The Standard of Ur

Continuing off our last post about Queen Puabi’s grave in the Royal Tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia is known as the “Cradle of Civilisation” because of things like their invention of the wheel. What would life be like right now if we didn’t have the wheel? In some of our Kid-Friendly THATBrits we dole out some extra THATMuse points (bonus points embedded in text so to be sure hunters stay alert to our precious text!) by asking them to scribble some things we could not do without the wheel, just to be sure they pause to see its significance.

Archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made a tremendous discovery in what was the city of Ur (in Mesopotamia’s Sumer – today in southern Iraq). He excavated 1800 graves, 16 of which had so much treasure that he called them Royal Tombs.

In display case 17 we have some of these treasures. The “Standard of Ur” is a hollow,trapezoidal-shaped mystery box (Woolley never figured out what it was for). But its decoration is of great interest. Mosaic scenes, little precious stones laid to make a recognizable pattern, or in this case to tell a story, made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli, set in bitumen give us the skinny on some objects within the Royal Tomb of Ur (or for us more conservative travelers, the British Museum room). On one side of the Standard is a Sumerian army, with chariots (the earliest known representation of the wheeled vehicles!) and horses rolling over their enemies (quite literally!) and infantry charging their enemy. What tickles me is that these little guys are all bald and in skirts. They do look awfully busy, though. The stories are divided into three rows, with the King presiding at top. We can recognize him easily, as he’s not only bigger than the others, his skirt is special — made of fleece.  You can see both sides on the image to the right.

On the other side the story’s all about peace and prosperity. Good times with a procession of men bringing animals, fish and other goods. At the top the king banquets among his friends, entertained by a singer and a man with a lyre. Don’t scoot off too quickly, though! That lyre has a bull’s head at the end of it, and brilliantly, the BM has placed the real lyre, also with bull’s head, in a nearby display case. Leonard Woolley excavated The Great Death Pit with an ingenious method of pouring hot wax over his finds and lifting them out to later reconstruct them when necessary. This was especially useful for the Royal Game of Ur, not too far away (and a prime “Fun & Games THATBrit” piece). But there’s another treasure that makes its way onto the story board of this Standard of Ur. If you take a look at the horses in the Sumerian war scene they all have a double loop on their backs. That was apparently to keep the horse’s reins in order, and an example of a real rein-loop is in this room, over in the display case with Queen Puabi, whom we’ve visited with in our last blog post.

When you’re on a hunt you’re going to be racking up these extra THATMuse points, what with all of this help from reading these posts! Within the hunt, the Standard only tells you to go find some objects within the mosaic, but thanks to doing some sleuthing prior to meeting au Musée, you know what you’re looking for!

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