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Royal Tomb

The Ur site was excavated by C. Leonard Woolley and his team contained about 1800 burials. Woolley classified 16 of these as “royal” based on their distinctive form, their wealth, and the fact that they contained burials of servants and other high-ranking personages along with the “royal” person.

The royal cemetery tomb of Queen Puabi, like the tomb of King Tutankhamun, was an especially extraordinary find for being intact, having escaped looting through the millennia. The tomb featured a vaulted chamber set at the bottom of a deep “death pit”; the lady was buried lying on a wooden bier. She was identified by a cylinder seal bearing her name that was found on her body. The seal is carved in cuneiform and written in Sumerian, the world’s first written language.

 Queen Puabi wore an elaborate headdress of gold leaves, gold ribbons, strands of lapis lazuli and carnelian beads, a tall comb of gold, chokers, necklaces, and a pair of large, crescent-shaped earrings. Her upper body was covered in strings of beads made of precious metals and semi-precious stones stretching from her shoulders to her belt, while rings decorated all her fingers.

An ornate diadem of thousands of small lapis lazuli beads with gold pendants of animals and plants was on a table near her head. Two attendants were buried in the chamber with her; one crouched at her head, the other at her feet. Much of the jewelry from Queen Puabi, including the diadem, is on view in the traveling exhibition.

In a pit associated with Queen Puabi’s chamber were five armed men, a wooden sled drawn by a pair of oxen, four grooms for the oxen, and a wood chest or wardrobe which probably contained textiles, long since decomposed. Three more attendants crouched near the wardrobe, surrounded by metal, stone, and clay vessels. At the opposite end of the pit were twelve female attendants, all wearing a less elaborate version of Queen Puabi’s headdress.

Many more artifacts, now world-famous in the fields of art, history, and archaeology, were found by Woolley in the larger cemetery.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum collection includes one of the world’s earliest known musical instruments—a large wooden lyre (reconstructed from the exacting measurements made by the original excavators) with the original gold and lapis lazuli bull’s head and inlaid plaque depicting mythical animals drinking and performing.

The Ur treasures—divided in the 1920s and 1930s among the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, the British Museum in London, and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad—never again traveled, until now. The Philadelphia collection—which has been on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum—will visit eight sites around the United States before its permanent reinstallation at that museum in 2001.


Extravagant jewelry of gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian, cups of gold and silver, bowls of alabaster, and extraordinary objects of art and culture were among the Mesopotamian treasures uncovered in the late 1920s by renowned British archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley in a joint expedition by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. One of the most spectacular discoveries in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), the royal tombs at Ur opened the world’s eyes to the full glory of ancient Sumerian culture (2600–2500 BC) at its zenith.

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