Royal tombs of Ur Algy 108 Ancient Mesopotamia: The First Cities and Empires University of Liverpool

09.04.2012

Marek Macko

1. Index Index.............................................................................................................................................................. 2 Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 3 Royal tombs in general ................................................................................................................................. 4 Human sacrifices ........................................................................................................................................... 5 Pottery and artifacts ..................................................................................................................................... 6 Used literature .............................................................................................................................................. 7

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2. Introduction "The ruins of Ur lie some two hundred and twenty miles south of Baghdad and a hundred and sixty miles from the head-waters of the Persian Gulf; ... but from the top of the Ziggurat of Ur, the great brick tower which has dominated it for four thousand years, one sees nothing but the alluvial plain of the Euphrates valley. ... About 2000 BC, when the present Ziggurat was a comparatively new building, the population of Ur, if we judge by the extent of the ruins, which including walled town and suburb cover an area of some four square miles of closely packed houses, must have numbered well over half a million souls; what it was more than a thousand years earlier, in the days of the Royal Cemetery, we have no means of knowing ...; it must have been much smaller, but even so it was no mean city which, crowned by an older Ziggurat, rose above its fields." (Woolley 1934, 1)1

In this period we might see two different types of burial practices. One is commonly associated with family and kin where dead person is buried under the house alongside with his ancestors. This seems to be important for them as they think that if they burry their deceased under the house they will “stay” with them forever. They literary becomes something like their personal gods. But question is why there is a cemetery when under house burials were so important. I will try to answer this question in upcoming lines and discuss why cemetery burials played important role in religion and mainly in royal life together with burial practices of royal members in Ur cemetery.

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Molleson, Theya and Dawn Hodgson 2003 The Human Remains from Woolley's Excavations at Ur. Iraq 6591-129.

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3. Royal tombs in general In years 1926 to 1927 Sir Leonard Woolley excavated approximately 1850 graves at Ur all outside temple complexes. Woolley divided cemetery into 4 main chronological stages by items found in graves or tombs. I. Early or "Predynastic" Cemetery. Two phases A and B, with phase A including all the Royal Tombs and 389 of the rest, and phase B comprising 271 graves. II. Graves with bodies partially cremated belonging to the First Dynasty of Ur. III. 15 graves of the Second Dynasty of Ur. IV. 408 graves from the Sargonid (Akkadian) cemetery2

Out of all excavated tombs only 16 were classifies as Royal Tombs all from Early Dynastic IIIA period, 2600–2450 BC. All of them were found in cemetery phase A. He classified them as royal based on their complicated architecture and on rituals involved. Also cylinder seals with royal names and royal titles found in those tombs were supporting his theory about them being royal tombs others disagreed, like Peter Roger Stuart Moorey. But in year 2004 his evidence materials were reexamined and it supports identification of those tombs as royal monuments. All 16 royal tomb have similar inside structure which often begins with rectangular shaft leading to big main burial chamber or burial chamber may be divided into few more side chamber (regularly into four small ones). Walls of tombs were built from limestone (very valuable in Mesopotamia) or mud brick. Roof of central burial chamber was vaulted or domed and served as resting place for principal or kings body. Outer rooms were used to store artifacts, pottery or other dead bodies which accompanied king to afterlife. Those chambers with dead bodies were called “Death pits”.

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Molleson, Theya and Dawn Hodgson 2003 The Human Remains from Woolley's Excavations at Ur. Iraq 6591-129.

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4. Human sacrifices In all excavated tombs, apart from main occupant who is king or queen we can also see other dead bodies in tombs. Either in side burial chambers called “Death pits” as I mentioned before or in main central burial chamber alongside the king himself. King is often buried in small chamber alone and in other rooms or in central chamber are other occupants. Best examples of tombs with other occupants or we may call them servants are three tombs which were excavated by Woolley are PG1237 also called The Great Death Pit for very good reason. Tomb is nothing more than one death pit with no chamber dedicated for king himself and excavations showed that there was no such chamber in the first place when tomb was built. But amount of dead bodies arranged in the pit has not been found anywhere else. Tomb contains 74 dead bodies from which 6 are male soldiers and 68 are retainers probably females because of their headdresses. Soldiers are positioned near the entrance to the tomb as if they were to “protect” it from enemies or robbers. Female bodies were positioned in 4 rows through whole length of pit around various musical instruments. Next good example of similar pit is in tomb marked as PG789 also called as The Kings Grave. There are 6 soldiers, two wagons where each is drawn by three oxen. Rest of the bodies found there were retainers both males and females positioned along the walls with various music instruments. Again six soldiers were positioned close to tomb entrance as protectors in full armor and with weapons. Two oxen drawn wagons are right behind them. In both cases positions of dead bodies looks like processions of some kind and this particular position of dead bodies points towards human sacrifices. We have no direct way of knowing this for sure but it would have to be really big coincidence that at the same time as king other 60+ young people died so that they could be buried with their king. Only evidence I personally heard or read about is that pottery bowls were found next to almost every dead body in the tomb. This suggests some kind of poison they all drunk after being buried alive. Unfortunately bones of deceased are decayed too much to discover any unnatural cause of death. Woolley himself believed that servants volunteered to be buried with the king and possibly it was even honor to die with king and be buried by his side. Other hints about human sacrifices can be found in literature where often servants follow their king into the grave.

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Following part is from The Death of Gilgamesh: His beloved wife, his beloved children, his beloved favourite and junior wife, his beloved musician, cup-bearer and ......, his beloved barber, his beloved ......, his beloved palace retainers and servants and his beloved objects were laid down in their places as if ...... in the purified (?) palace in the middle of Unug.3 Another possible way how to have 60+ dead bodies in one tomb and buried at the same time is body storage. But there is problem with this theory since bodies would rot and start to decompose. And since there is relatively hot in southern Mesopotamia this process would be accelerated by this. So far there is no direct answer to whether they were sacrificed willingly of not sure thing sure thing is that they really believed that in their afterlife their servants will continue serving them.

5. Pottery and artifacts In every tomb excavated by Woolley pottery was found together with other artifact such as extensive headdresses for female retainers or cylindrical seals hanging around their necks. King himself was covered by very precisely crafted headdress also cylindrical seals bonded together to form nice necklace fine cloth for their clothes. And also coffin made from stone or clay. Items like this helped identify kings buried in tomb. In tomb PG800 female body was found with no sign of coffin but with magnificent headdress made of gold. Also seal near her head made of lapis lazuli with her name helped identify her as Pu-abi. In another tomb marked as PG755 are remains of male who was identified as Mes-Kalam-Dug based on inscription on lapis lazuli bead saying: “Meskalamdug, king of Kish, father of Mesannepada, king of Ur.” There is problem with identification of tomb owner since tomb itself is very simple with no other dead bodies and also is very small, but is filled with very valuable items like gold dagger, silver belt and gold helmet that king wore. Other seal found in tomb of Pu-abi with his name and title “lugal” the king but based upon tomb structure Woolley assumed that it is not a royal tomb. Based on my findings, items were very important in burial rituals in this time period and also helped researchers to piece together story which they were hiding for millennia.

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From internet source http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr1813.htm

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6. Used literature
Molleson, Theya and Dawn Hodgson 2003 The Human Remains from Woolley's Excavations at Ur. Iraq 6591-129.

http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr1813.htm Ur Excavations II: The Royal Cemetery. London/Philadelphia: British Museum/University Museum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
Baadsgaard A, Monge J, Cox S, and Zettler RL. 2011. Human sacrifice and intentional corpse preservation in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Antiquity 85(327):27-42. Gansell, Amy R. 2007 Identity and Adornment in the Third-millennium bc Mesopotamian ‘Royal Cemetery’ at Ur. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17(1):29–46.

http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/staff/main.html Ur of the Chaldees: the final account, Excavations at Ur. Revised and updated by P.R.S. Moorey. London: Book Club Associates.

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