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Royal Tombs at Ur

Archaeologists have discovered an amazing deal of proof about the ancient Mesopotamian culture since the 19th century. George Smith announced that he found the remainings of the world’s oldest literary work during the Society of Biblical Archaeology meeting in 1872. These were clay tablets found in Nineveh, and they were all about the Epic of Gilgamesh.

This discovery became a huge sensation, and there was great interest in the Mesopotamian era. Every year more and more reputable United States, German, British and French universities, and museums funded archaeological expeditions in the areas where Babylonian, Assyrian, and Sumerian civilizations started and developed. The most popular one among these regions was Tell al Muqayyar, which we all know as Ur today.

British diplomat J. E. Taylor was already in the area in 1853 and working on some basic excavations. However, it took about 70 years for a full excavation of the ancient city. British Museum and Penn Museum funded a joint excavation plan and program, and this effort was led by Leonard Woolley.

royal tombs at ur

Known as the Standard of Ur, this box is held at the British Museum. It depicts scenes of peace on one side (above) and war on the other. It was found in a royal tomb near the body of a sacrificed man.

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Just like many ancient civilizations, Sumerians also prepared mighty graves for their rulers, and these were called death pits. There were found 16 large tombs.

Leonard Woolley worked in the area between 1922 and 1934 and brought the ancient Sumerian city of Ur to light. This excavation helped us to understand the daily life in the area, which dates to 4.500 BC as a small settlement area next to River Euphrates in Mesopotamia. After 2.000 years from its first settlement, the city became the capital of Sumer with its full richness.

British archaeologist Leonard Woolley

British archaeologist Leonard Woolley and his wife Catherine at the moment of the discovery of pottery pipes that were used as a sewage and rainwater network in what is considered the first water drainage system in history before about 4000 BC. Ur (Mesopotamia) in 1930.

Excavation of the Royal tombs of Ur.

Excavation of the Royal tombs of Ur. This photograph gives some idea of the depth in which some of the tombs were buried. These royal graves, as they were quickly termed, contained lavish quantities of gold, silver, and semiprecious stones—striking enough on their own— but the most surprising feature of the burials was the suggestion that they provided evidence of human sacrifice.

Stairs into the Royal Tombs of Ur. 1920's.

Stairs into the Royal Tombs of Ur. 1920’s.

1840 graves were discovered in the city. The interesting thing about the Sumerians’ burial traditions is that the kings and the queens used to be buried together with their servants and courtiers. The tomb of Queen Shub-ad is one of the popular ones, and she was buried with her maiden holding her harp and 74 more servants.

Bull Headed Lyre of Ur at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in the Middle East gallery. Photographer: Binxedits via Wikimedia Commons.

Lyre detail (Royal Cemetery of Ur).

Lyre detail (Royal Cemetery of Ur).

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These tombs helped us a lot to understand the rituals of one of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations. The skill and artistry level of the objects buried with the rulers are astonishing. This discovery changed the perception of Mesopotamia and its culture. Woolley completed this duty at Ur in 1934, and he devoted his life to Ur. He published many studies and books about his memories, experiences, and things that he learned during the excavations.

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