queen Pu’abi’s tomb at Ur, further illustrate the fact that social status mattered more than gender in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Although there is limited information about the tombs at Nimrud, the information I found differed from one source to another, making it difficult to put together a comprehensive introduction to this archaeological site. One source states there were three tombs found at Nimrud, while another says there were four. Other details were also murky or just plain scarce. I am going by the source that seems the most recent and detailed.

The tomb of Yaba, according to the source of this picture, which would make it also the tomb of Atalia. (Source)

According to a paper written by Amy R. Gansell, Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, the Royal Tombs of Nimrud consisted of four tombs discovered in April 1989 by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities and Heritage. The tombs were located in the Northwest Palace of Nimrud. They contained several bodies and a lot of material wealth, including jewelry, vessels, ornaments and seals, most of which date back to the 8th century BC.

Inscriptions were also found within the Queens’ Tombs, as the tombs were called, which listed the details of those buried inside; high-ranking males or eunuch courtiers, children, and elite palace women.

Of the four tombs, Tomb II was the only one left undisturbed by looters over the centuries, and so it became a window into the lives of women of a certain class in Mesopotamia, particularly in Assyrian society.

Inside Tomb II, which dates to c. 750-625 BC, the bodies of two women were found stacked on top of each other inside a sarcophagus. They were surrounded by jewelry, more than they could wear at once.

A necklace found in the tombs at Nimrud. (Source)

Gansell writes that the women must have died when they were between 30 and 40 years old, and that the women were identified in cuneiform texts as Atalia, the wife and queen of Assyrian King Sargon II, and Yaba, the wife and queen of Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III.

Other sources listed the names of three queens, each married to a different king, but according to Gansell’s paper, there were only two queens, one of who has two names.

Gansell explains that Yaba is also Banitu, Banitu being the Assyrian translation of Yaba.

Now, these women were the wives of kings, which alone made them important, but based on what was found buried with them in the tombs at Nimrud, it seems these women were important in their own right.

Tomb II contained what Gansell believes are offerings or gifts from mourners along with dowries and the women’s personal assets. Gansell also mentions that the locations of the tombs under the part of the palace where the women may have resided, were supplied with pipes through which sustenance could be sent down to the deceased, making them important enough to keep their memory alive by way of sending offerings of food and such into the afterlife.

A tablet that mentions curses against anyone disturbing a tomb at Nimrud. (Source)

Gansell also writes in her paper that “women managed lucrative estates, lent capital, and commissioned large architectural projects,” in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Tablets mentioning curses that told of doom for anyone who disturbs the tombs at Nimrud were also found.

There are many findings that prove the Mesopotamian obliviousness to gender, and reliance on social status in the distribution of privilege, but the tombs of the likes of Atalia and Yaba, and even Queen Pu’abi, just further provide tangible evidence that the women buried with such extravagance were important during their lives, and their importance would not and did not fade after their deaths.

Sources:

http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/44/14051928/1405192844-31.pdf

http://aina.org/aol/nimrud/

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-11-13/local/me-963_1_royal-tomb

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Assyrian, Nimrud, Tombs, Women

 

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How Queen Pu’abi and other royals got their servants for the afterlife at Ur

“During the burial of a king in the Royal Tombs of Ur, men and women were sacrificed to be the servants of royalty in the afterlife. They were arranged as shown, then they were given poison to drink.” (Source)

I originally wanted this to be one general post that covers tombs in Mesopotamia, but as I often find during my research, there is just too much to write about with due thoroughness in one post. So, in an attempt to give you my best for each of the two burial sites I wish to explore, this is post one of two that will explore the most interesting finds at two burial sites in Mesopotamia. It is pretty wild what those tombs have held for as much as 4,500 years…

When we think about extravagant burials and tombs, our brains are conditioned to immediately travel to Ancient Egypt, and mummy is the word.

But putting the mastery of preserving the dead for thousands of years aside, the Egyptians weren’t the only ones who buried their elite with extravagance, style and cast curses over those who disturbed such tombs. The Mesopotamians liked to go out with a bang too, and their most interesting and prominent tombs of that nature happen to be those of elite women.

Burial tombs have been unearthed throughout Mesopotamia, dating to different periods and containing all sorts of artifacts that provide glimpses into the ancient civilizations that rose and fell in the land between the two rivers, and the fragile skeletons of those who were part of such civilizations.

I’ve talked about the Royal Tombs of Ur, or rather touched on them, when I talked about the Golden Lyre of Ur Project, but I barely scratched the surface of what happened when an important person died in the ancient Sumerian city.

You remember I talked about British archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley finding the Golden Lyre of Ur in Queen Pu’abi’s tomb? Well, he found a lot more than that during his excavations in Southern Iraq, between 1922 and 1934. What I did not tell you is that Woolley and his workmen found over 1,850 burials at the site, and 17 of those were so elaborate, Woolley dubbed them the Royal Tombs of Ur.

Most of the burials there date as far back as 2600 BC. They are tombs of the elite of society, those who played big roles at the temples and palaces of Ur. Still, of the 1,850 burials there, 137 were private tombs of those who were simply wealthy residents, able to afford a burial in the Royal Cemetery.

Queen Pu’abi’s headdress, made of gold, carnelian and lapis lazuli.

Queen Pu’abi’s tomb is the most prominent of the Royal Tombs, because of how well it was preserved over the centuries, thanks to looters leaving it be, a courtesy they did not extend to the other surrounding tombs.

We know the woman whose remains were found atop an elevated slab is Pu’abi, because of the cylinder seal found with her, which bears her name. There is much debate over who Pu’abi really is, whether she’s a queen or a priestess–no one knows for sure, but Pu’abi is believed to have been 40 years old at the time of her death, and that she was Akkadian. Her name in Akkadian is Pu’abi and translates to “Commander of the Father.” In Sumerian, she is known as Shubad.

Inside Queen Pu’abi’s tomb was not only her skeleton adorned with extravagant jewelry, including an elaborate headdress made of gold, lapis lazuli and carnelian, but also the skeletons of  26 attendants, also adorned with gold and lapis lazuli jewelry.

Woolley also found what he dubbed “The Great Death Pit,” which had 74 skeletons believed to be servants.

The site map of the Great Death Pit. You can click on the blue items and read further details about those items at the British Museum’s excellent website.

Woolley thought all the servants buried with their masters at Ur were willing victims, but later scholars have debated this notion and found ways to prove otherwise.

In early 2011, with the help of CT scanners and forensics, Penn Museum Archaeologist Aubrey Baadsgard and her colleagues did some sleuthing work to find out what really happened to the sacrificial victims found in the Royal Tombs of Ur.

Baadsgard and her team analyzed six skulls taken from different royal tombs and what she and her team found was quite chilling. Results, published in the journal Antiquity, revealed that these individuals died of blunt force trauma, blowing Woolley’s idea that these people simply drank poison and lied down to die in peace right out of the water. The results revealed that these people were dealt lethal blows to the back of the head by what appears to be a bronze battle axe in some cases, the like of which was unearthed at Ur.

And if that’s not a wow-inducing find by itself, then what Baardsgard and her team found next should do the trick. The bodies of these sacrificial victims had been embalmed for preservation with mercury sulphide or cinnabar, and further treated by heat.

Baadsgard’s team interprets this find of body preservation as an indication of an even more elaborate ritual for the burial of royals at Ur than originally thought. The need to preserve these bodies, the Penn Museum team concluded, was to cater to schedule of elaborate pre-burial ceremonies and rituals that could’ve taken days to complete, causing untreated corpses to decompose. You can read in more detail about Baadsgard’s amazing findings here.

And it seems that that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how Queen Pu’abi and the other individuals who were laid to rest in the Royal Tombs of Ur got their servants to serve them in the afterlife.

Stay tuned for another set of tombs that are sure to make you shiver with excitement very soon!

(There has been a correction made to this article regarding the number of attendants found in Queen Pu’abi’s tomb. Please note that 26 attendants were found with her and not 74 as I originally wrote. Thank you, Jerald Starr.)

Sources:

http://archaeology.about.com/od/mesopotamiaarchaeology/ss/royal_cemetery_at_ur.htm

http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2011/04/29/sleuthing-around-the-great-deeath-pit/

http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/tombs/home_set.html

http://sumerianshakespeare.com/71412.html

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Sumerian, Tombs

 

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