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Q&A: Andy Lowings, a reincarnated Ancient Mesopotamian (I’m pretty sure)

The bull head of the Lyre of Ur peeks out of a beautiful cover sent to Andy Lowings by an Iraqi woman from Baghdad, who painted it by hand. `Iraqi bull just refused to be kept in!` Mr. Lowings said. (LPhoto courtesy of Andy Lowings)

A year ago, I discovered and wrote about the Golden Lyre of Ur Project, a multinational effort to recreate the 4,750-year-old instrument from scratch, just as the Ancient Mesopotamians did.

The project was spearheaded by Andy Lowings, a man who put his mind to doing something amazing and set out to do it. What he ended up with was a worldwide sensation (at times met and welcomed with a rose-petal-strewn stage, no less!) that brings to life an ancient world unknown to many.

Although the post mentioning the Golden Lyre of Ur Project has been on the blog since November of 2011, I wasn’t lucky enough to hear from Mr. Lowings until just a few months ago. It is an honor to now be in contact with such an amazing individual, who I’m sure is a reincarnated Ancient Mesopotamian!

So, without further delay, here is a Q&A I did with Mr. Lowings, through which I’m sure you will find him an inspiring individual that reminds us that no matter what we set out to do, passion drives us further than we can possibly imagine. He also makes it look easy, but rest assured that only he can carry it out so beautifully!

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Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how and when you became interested in Mesopotamian history?

Of course! It`s a nice thing to be asked about yourself from across the world, thank you for taking an interest!

I`m a Civil Engineer and I spent 9 years in Dubai and enjoyed building up the city there in the 70`s. I liked the Arab world and enjoyed the big mix of different people there in the Emirates.

At that time everyone was thinking big and changing the world with new airports and hotels and roads. Everyone mixed-in well there and got on with making it happen…no-one ever said anything was impossible. I came back to Britain and then worked on the Channel Tunnel..the longest 24-mile railway under the sea to France. I think they all taught me that you could do anything.

But I also played the harp, and after a while, through the new `Internet`, I looked at the first musical instruments of all … some found in Iraq in 1929. It seemed like a well-kept secret. No-one seemed to know of these great artifacts found in Ur. All so very, very, old!

I thought that it would be a nice thing to make one of the Lyres again and see how it sounded! I thought the Baghdad Gold Lyre was the nicest and so, one day, April 10th, 2003, I said I`d make that one.

The very next day the Museum in Baghdad was looted and the original Lyre was vandalised! It was just fate. It was all over the world press and it was clear that it was a well-loved Iraqi icon. So I had to make a playable version of it.

Lyre_in_downtown_DC_rs[1]

Transporting the Lyre into Washington DC to the Smithsonian Theatre! (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

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How is the Golden Lyre of Ur project doing now that it’s been around for a few years?

What started just as a hobby suddenly became of interest to lots of other people, and I managed to involve them into helping…though to be honest it was clear what existing sympathy there was, for ordinary Iraqis after the war. People were very kind and offered to help in what fields they could.

Since then, we have discovered lots about other aspects connected to the instruments of the Royal Graves at Ur. There are cuneiform texts and linguists busy interpreting them, there`s musicians and archaeologists, precious metal workers, artists and museums…all who have lots to give, in connection to these ancient times.

So we have tried to involve them too, in the story of these first musical instruments. We go to talk about different aspects to various groups. People are eager to find out what we have learned or just to hear the story of how we made the Gold Lyre again and how it connects us all today. We go to museums, universities, schools, conferences and festivals all over.

But we always try to make the connection to Iraq and its past, and so it`s always special when we meet Iraqi people who are interested. We met the Baghdad Museum staff one day in London and they were amazed at what everyone had made.

Even Kadim Al Sahir came and sat inside the van to see the Lyre with me after his concert at the Albert Hall in London…whilst hundreds of fans were outside shouting! He was a great guy.

We have just performed at the local college to drama students and later this month we will go to Cambridge University for archaeologists there. We will be providing the music! So there are lots of ideas for how to bring the Gold Lyre of Ur to people`s attention.

But of all the places, we would rather go to Iraq, and show people our Gold Lyre there and bring it to life right there in Baghdad and Basra.

After the "Githarra al someria"  show.  With Prof. Donny George, Dr Hadi Hind (Iraqi Cultural Attache), Jennifer Sturdy and Andy Lowings. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

After the “Githarra al someria” show. With Prof. Donny George, Dr Hadi Hind (Iraqi Cultural Attache), Jennifer Sturdy and Andy Lowings. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

You said that the unfortunate looting of the Baghdad museum in April 2003 inspired you to recreate the Golden Lyre of Ur, which lay in pieces afterwards. You’ve also said that you’ve recently recreated some Sumerian jewelry. How did this latest project come about, and what did it entail?

The Gold Lyre was found with 68 women, and it`s likely that the last player who had her hand over it in death was a woman, so in many ways this is a project about women. The jewellery was so spectacular (most of it by the way is still behind the back of the museums in storage there is so much of it) that as part of a performance we could perhaps show a little of the style of the period too.

We went to the British Museum and asked to see the jewellery, and they were kind enough to give us free access. It was such a strange feeling to really hold such tremendous objects from so long ago. We had a little gold offcuts and so thought to make the “Gold choker” which we inspected there in London.

There are actually around 60 of them and thousands of beads and silver objects in the museum. Many of the items are amazingly detailed and as good as anything made today. Tiny details and scrolls and carvings were quite impossible for me to learn how to do. But a jewellery maker near here was giving lessons so I spent the winter making the simpler Gold Choker: alternating gold and lapis lazuli triangles in a neck band.

The finished Gold Sumerian necklace in its box. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

The finished Gold Sumerian necklace in its box. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

Every lady we show it to wants to put it on herself! It immediately makes them look like Queen Pu’Abi herself, and so it`s an added side to our performances. I`m sure in Iraq it would be hugely interesting to the women there.

Are there any other projects related to Mesopotamia you’ve worked on or are working on?

The languages of Mesopotamia are largely unknown or too complicated for people to understand. But only this year the book “Teach Yourself Spoken Babylonian” has been published and so now gives anyone the possibility to actually pronounce the dialects of the old regions! A Cambridge University don has discovered this and so we are making some songs in the real dialects of the time. With the Lyre as an accompaniment of course, it will be a new CD of Mesopotamian hit numbers… from their Sumerian Top “Sixty” maybe?

Recording our new Gold Lyre of Ur song, in November. Its called “The Flood” and its sung in the original Akkadian language by Stef Conner. (Photo and caption courtesy of Andy Lowings)

Recently, we played the Gold Lyre of Ur in Germany at Lake Constance to a conference of 450 world Lyre players. We were given a huge stage and lights and even a special welcome of rose petals strewn over the stage for the Lyre`s arrival. It was most moving.

So we thought that we might, in future, invite some dancers to make a collaboration with the Gold Lyre. And even to invite an artist to create some backdrop stage images; paintings, to set the scene for what the Gold Lyre of Ur is all about. Scenes of old Iraq, old civilisations and reconstruction and new civilisations..

Positive images for the future, I hope. Yet the last chapter of our book has not yet been written..and that must be the visit to Iraq.

How has doing the amazing work you do in educating the world about Mesopotamia in a most unique way changed your life?

It`s been an honour to direct the course of a project. One which started just as a hobby and which now connects so many different people. One which can do some good.

Without doubt it has changed me and everyone who has been involved with it, though it`s not always been simple and easy, I have to say. We have met such great, great people. Brave people, and clever people, kind people who have not asked for anything in return for helping.

Last week a lovely hand-painted Lyre cover was sent to us from a lady in Baghdad (pictured at top of post)…”I wanted to help you,” she said.

I hardly know her name. Who wouldn`t be moved by such generosity coming this way?

***

Be sure to check out the Lyre of Ur website at http://www.lyre-of-ur.com, where you can learn more about the project, and see if you can witness it where you are!

 

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Marveling at the “Great Ziggurat of Ur”

The Great Ziggurat of Ur is one of the most recognizable monuments in the history of Mesopotamia, as well as the world. To this day, the iconic step pyramid, with its 4,000+-year-old original foundations still intact, supporting relatively recent restorations, can be visited at Tell al-Mukayyar, near the modern-day Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, just a little over 200 miles south of Baghdad.

The Ziggurat of Ur was originally built in 2100 BC, by King Ur-Nammu, who dedicated it to the moon god Nanna, Ur’s patron deity. The structure’s measurements, consisting of mud brick, baked brick and bitumen to hold it together, are 210 ft. (64 m.) in length, 150 ft. (46 m.) in width, and its height is speculated to have been over 100 ft. (30 m.).

By the 6th century BC, the Ziggurat had crumbled, and King Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, took it upon himself to order the restoration of the great shrine.

Thank you, King Nabonidus! The Ziggurat of Ur has seen much since it was built thousands of years ago, including the recent wars in Iraq, which did damage it some, but the iconic structure still towers over the land where it stands today.

Now, let’s marvel at this iconic piece of history through the years, with pictures, from the early 19th century AD, when it was first described, to the present day.

The 1850’s

The 1920’s

The 1960’s

The 1970’s

The 1980’s

The 2000’s

(Did you notice that there are no pictures dating from the 40’s, 50’s or 90’s? None seem to exist, unless we missed them. If you know where we can find any from those decades, please let us know as we’d love to include them!)

*Update: We originally had a picture from the 1930s, but the link is dead, so we took it out, as we could not find any other from that time we can attribute or be sure is from that decade.

Further reading:

http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/ziggurat-of-ur.html

http://amazeingart.com/seven-wonders/ziggurat.html

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Sumerian, Ur

 

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Dissecting Mesopotamian Jewelry

A female attendant found in the Great Death Pit at the Royal Tombs at Ur. Often mistaken for Queen Pu-abi, this attendant is one of 26 others found wearing such adornments. (Source)

There is something about ancient Mesopotamian jewelry that sets it apart from any other in antiquity. That something is more than just a distinct style or taste. Mesopotamian jewelry was a large artery in the anatomy of each civilization that rose in the land between the two rivers, and its story is one worth reading.

Jewelry wasn’t a new concept when Sumerians got their innovating hands on it around 2750 BC, but their innovations made their jewelry, produced from that point to the Assyrian period, around 1200 BC, seem like it was an entirely new invention.

In fact, scholars and jewelry makers today look to Sumerian work as the progenitor of modern jewelry.

“Sumerian jewellery fulfilled practically all the functions which were to occur during the course of history. In fact, there were more different types of jewellery than there are today.” – Guido Gregorietti, jewelry historian (Source)

Of course, jewelry served as a status symbol in Mesopotamia as it always has everywhere else, but it also played a significant role in how the Mesopotamian civilization functioned. Let’s begin the journey to understand ancient Mesopotamian jewelry.

What it was for

It goes without saying that jewelry served as a status symbol for noblemen and noblewomen, and royals, in Mesopotamia. Royals were buried with theirs, like Queen Pu-abi at the royal cemetery at Ur.

The lavish royal tombs of Ur, along with those at Nimrud, are considered the most significant finds in the study of ancient Mesopotamian jewelry, because they held a lot of it and have helped explain the types and their uses. The three tombs at Nimrud alone held some 1500 pieces of jewelry, weighing a total of 100 lbs. At Ur, some 17 tombs were excavated, and they were simply loaded with jewelry.

Now, royals weren’t the only ones acquiring jewelry in ancient Mesopotamia. For example, we know of a jewelry-loving high priestess through her own letter of complaint to a jeweler, who she had paid in advance for a necklace she never received.(Source)

Jewelry was also a fail-safe wedding gift, as well as a commodity used in dowries and inheritances of the upper classes.

It was used as a tool in diplomacy, but was also the subject of war under the heading of wealth. Some of the jewelry unearthed in Mesopotamia is loot from military campaigns, mostly during the Assyrian period.

A relief depicting the destruction of Susa. Assyrian soldiers can be seen carrying away the loot, which included silver and gold jewelry. (Source)

The most significant incident of jewelry looting was documented by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who wrote of the state in which he left the Elamite city of Susa, including what booty he took home:

Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed… I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt. (Source)

Jewelry was also offered to the gods at temples, and the practice of being buried with jewelry was a person’s attempt to go to the afterlife bearing gifts to the gods.

Mesopotamians adorned their statues and idols with jewelry to further clarify it as a spiritual and/or magical tool.

Bloodstone was worn by Babylonians for protection against their enemies and was also used in divination.

Mesopotamians pioneered astrology and astronomy, and they worshiped the planets, which they believed controlled their fates as individuals, as well as groups. They paired each planet with its own unique gemstone, therefore inspiring the idea of birthstone jewelry.(Source)

Wedding bands, as we know them today, in precious metal form, also got their start in Mesopotamia. They were only worn by women, and they communicated what is considered to be, well, a little less romantic message than ours, that tells of a woman’s status as someone’s property.

The specifics of who wore what

A close-up of a relief detailing Ashurbanipal, wearing hoop earrings and a royal headdress. Notice that he is wearing earrings, but the man next to him, who is wearing simple headbands, is not. Jewelry was definitely a recognizable and notable status symbol. (Source)

Mesopotamian men wore earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, pectoral ornaments and headbands, while women wore the same and more, including headdresses with foliage and flowers made from sheet gold, large crescent shaped earrings, chokers, large necklaces, belts, dress pins and rings on their fingers.(Source)

Two of Queen Pu-abi’s gold rings. She was wearing ten rings when found. Her attendants also wore similar rings. (Source)

The jewelry of an attendant from the Royal Tombs of Ur. Notice the three rosettes at the top of her headdress with gold leaves at the bottom, large hoop earrings and various bead necklaces, all signature Sumerian designs. Carnelian, lapis lazuli and gold are dominant. (Source)

An illustration that clearly shows Sargon II wearing earrings, arm bands and bracelets. The woman behind him is  wearing the same. (Source)

Beaded headbands found at the Royal Tombs at Ur, the lower one was found in a male’s grave. (Source)

From Akkadian times of the early third millennium BC, men wore bead necklaces and bracelets. In the first millennium BC, Assyrian men and women wore earrings, bracelets, and amulets. Earrings, for example, were mostly designed into hoops, crescents, grape clusters, cones, and animal and human heads.(Source)

“Sumerian work is flavoured with amazing sophistication … delicacy of touch, fluency of line, a general elegance of conception,” wrote jewelry expert Graham Hughes. “All suggest that the goldsmiths’ craft emerged almost fully fledged in early Mesopotamia.” (Source)

What it was

The materials used in Mesopotamian jewelry were the basic copper, gold, silver, and electrum, along with the not-so-basic gemstones like agate, carnelian, chalcedony, crystal, jasper, lapis lazuli (which was valued higher than any other material, even gold), onyx and sardonyx. Also used were shells and pearls.

“Queen Pu-abi’s beaded cape, belt, and jewelry. The circle on the lower left is her garter; on the lower right is her wrist cuff (bracelet).” (Source)

These materials were used to make jewelry designs featuring stars, rosettes, leaves, grapes, cones, spirals and ribbons. Cylinder seals were also used, but were made by seal makers, separate from jewelers.

How it was made

Modern jewelry experts have dubbed Sumeria the cradle of the goldsmith’s art.

A headband with detailed gold foil leaves. Sumerian goldsmiths used the lost-wax technique to draw the veins on each gold foil leaf. (Source)

These craftsmen made most gold and silver items by cutting the precious metals into thin sheets, which they shaped with hammers and other tools.(Source) They also made gold chains with the basic loop-in-loop method, which is a testament to the firm grip Sumerian goldsmiths had on working with gold wire. They also engraved, and used techniques like cloisonne, filigree, and granulation.(Source)

A Sumerian gold bead with a filigree design. (Source)

Hair ornaments with granulation and cloisonne techniques.(Source)

Also, to make solid and hollow ornaments they used the cast cold technique. To trace details like veins on gold foil leaves, and grooves on beads, the lost-wax technique was employed.(Source)

An amulet like this one, found at the Royal Tombs at Ur, is an example of what was made using the cast cold technique. (Source)

No actual jewelry shops have been unearthed in Mesopotamia, but the tools of jeweler Ilsu-Ibnisu, one of two Sumerian jewelers whose names we know from the city of Larsa, put into perspective what Sumerian jewelry makers used. His tools were found inside a jar, and included a small anvil, and bronze tweezers.(Source)

The economics

It is important to understand that although the Mesopotamian civilization was beyond rich in food production, thanks to its location on the Fertile Crescent, it was still a land of few resources. Metals and stones to make precious jewelry were especially scarce, necessitating what eventually shaped up to be an entire economy, based on the import of raw precious materials and the export of finished jewelry pieces. This would help Mesopotamians keep up with the growing exotic tastes of the upper crust of society.

A typical Mesopotamian combination was of lapis lazuli, gold and carnelian.(Source)

Early Sumerian sources tell us that gold and silver were imported from Anatolia and northern Iran, while the highly-prized lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan (Source). Carnelian came all the way from India.(Source)

Now, because most jewelry craftsmen were of the lower classes in ancient Mesopotamia, and made very little money, they did not have the means to obtain the materials they needed from as far as 1,500 miles away. Such craftsmen belonged to government-controlled guilds that acted as liaisons between them and their local royal palace.

It is clear that after the rapid growth and development of cities like Ur of Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and the Assyrian Assur and Nineveh, the wealth of aristocrats there and their demand for luxury goods increased, turning the business of jewelry into an entire trade network, a commercial enterprise that required the teaming up of the lower classes with the greatest powers in the land-the government.

Mark Schwartz, an expert featured on an Ancient Warfare Magazine podcast, “The Assyrians at War,” gives an example of how trade worked. He points to the old Assyrians living under the merchant system obtaining gold from Anatolia through the export of textiles (scrub to the 11:25 point in the podcast to hear this).

The Sumerians’ Legacy

Although when we talk about ancient Mesopotamian jewelry we are referring to jewelry produced by Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians alike, it was really the achievements of the Sumerians in jewelry making that we marvel at the most. It was they who who wrote the opening chapter for jewelry making, not only for other Mesopotamian civilizations, but also the ancient and modern worlds.

Sources and Further Reading:

http://sumerianshakespeare.com

http://www.sculpt.com/technotes/COLDCAST.htm

http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/jewelry_history_mesopotamia.html

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Sumerian_Jewelry

http://www.birthstones.org.uk/jewelry/ancient-mesopotamian-jewelry.htm

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewellery

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Susa-destruction.jpg

http://www.enchanted.co.uk/materials.html

http://www.lsg.sch.ae/departments/history/Hili/Hilli_Website_2008/5.%20Wealth%20&%20Trade/Meso_v2_final.htm

http://www.lifescript.com/life/relationships/marriage/the_evolution_of_the_wedding_ring.aspx

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-history-jewelry-part-iv-mesopotamia-4073775.html?cat=69

http://books.google.com/books?id=lbmXsaTGNKUC&q=earrings#v=snippet&q=earrings&f=false

http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Beginnings-Of-Jewelry&id=509212

http://www.alhakaya.net/product.php?id_product=100

http://www.transoxiana.org/0110/neva-jewelry.html

http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/08/christies-nimrud-earrings-back-in-iraq.html

http://art.thewalters.org/detail/77427/pair-of-basket-shaped-hair-ornaments

http://info.goldavenue.com/info_site/in_arts/in_civ/in_civ_sumer.html

http://www.ehow.com/about_5044654_bloodstone-used-magic.html

http://www.penn.museum/blog/125th-anniversary-object-of-the-day/sumerian-copper-goat-head-object-of-the-day-18/

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Artifacts, Assyrian, Jewelry, Nimrud, Sumerian

 

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Guest post: Where the world’s first literature was found

By Dr. Jane Moon

Since writing was invented, life has never been the same again. The ability to transfer something we want to say onto a physical object, which can be read in a place where we can’t be in person, makes a fundamental difference to human interaction. It is one of the basic features of civilization. And because written things can have a longer lifetime than humans, our words can be read even after we are dead, so that humans, uniquely, have a sense of their own past.

It’s a sad fact that writing was devised not to write poetry, or love letters, but to keep accounts. But the ever-resourceful Sumerians, who knew a bit about luxury and refinement, soon adapted it to better things. The earliest literature found so far comes from a Sumerian city not far from Nippur, now in the Maysan province of Iraq. We don’t know its original name, but today people call the mound that covers it ‘Abu Salabikh’, which means ‘father of clinker’. The mound is littered with potsherds, like most Mesopotamian ancient sites, and because of the severe salination of the ground (the downside of all that Sumerian irrigation), only the sherds that were accidentally overfired to clinker have survived.

Salt on the surface of the ground near Abu Salabikh.
Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Under this inauspicious surface, expeditions first from Chicago (1963-65) and then from the UK (1975-89) found a whole city, occupied from Uruk times and finally abandoned around 2,000 BC. Work concentrated on the Sumerian levels (c. 2,900 to 2,300BC), and in these were found about 500 clay tablets, including the world’s first literature. Among them were the earliest known version of compositions famous in later times, such as the list of proverbs and wisdom known as ‘The Instructions of Shuruppak’, written in the form of advice to the Flood hero Utnapishtim (also known as Ziusudra, and in the Bible as Noah) from his father Shuruppak. Some of it is a bit obvious: ‘Don’t make a field on a road’, and some of it absolutely ageless: ‘Don’t play around with a young married woman’. Other tablets had school exercises, hymns, and incantations.

This one is an incantation against digestion problems:

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Excavations revealed monumental public buildings as well as city quarters of narrow lanes and intersecting houses. High-tech methods for detecting buried architecture do not work well on sites like this, so much of the city layout was mapped by simply scraping away the top crust of earth, revealing wall lines and other features underneath.

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

The city was divided into different ‘quarters’ including an area where pottery manufacture was carried out. A potter’s workshop was found, with part of the wheel still discernible.

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

The citizens of Abu Salabikh liked to bury their dead under the floors of their houses, equipped for the afterlife with household goods and items of value. Under the potter’s house was the skeleton of an adult, perhaps the potter him/herself!

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

The contents of graves varied according to the status of the deceased, and sometimes even children were richly equipped.

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Photo Credit: Prof. Nicholas Postgate, University of Cambridge

Child’s grave, as found (left) and the miniature vessels after cleaning. Note the double-compartment stone cosmetic jars on the right, and the shells in the foreground – also used to hold make-up.

The excavations at Abu Salabikh were a model of interdisciplinary research, using a whole range of different techniques to decipher the material remains left by hundreds of years of city life. The vast majority of the objects recovered were of everyday things, and the salty conditions meant that few were of spectacular museum display quality, but it is the painstaking research, still ongoing, on items such as these that really gives us insight into the world of early civilization.

The tablets and many of the objects from Abu Salabikh were destroyed when the Iraq Museum was looted, but the information they contain is preserved for us, meticulously recorded and published, thanks to that great Sumerian invention, the written word – with a little help from some later ones, such as photography and the internet!

It is my honor and pleasure to present a very special guest post. It is not only special because it is our first such post, but also because its author is an archaeologist with a background rich in Mesopotamian knowledge.

Dr. Jane Moon is co-director of the Ur Region Archaeology Project (URAP), and an honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, and one of those people who do wonderful things for Iraq, and in turn, humanity.

She was assistant director of the Abu Salabikh project in the 1970s and 1980s, and plans to return to Iraq for further excavations at Ur in January 2013. “We’ve all grown old waiting to get back to Iraq, but I certainly intend to take some youngsters with me, and especially to do what I can to encourage young Iraqis while I am there.” Good luck to Dr. Moon!

You can follow Dr. Moon on Twitter- @EaNasir. To learn a bit more about URAP, visit http://www.urarchaeology.org/.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Sumerian, Tablets, Writing

 

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What archaeologists can do for Iraq

I believe it takes a certain kind of person with a certain kind of passion to be an archaeologist. Just the sheer amount of red tape one must cut through to be able to wield a mere shovel anywhere there’s a government is enough to make most people say “Forget this. I’ll just sate my appetite for archaeology and adventure by watching Indiana Jones movies in my cubicle. (I’ll definitely skip that last one, though.)”

Aside from being cool, archaeology is one of the most important fields for the understanding of ourselves, in the past, the present and the future. Even more than passion, archaeology requires patience from start to finish.

Nowhere do these requirements become more important, however, than when the place you want to dig in is a place ravaged by war and chaos, where the red tape you must cut through is one of impossibility that only time and a changing world can eliminate, and where an entire world of humanity’s beginnings lies under your feet in every direction.

Jane Moon, an archaeologist, and, I’m proud to say, All Mesopotamia fan, pointed me toward this enriching video that introduces the first international dig team to work in southern Iraq in more than 20 years.

As the last American troops were exiting Iraq late last year, international scholars were entering. Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York is one such scholar and is leading a team bent on finding a window into the everyday lives of ancient Mesopotamians near where the Great Ziggurrat of Ur stands.

Stone’s team comprises of archaeology students, including an Iraqi PhD student studying under Stone in the United States, and locals, all who are learning new techniques and using the latest technology in excavation. The team sleeps, eats and works just a few yards from the commanding structure of the Ziggurat, racing against time to find artifacts and cataloging them before the season is over. You can hear the passion in all their voices, and see it in their eyes as they talk about this opportunity they’ve been afforded as archaeologists.

More than documenting how the team does what it does, however, I felt the video shows how an interest in the past, combined with involving those whose past it is being explored, can build a brighter and more united future for a country searching for its identity in a sea of different religions and ethnicities, all sharing a pride in the rich past of their land.

I repeat, archaeology is one of the most important fields for the understanding of ourselves, and better yet, the betterment of ourselves, so that we may have better and brighter futures.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Artifacts, Video

 

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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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