Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar)

Introduction

Ur is located in southern Iraq just west of the Euphrates (30° 57' 45.55" N 46° 6' 11.03" E). It was occupied from the Ubaid period (5th millennium BC) until the Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BC), and was abandoned shortly thereafter, around the 4th century BC. The most impressive remains come from the Early Dynasitc III period Royal Cemetery, and the Ur III period, when Ur was the dominant city of southern Mesopotamia. The remains of the Ur III period Ziggurat are still visible and the overwhelming number of cuneiform tablets from this period have helped shape our understanding of the economy and administration of the Ur III state.

History of Excavations

The first excavations at Ur were conducted in the 1850’s by J. E. Taylor, the British consul at Basra. Taylor excavated parts of the Ziggurat, and uncovered a few baked clay cylinders that identified the city as Ur. Between Taylor’s excavations and the first season of C. Leonard Woolley’s excavation in 1922, a team from University of Pennsylvania and R. Campbell Thompson and H. R. Hall all worked at the site. Jointly sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum, Woolley’s excavations between 1922 and 1934 uncovered the remarkable tombs of the Royal Cemetery, the religious and residential quarters of the Ur III city, and thousands of clay tablets. Excavations at Ur since then have been carried out to a limited extent by Iraqi teams.

Ur in the Early Dynastic Period (2900-2350 BC)

right|200px|thumb|PG 800 from the Royal CemeteryWoolley’s excavations in the Early Dynastic Period level of Ur uncovered two important regions in the city. Beneath the Ur III ziggurat of Ur Nammu, lay an Early Dynastic level temple platform. This platform had originally been constructed in the Uruk period and was rebuilt twice in the ED. It lay next to a group of storerooms and kitchens that were presumably related to a temple that would have stood atop the platform.

Near the temple platform, Woolley dug through the“Seal Impression Strata,” a rubbish dump that held a number of sealings with names found on the Sumerian King List, among other debris. Beneath the Seal Impression Strata lay the ealiest levels of the“Royal Cemetery of Ur,” as 70 x 50 meter area which contained 1850 graves and was in use from the Early Dynastic III period to the Post-Akkadian period. Based on the earlies seals found in the overlying cylinder seal strata, sixteen of the richest tombs are dated to the Early Dynastic IIIA period. These are mud or brick chambers into which individuals were buried with gold and other metal artifacts, stone and shell vessels, precious stone jewelry, weapons, musical instruments, furniture, and sometimes sleds with the equids or oxen that pulled them. Also in the main chamber in in the ramp leading down to the chamber, several attendants of the deceased were buried. Precious stones, vessels, weapons, and vehicles were also buried with the the individuals in these “Death Pits.”

Ur in the Ur III Period (2100-2000 BC)

Between about 2100 to 2000 BC, Ur was the center of the large Ur III kingdom. The most ubiquitous finds from Ur and it’s surrounding territoires in this period are small clay tablets documenting an intricate and expansive administrative system. These tablets also provide us with year names that allow us to reconstruct the chronology of this period.left|100px|thumb|Ur III text: Receipt for seed-grain for the Lagash field, Saharduba, on behalf of Guzani. [http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/P118420 (P118420)]

right|250px|thumb|The Ziggurat Terrace (Woolley 1939)During the Ur III period, the city of Ur occupied around 50 hecatares (124 acres). The raised sacred area of the site, referred to as the Temenos, housed the zigguraut erected by Ur-Nammu, the first king of the Ur III dynasty. Previously, temples had been constructed on raised platforms, but it is at cities like Ur, Eridu, Uruk (modern Warka), and Nippur in the Ur III period where true ziggurats, massive, multi-staged platforms with a temple on the uppermost level, first appear. Today, the partially reconstructed bottom two stages are still visible on the site. In antiquity, Ur-Nammu’s ziggurat at Ur probably had three stacked platforms, each faced with a thick layer of baked brick. At the top of the ziggurat stood the temple to the moon god, Nanna.

Directly in front of the massive ziggurat and abutting the northwest Temenos wall was the Court of Nanna, This was a large, sunken court surrounded by a double wall subdivided into chambers. The courtyard measured 65.7m x 43.6m, and was paved with baked brick. In the northwest part of the court, in front of the area leading to the ziggurat, the various rulers of the Ur III kingdom appear to have built brick pedestals which may have served as altars. Although Woolley suggested that this is where offerings brought to the temple were stored, the purpose of the Court of Nanna remains unclear.

left|250px|thumb|Ur Ziggurat (Woolley 1939)Both the ziggurat and the Court of Nanna stood within the raised ziggurat terrace. South of the ziggurat terrace, but still within the Temenos enclosure lay other buildings. Just south of the Court of Nanna, the Ga-nun-mah (E-nun-mah) contained a large storage area, and the Giparu south of the ziggurat was the home of the priestess of the god. In the southeast corner of the Temenose, the Ehursag may have been the royal palace.

Outside of the Temenos, there is very little that remains that might tell us about domestic life in Ur in the Ur III period. This is probably because the city was almost completely destroyed around 2000 BC by the Elamites, the Iranian kingdom that helped bring about the collapse of the Ur III kingdom.

Ur III Culture and Society

References
  • Crawford Harriet. Ur. The City of the Moon God Archaeological Histories. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015
  • Pollock, S. "Ur." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 5, 288-291. New York: Oxford University, 1997.
  • Woolley, C. L. The Sumerians. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1995 (1929).
  • Woolley, C. L. Ur. London and New York: Penguin, 1946.
  • Woolley, C. L. Ur of the Chaldees. Revised by P. R. S. Moorey. London: Herbert, 1982.
  • Woolley, C. L. et al. Ur Excavations. 10 vols. London and Philadelphia: Oxford University 1927-1951.

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