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Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur by…
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Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur

by Holly Pittman (Editor)

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From 1922 to 1934, large parts of the ancient city of Ur were excavated in a joint venture betw2een the Britisah Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Noting that Howard Carter had discovered King Tutankamen's tomb in Egypt, the lead archeologist on the site, Charles Woolley, delayed the excavations to insure the chronology, train his excavators, and avoid competing with the Egyptian excitement.

Woolley unearthed more than 1800 graves. He called sixteen of these "royal", based on the presence of sacrificed servants and treasure. Ur was the capital of Sumeria, an empire of at least 25 cities and a million people. Ur is roughly at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates closer to the Persian Gulf and opposite the Levant on the sides of Arabia/House of Judah.

Interestingly, Woolley was the ablest of stone/bone scientists, but even he did not quite "get" the implications of the graves and gold. For example, in excavating the 2650 BC tomb of Pu-abi, he describes the artifacts as indices of the "wealth" of this woman. Whereas similar artifacts in a man's tomb are described as indices of the "power" of a "King".

Pu-abi was buried along with 68 female retainers and 7 males. Wooley notes the absence of "violence" in effecting the joint burial -- such as, for example, the garrotes noted in so many mounds of the Mississipians. But each female was holding a carefully-beautifully-made stone "cup". It held "poison". Is there a non-violent poison?

Two attendants were "crouched" at head and foot, and three others near a wardrobe. The exhibit presents these victims as "retainers who went to their deaths willingly, in an expression of devotion that has to be seen to be believed".

I viewed these "Treasures" when the exhibition came to the Bowers Museum. True treasures -- gold and jewels -- shaped with sophisticated techniques into beautiful artifacts. Musical instruments (inlaid lyres, flutes), gold drinking tubes, lots of decorative jewelry, and wonderful tools such as saws, chisels, hammers. An inlaid gaming board. Vessels of metal, stone, ceramic, all gorgeous.

The treasure includes a hardwood and ceramic plague box depicting a heroic man holding two rampant bulls, all anatomically correct except curiously bearded. Gold "leaf" earrings. Hair sticks with carved carnelian beads and knots, Kinky-haired king portraits and busts--no one mentions the obvious African influence, which is abundant.

I remain haunted by the Biblical story of Abraham rising up "with his gods" (plural) from his ancestral lands of Chaldean Ur to his father's Haran, and then again heading off to what becomes a new Holy Land. In fact, Mesopotamia remained the real Holy Land for the Sumerians and at least four layers of their sequential conquerors.

Ironically, it was the Arab/Hebrew Semites led by Sargon who eventually pulled the Sumerian civilization apart, around 2300 BC. Woolley shows the detailed correspondence between the story of Sargon being found by a princess in the bullrushes, rising to lead the Semites to victory against the Kings of Sumer, and the reworked story of "Moses" in Egypt. The Hebrews wrote down many Sumerian stories and made them their own.
  keylawk | Jul 3, 2014 |
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