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In ancient Greek society people carefully followed the social rules of good behaviour. Women had to be good mothers. Kids and youths went to school, to the gym and were trained to be brave warriors. The elder ones inspired the new generations with their wise advice. And everyone prayed to the gods during the religious festivities. There was a time though, when almost everything was allowed and when social rules of good behaviour could be forgotten: the symposium. Museums are filled with vases showing symposiasts having fun and playing, precisely because the Greeks, like the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Chinese and the Anglo-Saxons, often buried their dead with games (or scenes of games), in order to allow them to have fun during their afterlife.

Scene of Symposium in Ancient Greek Society
A slave attends to a vomiting symposiast, 500-470 BC, National Museum of Denmark

1. What a Vase Can tell Us About Ancient Greek Lifestyle

Among the many drinking vessels at the British Museum, there is one of particular interest. It’s a red-figured Stamnos showing Greeks playing a drinking game called ‘Kottabos’ (and is, of course, one of our Fun and Games treasures). During the game, players had to throw dregs of wine at a target. It was a bit like darts, but harder because the dregs had to stick together mid-air before reaching the target. The protagonists of the scene are ephebes, Greek male adolescents training to become soldiers. All ephebes are well dressed (or half-dressed!), sometimes wear ivy-wreaths, and drink and sing, while a girl in a beautiful garment plays the flute.

Glimps of ancient Greeks society in the scene of a vase
Greek Stamnos with symposiasts at the British Museum, 475-425 BC

2. Gender Roles at the Symposium

All the males in the scene were part of the wealthier part of the population. Only the richest and most educated men were allowed to have fun at the symposium, after all. But what was the role of women at the party and in ancient Greece? The girl represented was probably a hetaira (a slave prostitute). Hetairai constituted a social class of their own in ancient Greek society. In their daily life, they were trained to serve as the companions of wealthy men (while their wives were secluded at home).

The role of women in ancient Greece
Hetaira playing Kottabos, 500 BC ca, Getty Villa Collection

3. The Role of Women in Ancient Greek Society

Historians and archaeologists don’t often know much about Greek Women and their stories. For sure we know that Greek men were freer than women. The hard duties of men’s daily life could in fact be eased at their drinking parties, where rules didn’t exist. Some suggest that the hetairai, the women entertaining them during the symposium, were more influential than the women of the upper class. During their training, they were taught philosophy and politics so to be able to converse with all men. While they were, of course, little more than sex slaves, it seems clear from the evidence at our disposal that hetairai did participate in the intellectual life of ancient Greece and that the symposiasts often took them as their personal advisors.

The role of Greek women at the symposium
Drinking cup with naked women folding their garments, The Met

4. A Vase or a Book?

It is incredible how much we can learn from the scene of a vase! Greek vases are almost books, often recounting stories of real life and social behaviour and allowing us to enter the fascinating world of ancient Greek society. For more on Greek art and architecture, read about The Parthenon and don’t forget to check our posts on Egyptian art, giving away other bonus answers, here and here! Are you also in love with Greek art and its hidden messages? Book a hunt at either the British Museum or the Louvre where you’ll find plenty of Greek art! If you liked the saucy theme of this blog post, have a look at the most interesting love stories of the past: Cupid and Psyche, The Ain Sakhri Lovers, Thetis and Peleus, and Priapus.

Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be answers to bonus questions on your Fun & Games hunt, whose First ever Version in Italian will be on Friday April 3rd at 5.30 pm.

Introducing our London KidPack!

We are very excited to announce the arrival of our new London KidPack! Joining our ever-successful Paris KidPack, it is full of fun activities, puzzles and creative fun. Add one as a bonus after a family treasure hunt at any of our three London museums, and keep the discovery going!

Learn how to write in Egyptian hieroglyphics with the Rosetta Stone, decorate your own Sutton Hoo Helmet with Norse warriors and gods and spot the differences with Shiva; Destroyer and Lord of the Dance!

We’re rolling it out this winter to celebrate our Public Easter Hunts in London. Discover a unique Easter Egg hunt at the Natural History Museum and search for eggs from creatures great and small, from Dinosaurs to platypuses on Sat 28th March. Can you beat our tricera-top score?! 
Or celebrate a world of festivities at the V&A on Sat 11th April. Don your Easter bonnet to hunt for Britain’s burning Guy Fawkes and treasures of China’s Lunar New Year.  

Young girl posing as Degas's ballet dancer sculpture at musee d'orsay

Keep an eye out on our blog, the first Tuesday of every month for our THATKid Tuesdays project. Each day we’ll reveal another KidPack page and use it to learn about art history and the museum collections!

Find all our Public hunts at Eventbrite or book a hunt at any of our five museums across London and Paris including the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and British Museum, and coming soon in FLORENCE!  

SEKHMET THE DESTROYER  

black statue of lion headed Egyptian goddess sekhmet at the Louvre
Sekhmet at the Louvre

Sekhmet was a fierce warrior goddess, protector of the pharaohs and daughter of the sun god Ra. She was the goddess of destruction and purging, and was worshipped in Memphis as ‘the destroyer’. Her name means, “the (one who is) powerful or mighty” but her nicknames include “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”–sounds like a friendly lady. Pretty awesome nicknames, huh? Might be a good source of inspiration for coming up with your next THATMuse team name, right?  

She’s often depicted as half woman/half lioness (Incidentally, can you think of any other gods and goddesses who also have animal features, perhaps featured on the THATMuse blog? Hint: his name begins with an H and he has the head of a hawk).  Sekhmet was closely associated with the desert, and therefore often shown with a sun disk on her head.  

four statues of sekhmet in room 4 British Museum wearing sun disk headdress.
Statues of Sekhmet in Room 4, British Museum

In one myth, she was sent to earth to destroy her dad’s, Ra, enemies but she grew so bloodthirsty she almost killed off everyone—to stop her, Ra poured out a mass amount of beer stained red (with pomegranate juice) tricking Sekhmet into thinking it was blood. She drank so much of the red beer and became so drunk that she gave up killing people and went back sleepily and peacefully to Ra. When she awoke from her drunken stupor, the first thing she saw was Ptah—the god of creation, and fell instantly in love with him.  

Egyptian papyrus with hieroglyphs and images of gods
Can you spot Sekhmet with her Sun disk headdress? How many other gods can you name?

Every year there was a festival to honor Sekhmet, where Egyptians would get completely black-out drunk to imitate her. (Is it just me, or does this festival sound like a good excuse to throw a party?) Mankind also had to constantly appease her with offerings to abate her wrath. Egyptologists think that Amenhotep III built a temple with over 700 statues to her so that people could honor her every day of the year with a different statue. Hence part of the reason why statues of her abound: say hello to this bloodthirsty babe at the Louvre and the British Museum, and also at the Met and the Vatican (Don’t THATMet or THATVat have a ring to them?!)  

OR; HOW TO DEFINITELY LOSE A BOAT RACE

See Part 1 of our Egyptian Gods series here!
Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be the answers to bonus questions on your hunt!  

Isis gave birth to a baby boy with the head of a hawk (must have been a freaky experience), called Horus. When Horus was all grown up, he decided to fight his evil uncle Seth for the throne. (Since his parents were siblings, Seth was his uncle on both sides—freaky, right?)  

Sculpture from British Museum of falcon headed egyptian god horus on one knee with one fist raised and one to his chest

Seth challenged Horus to a series of contests to see who would become king of Egypt. In one battle, Seth gouged out one of Horus’s eyes, but it was restored by the goddess Hathor (the mother of the sun god Ra). The ‘Eye of Horus’ became a symbol of healing and protection in Egyptian art. Keep an eye out for it next time you’re scouting out Egyptian treasure!  

blue yellow and red eye of horus amulet from the British Museum
An Eye of Horus amulet from the British Museum Collection

The contest that Seth and Horus had was a boat race. But this boat race had a twist: Seth and Horus would be racing boats of stone. Horus was a bit of a trickster, and built a boat that was actually wood, but covered with plaster to look like stone. Seth’s boat sank right away, of course, and all the gods laughed at him. Seth was angry at his failure and transformed himself into a huge hippopotamus and attacked his Horus’s boat. They fought, but just as Horus was about to kill Seth once and for all, the other gods intervened.  

In the end, all of these contests proved pointless. Instead, the gods decided on a more sensible course of action: to write a letter to Osiris who was God of the Dead, and ask his advice. Osiris said that Horus was a better candidate for king as he had not killed anyone (this seems like a pretty solid criterion for most job descriptions, to be honest).  Finally, Horus became King of Egypt.  

Going back to Seth and Horus’s boat race, boats were an incredibly important symbol in Egyptian mythology. The solar god Ra, was thought to ride on his magical boat through the sky providing light to the world, and travelling to the underworld at night. Egyptian pharaohs were also thought to travel through the underworld on a boat after their deaths—have a look at Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge at the British Museum pictured below.  

Black sculpture of Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge; British Museum Room 4
Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge; British Museum Room 4 

Keep an eye out for depictions of Seth, Isis, Osiris and Horus in many of our British Museum themes, such as Fun + GamesLove Hunt, and of course the chilling Skull Scouting. Keep an eye out the same cast of characters while scouting out the Zodiac of Dendera and the Sarcophagus of Ramesses III at the Louvre in our Skull Scouting and Beauty and the Bestiary hunts there. 

Or, How Not to Treat your Siblings!

Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be a handy hint for your next treasure hunt!  

Geb, the sky god and Nut, the earth goddess had four children: Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nepthys. Osiris was the eldest son, so he became king of Egypt. He married his sister Isis, who became his queen. His younger brother Seth, was jealous of him, as he was loved and respected by everyone. 

Sandstone Egyptian tablet showing Seth and a worshipper with traces of paint and hieroglyphs
Seth (left) and one of his worshippers

One day Seth transformed himself into a gigantic, frightening monster and killed Osiris. Then, Seth cut Osiris’s dead body into itty-bitty pieces and scattered it all across Egypt. Seth was now king of all Egypt, ruling alongside Nepthys his wife and sister.  

Statue of Goddess Isis protecting a figure of Osiris with wings extending from her arms on either side of him, British Museum collection.
Isis protecting a figure of Osiris with her wings.

Isis cried and cried over her lost husband. She had magical powers, and decided to try and bring her husband back to life, at least long enough that they could have a child. Her sister Nepthys (Seth’s wife) felt sorry for her and helped her roam all of Egypt, looking for the itty-bitty pieces of Osiris’s body (sort of like a really, really gross treasure hunt actually).  She managed to find everything, except his penis, which she was forced to reconstruct with magic.  

Once they’d reassembled *most* of his body, Isis used her magic to bring him back to life. Soon after, she got pregnant with a baby boy (more about him in another blog post!) and Osiris descended to the underworld, where he became the God of the Dead. Unsurprisingly, he pops up a lot in the Egyptian Book of the dead, which was basically a book of spells, allowing you to pass safely to the underworld.  

Papyrus from the Book of the Dead showing judgment of the heart before Osiris Isis Horus Thoth and Anubis

Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead at the British Museum—can you spot Osiris? It’s written on papyrus which is a reed that grows on the banks of the Nile river. 

This gory myth features again and again in Egyptian art, and also in our treasure hunts! Keep an eye out for depictions of Seth, Isis, Osiris and Horus in many of our British Museum themes, such as Fun + GamesLove Hunt, and of course the chilling Skull Scouting. Keep an eye out the same cast of characters while scouting out the Zodiac of Dendera and the Sarcophagus of Ramesses III at the Louvre in our Skull Scouting and Beauty and the Bestiary hunts there. No doubt, when we expand to NYC’s Met, our fine friends here will reappear (Temple of Dendur, anyone? Which only costs 50K to rent out!). 

Terracotta bust of Sir Hans Sloane, Founder of the British Museum
Hans Sloane

Dubbed the first national public museum in the world, the British Museum didn’t start off as a grand, Greek-style building full of Egyptian mummies, Roman statues and Aztec turquoise. The museum has changed quite a bit in its almost 300-year history, but began with the donation of Hans Sloane (above), a high-society Irish physician – who also invented hot chocolate. What claims to fame!

Upon his death in 1753, Sloane bequeathed his collection of fantastic antiquities, books, and natural specimens to the nation. King George II and Parliament wanted Sloane’s collection to be seen by the people, not sit in a basement somewhere collecting dust. So later that year, Parliament passed the The British Museum Act, which formally established the British Museum at Montagu House – which stood on the spot of the current British Museum. To add some variety to Sloane’s science-heavy collection, Parliament included the Cottonian Library and Harleian manuscripts in the new museum for a taste of literature and art.  

FUN FACT: The board of trustees almost bought a place called Buckingham House, which some of you might know better as its current incarnation – Buckingham Palace.

As the collection grew, so did the museum. In the 1880s, the natural history collection had grown enough to become a museum in its own right. The collection moved to a building in South Kensington, in what we know now as the Natural History Museum.   

FUN FACT: Entry to the Natural History Museum is free. It has a fantastic collection of dinosaur skeletons too, including a famous 26-meter-long diplodocus. Check it out – and when you’re done, maybe go on a THATMuse treasure hunt at the V&A next door!

One of the most prominent additions to the British Museum was the introduction of the Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon, brought to the museum in 1812 by Lord Elgin. In 1931 funds were given by the controversial Sir Joseph Duveen to construct a new gallery for the Elgin Marbles. However, WWII got in the way and the gallery wasn’t opened until 1962. It was American architect, John Russell Pope, who designed the new gallery that you can now see today. Pope also designed the National Gallery in DC!

On the note of design, Robert Smirke is the man responsible for most of the recognizable parts of the British Museum you see today. The Quadrangle, the main section of the British Museum, was completed in 1852. You can still see it in the basic structure of the museum today, with wings in the north, south, east, and west. The first room to be competed was the Kings Library, finished in 1827. The library was one of main reasons the new building was built in the first place. King George the IV donated books belonging to his father, King George III, and the British Museum just didn’t have room for all of them! You can still see the restored Kings Library, though it is now called “The Enlightenment Room.”  

FUN FACT: The original design for the British Museum included dorms for museum staff, as the museum workers lived on site– which was common practice in those days!

Panorama of the British Museum Great court, staircases and central reading room, shadowed by norman foster's famous glass ceiling
Great Court in the British Museum

While the majority of the current British Museum was designed by Robert Smirke, one of the British Museum’s most distinctive features, the central court and dramatic glass ceiling (above), was designed by Norman Foster’s company (who also designed the famous Millenium – AKA “Wobbly” – Bridge!) The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court transformed the museum’s inner courtyard into the largest covered public square in Europe. The Great Court was a massive undertaking and was completed in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium. This beautiful and impressive space greets visitors as they first enter the museum – and what a vast number of visitors that is! For the past eight years, the British Museum has remained the U. K’s no.1 visitor attraction. Last year over 6.6 million people visited the British Museum to see the amazing history that it contains.

Sir Hans Sloane

bust of hans sloane british museum founder

This lovely gentleman right here is Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection is the basis of the British Museum. A physician and collector, Sloane amassed a huge array of scientific and historic artifacts — an impressive 71,000 books, manuscripts, natural specimens and “things relating to the customs of ancient times” which became the foundation of the museum.  Sloane started off his collecting spree by gathering natural specimens, many of which he got on an adventure in 1687 to Jamaica. During his time there, he amassed over 800 plants and other live specimens. He didn’t stop there though– Sloane became a collector of collections! He purchased collections by people such as William Charlton and James Petiver. Once word got around that Sloane enjoyed collecting these specimens and objects, you can bet that every birthday and Christmas he was gifted with more pieces to add to his collection.

Though the British Museum is known today primarily for its antiquities, it wasn’t until 1772 when Sir William Hamilton’s collection of Greek vases was bought by the museum that they began to accrue much of the classical antiquities collections. Now, the British Museum holds over 8 million objects – which all started from Sir Hans Sloane’s generous donation.

Having covered the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, we’re now turning our attention to the New Kingdom, Egypt’s most prosperous and powerful period. The New Kingdom, from 16th century BC to 11th century BC, covered the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties. The latter part is referred to as the Ramesside Period, due to eleven pharaohs named Ramesses.

Granite statue of pharaoh Ramesses II in British Museum, From Egypt around 1300 BC
Ramesses II from the British Museum Collection

The Napoleon of Egypt, Thutmose III, consolidated and expanded the Egyptian empire to great success, leaving a surplus of power and wealth to his successors. Interestingly, his Co-Regent was Hatshepsut (left), the second female pharaoh of Egypt. Although they were technically co-regents, Thutmose was only 2 years old when the pair ascended to the throne, leaving virtually all of the power in Hatshepsut’s hand for 22 years, during which she enjoyed a highly successful rule, establishing trade routes and overseeing major building projects.

The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV followed this period. He changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor the god Aten, in what could be interpreted as the first instance of monotheism in history. This change wasn’t very well received, and he was subsequently written out of Egyptian history! That said, although art flourished to an unprecedented level during his reign.  

The 19th Dynasty is more famous for its great military than anything. Ramesses II, called the Great, was caught in the first ever recorded military ambush. He remained unfazed and won the battle! Thus his moniker, Ramesses the Great. He fathered a TON of kids, which is why his sons’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings is the largest funerary complex in Egypt. His statue (above) is one of many that you can see in the British Museum.

Bust of Hapshepsut from the Met In New York
Hatshepsut at the Met in New York City

The 20th Dynasty would see the last ‘great’ pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Ramesses III. He defeated the Sea Peoples in two great land and sea battles, and settled them in Southern Canaan as his subjects. He also had to fight invaders from Libya, and these wars drained Egypt’s treasury and led to a decline in the empire. The first known labor strike in history occurred during his reign, when tomb-builders and artisans did not receive their rations. After his death, the pharaoh’s power continued to decline, hurried on by droughts, famine, and corruption throughout the land. The last of the Kingdoms was coming to its end, and so are our Ancient Egypt posts, sadly.

Ramsesses II in the British Museum The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV followed this period. He changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor the god Aten, in what could be interpreted as the first instance of monotheism in history. This change wasn’t very well received, and he was subsequently written out of Egyptian history! That said, art flourished to an unprecedented level during his reign.   The 19th Dynasty is more famous for its great military than anything. Ramesses II, called the Great, was caught in the first ever recorded military ambush. He remained unfazed and won the battle! Thus his moniker, Ramesses the Great. He fathered a ton of kids, which is why his sons’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings is the largest funerary complex in Egypt.

Image result for valley of the kings
The Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt

A Brief Look at the Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Following our post on the Old Kingdom, we’re now turning our attention to the Middle Kingdom (and yes, you guessed it, the next will be about the New Kingdom). 

Lintel of Amenemhat, 20th Century BC, Met Museum. Hieroglyphs and heads of the King, Anubis, Horus and attendants
Lintel of Amenemhat, 20th Century BC, Met Museum

The beginning of the Middle Kingdom (after a hiatus of turmoil and strife over a succession struggle) was messy and did not immediately follow the Old Kingdom. There were two factions vying to control all of Egypt with the 11th Dynasty of Thebes controlling the Southern part and the 10th Dynasty from Herakleopolis ruling the north. Eventually the Middle Kingdom started when Mentuhotep II, of the northern Thebes, won control & consolidated power.

The kings of the Middle Kingdom never reached the absolute power that the kings of the Old Kingdom did. That said, one of the most important traditions of Ancient Egypt was established during this time, that of appointing the king’s son as Co-Regent, a tradition that would continue into the New Kingdom.      

During the Middle Kingdom, the ‘block’ statue would become popular and remain so for almost 2,000 years. These statues consist of a man squatting with his knees drawn to his chest, and his arms folded on his knees. The one on the right is located in the British Museum. 

Red sandstone torso of Queen Sobekneferu from the Louvre museum. 18th Century BC.
Headless bust of Sobekneferu,

One of the most interesting facts about the Middle Kingdom is that it saw the first historically attested female king take power. Her name was Sobekneferu (you can see a headless bust of her at the Louvre — and on the left!), although she only ruled for four years, and her death signaled the end of both the 12th Dynasty and the Golden Age of the Middle Kingdom. She was followed by a succession of short-lived kings called the 13th Dynasty, although this is somewhat misleading because few of these kings were actually related. Eventually the unity of Egypt fully disintegrated, leading into the Second Intermediate Period, which would see no significant advancements in almost any aspect of Egyptian civilization. The period following this, the New Kingdom, will be the subject of our next and last post in the Ancient Egypt series.

Hey there! This is the first of a series of blog posts about the different kingdoms of ancient Egypt, by yours truly, Cheyenne, student intern at THATMuse. We’ll start with the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the first of the Kingdom periods.

Pyramid of Djoser, in the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis. 27th Century BC
Pyramid of Djoser, in the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis. Built by Imhotep in the 27th Century BC

First, it’s important to realize that the periods commonly recognized as the Kingdoms were first distinguished by 18th century historians, and these distinctions would not have been used by the Ancient Egyptians themselves. Specifically, the ‘Kingdoms’ refer to high points in the lower Nile Valley civilization. Some historians disagree on when exactly these periods began and ended, but there are some generally acknowledged dates for each of them. What we call the Old Kingdom of Egypt is commonly recognized as occurring from 2686 to 2181 BC, or from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty.

During the Old Kingdom, the kings of Egypt (yes King! They weren’t called by the name of Pharaoh until the New Kingdom) were considered living gods with almost unlimited power throughout their physical kingdom. The first king of the Third Dynasty was Djoser, who moved the capital of Egypt to Memphis. His architect, Imhotep, is credited with developing a new architectural form, the Step Pyramid, which was to be used over and over throughout Egypt’s history. You can see a picture of his famous pyramid to the right.  

Djoser was followed by a succession of kings, most of whom carried on his tradition of building large and grand pyramids, which is why the Old Kingdom is sometimes referred to as ‘the Age of Pyramids.’ In fact, during the Fourth Dynasty, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, and the Sphinx in Giza (below) is also thought to have been built during this time, although there is significant disagreement about exactly when, and who it was built by.  

The Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Giza in front of a bright blue sky
The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza

The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty saw a drastic weakening of the king’s power. Powerful nomarchs, which were similar to regional governors, gained more and more power, lessening the king’s by default. Civil wars after a succession crisis likely contributed to the downfall of the Old Kingdom, compounding by famine and a horrible drought in the 22nd century BC. The Nile didn’t flood normally for several years during a 50 year periods, causing extreme strife and unrest in Egypt. This period of turmoil is known as the First Intermediate Period, and the kingdom does not begin to recover until about 2055, the start of the Middle Kingdom, the subject of our next post.

side view of the Standard of Ur, shell and limestone and lapis lazuli mosaic on wooden frame. Ancient Sumeria 2600BC
The Standard of Ur, 2600BC

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.

Leonard Woolley holding uncovered Sumerian harp at city of Ur, in southern Iraq, 1920s
Leonard Woolley and one of his amazing finds

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 below.

Both sides of the Standard of Ur, sowing both city and battle scenes.
The Standard of Ur

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!

Archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made a tremendous discovery in 1922-32 when he uncovered the Royal Tombs in the Mesopotamian city of Ur (today’s Southern Iraq). This fantastic find is referred to as “the Great Death Pit”. As well it should! His excavation team unearthed 1800 graves, 16 of which had such treasures that Woolley titled them “royal tombs”, all dating from 2800-2370 BC. Below the simple graves of the common people lay the elite of Ur. Although commoners also made it to that lower level, as some of this Sumerian royalty were accompanied in the afterlife with their attendants!

Among the richest tombs was that of Queen Puabi (we know her name from a fine cylinder seal of lapis lazuli found in display case 13, above that adorable donkey on the double rein-loop). She lay on a wooden bier, a gold cup near her hand. She not only had 25 attendants in her midst, all laid out in orderly rows and with cups near their hands as well, in her adjacent chamber there were another 65 attendants (talk about getting help in the afterlife!). Some were musicians, as instruments such as a wonderful bull-headed harp, were found buried with their owners. The burial process here is a bit of a mystery, and Woolley had several hypotheses which evolved as he discovered more tombs over the course of the excavation.

Crushed skull and remains of gold headdress in British Museum
Queen Puabi’s intricate headdress and crushed skull

We don’t know the cause of Queen Puabi’s death, but do know that her skull was crushed, possibly from the weight of the soil over the thousands of years that passed before the Royal Tomb of Ur was discovered. She, like other fine ladies of Ur, was buried with an elaborate headdress that was crushed. (The picture above shows what the crushed skull and headdress look like today.) Leonard Woolley was ingenious at extracting these treasures, by way of pouring hot wax (THATMuse Bonus?) over them before lifting them out of the Great Death Pit, so to reconstruct them later (incidentally, Leonard’s wife, Katherine, reconstructed Queen Puabi’s headdress to its original grandeur with gold leaf and ribbons, sprinkling through treasured lapis lazuli pendants.)  The image below is an example of this beautiful headdress. 

gold headdress of leaves flowers and rings on a black model head, reconstruction of Quenn Puabi's burial at Ur, Mesopotamia 2600 BC
A reconstruction of the beautiful headdress

But let’s back up a bit, and ponder those attendants… When you think of Human Sacrifice you think of the Aztecs or Mayans, no? Well how can you explain all of her attendants? They can’t have ALL died voluntarily, just because their precious Queen died… Yet all the bodies were laid out in an orderly fashion, evidently peaceful. Originally Woolley thought they had been killed to reflect the King’s (or in this case, Queen’s) power. Yet they all had cups by their hands, just like Queen Puabi. Could this be a poison they voluntarily drank in loyalty Woolley wondered. Or perhaps (more likely to my imagination, although I’m not very subservient) they were sedatives and the real cause was sealing off the chamber to suffocate them. A few of the skulls on the other hand received blunt force trauma, implying a less than servile attitude to killing themselves for their Queen!

However you see it, the story of the Royal Tombs of Ur is pretty grisly – just right for a Skull Scouting THATBrit, or of course a Lady Hunt or Kings & Leaders hunt, wouldn’t you say?