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 Location: Nasiriya, Iraq  Grid Reference: 30 57' 38" N,  46 6' 18" E.

 

      Ur: (Sumerian Capital).

Home of the Ziggurat of Ur and the reputed birthplace of the prophet Abraham.

Ur was the capital of the Sumerian civilisation and once a great harbour city on the banks of the Euphrates river, until it changed its course and the city became lost, so that Wooley was forced to dig  vast hole over 40ft deep to uncover the lowest levels of the city..

(Click here for Map of site)

 

 

   Ur of the Chaldeans: ('Tall al Muqayyar'):

Ur was first found and excavated in 1853 and 1854 by British consul J. E. Taylor, who uncovered the then sand-covered remains of the famed ziggurat.

This city, which is mentioned several times in the Bible as Ur of the Chaldees (referring to the Chaldeans, whom settled in the area about 900 BC) as the birthplace of Prophet Abraham "Ibrahim Al-Khalil" (pbuh), was one of the most important cities of the Sumerians in the 4th and the 1st half of the 3rd millennium BC. It was also considered as one of the most active and full of life cities in southern Mesopotamia during the following centuries. In former days it stood on the banks of the Euphrates, until the river changed its course.

Evidence suggests that Ur had three classes of people. The richer, government officials, priests and soldiers, were at the top. The second level was for merchants, teachers, labourers, farmers and craft-makers. The bottom were for slaves captured in battle. Burials at Ur give insight into people's social standing. Kings and queens were buried with treasure as realised by Wooly's discovery of the 'Royal' burial site. Wealthy people were buried with less. Since irrigation gave Ur abundant crops, not everybody needed to work on farms. People learned other skills. Sir Leonard Wooly made a tablet that listed Ur's special workers. The chisel workers made sculptures, the gem cutters made gems, and the fuller stomped on woven wools to make them soft. The metal workers made weapons. (6)

 

The use of Bitumen in construction:

'Baked bricks were used for the lowest courses of walls, for drains, where bitumen was employed to make them watertight, and for paved courtyards and other exposed architecture such as the facades of buildings; important buildings, such as the ziggurat at Ur, might be encased in baked bricks as a protection against the elements. The use of bitumen as a mortar, particularly in the construction of large structures such as city walls, also provided an effective protection against damp. courses of reed matting and layers of bitumen were interspersed between those of brick in the construction of ziggurats to counteract rising damp from the foundations, and weep-holes also assisted drainage and prevented damp decay. Bitumen was also employed as a water-proofing material for bathrooms and constructional timber such as doors. Brick walls were often plastered to protect them against the rain. Mud could ne used as a plaster but a stronger and more attractive plaster was made of gypsum or lime, made by burning limestone.' (7)

(Prehistoric construction techniques)

 

 

Chronology of Ur.

Ur was an ancient Sumerian city that was settled in the late sixth millennium, during the Ubaid period until about 3000 B.C., the area of Ur was about 37 acres. During the Early Dynastic Period, Ur reached its maximum area of 124 acres and was one of the richest Sumerian cities because it was a harbour, and therefore trading, town on the Persian Gulf. (2)

The earliest occupations at Ur date to the Ubaid period of the late 6th millennium BC. By about 3000 BC, Ur covered a total area of 37 acres including early temple sites. Ur reached its maximum size of 54 acres during the Early Dynastic Period of the early 3rd millennium, when Ur was one of the most important capitals of the Sumerian civilization. Ur continued as a minor capital for Sumer and succeeding civilizations, but during the 4th century BC, the Euphrates changed course, and the site was abandoned. (3)

According to ancient records, Ur had 3 main dynasties of rulers who at various times, extended their control over all of Sumeria.

2,670 BC - The founder of the First Dynasty of Ur was the conqueror and temple builder Mesanepada , the earliest Mesopotamian ruler described in extant contemporary documents. His son Aanepadda (reigned about 2650 BC) built the temple of the goddess Ninhursag, which was excavated in modern times at Tell Al-Obeid, about 8 km north east of the site of Ur.

2,340 BC - Ur was captured  by King Sargon of Agade, and this era, called the Akkadian period, marks an important step in the blending of Sumerian and Semitic cultures. After this dynasty came a long period of which practically nothing is known except that a 2nd dynasty rose and fell.

2113 - 2095 BC - Ur-Nammu, the first king of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, who revived the empire of Sumer and Akkad, won control of the outlet to the sea about 2100 BC and made Ur the wealthiest city in Mesopotamia. His reign marked the beginning of the so-called renaissance of Sumerian art and literature at Ur. The descendants of Ur-Nammu continued in power for more than a century, or until shortly before 2000 BC, when the Elamites captured Ibbi-Sin (reigned 2029-2004 BC), king of Ur, and destroyed the city.

 

Article: ABS-CBN News: (13th May 2009)

US returns Ur, birthplace of Abraham, to Iraq.

'UR, Iraq - The US military on Wednesday handed control of ancient Ur, the biblical birthplace of Abraham, back to Iraqi authorities, who hope now to re-launch it as a major tourism site.

"We officially announce the taking over of Ziggurat of Ur from our friends the Americans," Talib Kamil al-Hassan, governor of Dhi Qar province, said at a ceremony to mark the return of the site six years after the American invasion.

"We are pleased with this great success for the nation," he added while the Iraqi flag was hoisted atop the temple.

"Abraham, peace be upon him, was born here, the father of prophets and religions," he said.

The site is renowned for its well preserved stepped platform or ziggurat, which dates back to the third millennium BC.

It lies near the US air base of Talila, outside the southern city of Nasiriyah, and has been closed to the public since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Ur of the Chaldees was one of the great urban centres of the Sumerian civilisation of southern Iraq and remained an important city until its conquest by Alexander the Great a few centuries before Christ.

The city, which dates back to 6000 BC, lies on a former course of the Euphrates, one of the two great rivers of Iraq, and is one of the country's oldest sites.

The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced in early April that the ceremony would pave the way for the rehabilitation of Ur and its reopening to the public.

"The local government will begin the renovation of the archaeological site in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism to be ready to receive tourists from the region but also across Iraq," said Hassan.

"All Iraqis are proud of this site and are eager to visit as soon as all the barbed wire has been removed," he added.

(Link to Full Article)

 

The Ziggurat of Ur...

The Great Ziggurat of Ur was a temple of Nanna, the moon deity in Sumerian mythology, and has two stages constructed from brick: in the lower stage the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the upper stage they are joined with mortar. The temple was built in 2,100 B.C. during the reign of Ur-Nammu and stands 70 feet (21 m) high).

An early image of the Ziggurat from the 1920's.

An image of the building after restoration.

Artistic reconstruction of the original complete structure.

The ziggurat is believed to have been the precursor to the Egyptian pyramids, which began with the Djosers 1st Dynasty Step-pyramid at Saqqara.

(More about pyramids)

 

Excavations:

The city was first excavated in 1853 and 1854 by British consul J. E. Taylor, who uncovered the then sand-covered remains of the famed ziggurat of Ur which was dedicated to the moon god Nanna in Sumerian mythology and the Babylonian equivalent Sin in Babylonian mythology.  However, the excavation of the actual city did not happen until 1918 when the British Museum funded an excavation under the leadership of British archaeologists Reginald C. Thompson and H. R. H. Hall.  Though excavation ceased in 1919, it was restarted in 1922 in a joint expedition by the British Museum and the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley.  Ending in 1934, this last expedition was the one that provided the most information on this mighty city of over 200 000 residents at its peak.

In addition to excavating the ziggurat completely, the expedition unearthed the entire temple area at Ur and parts of the residential and commercial quarters of the city. The most spectacular discovery was that of the Royal Cemetery, dating from about 2600BC and containing art treasures of gold, silver, bronze, and precious stones. The findings left little doubt that the deaths of the king and queen of Ur were followed by the voluntary death of their courtiers and personal attendants and of the court soldiers and musicians. Within the city itself were discovered thousands of cuneiform tablets comprising administrative and literary documents dating from about 2700 to the 4th century BC. The deepest levels of the city contained traces of a flood, alleged to be the deluge of Sumerian, Babylonian, and Hebrew legend.

Most of the treasures excavated at Ur are in the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

 

 

   Discoveries at Ur:

 

  • Golden Ram in Bush. Ur. Royal Graveyard - c 2,500 BC.

This is one of an almost identical pair discovered by Leonard Woolley in the 'Great Death Pit', one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The other is now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. It was named the 'Ram in a Thicket' by the excavator Leonard Woolley, who liked biblical allusions. In Genesis 22:13, God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but at the last moment 'Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son'. (4)

The tube rising from the goat's shoulders suggests it was used to support something, most likely a bowl.

 

 

  • The Sumerian Gold Lyre, c. 2650 BC (B17694)


Among the estimated 170,000 valuable antiquities that filled Iraq's Baghdad Museum prior to its tragic looting in April 2003, some of civilization's oldest musical instruments were proudly exhibited. The Gold Lyre (replica, right) was one of more than a dozen Sumerian stringed instruments discovered at the ancient site of Ur in 1927.

The Lament of Ur:

For the gods have abandoned us

like migrating birds they have gone

Ur is destroyed, bitter is its lament

The country's blood now fills its holes like hot bronze in a mould

Bodies dissolve like fat in the sun. Our temple is destroyed

Smoke lies on our city like a shroud.

blood flows as the river does

the lamenting of men and women

sadness abounds

Ur is no more.

 

 

  • Game board and tokens.

 

  • Sumerian cylinder Seals: Lapis Lazuli seal. C. 2400 - 2,500 BC. (B16852).

 

The Indus Valley seals.

(Genesis. Ch.11) - 'And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the East, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there'...

Archaeologists can use both the trade in seals themselves, as well as the distances between seals and the corresponding sealings, to trace long-distance trade networks. One such set of seals were manufactured around 1,900 B.C. on two important island trading cities in the Persian Gulf - Bahrein and Failaka. These seals were traded all over the Middle East, and have been found at diverse and distant locations such as Susa in Iran, Bactria in Afghanistan, Ur in Iraq, and Lothal on the west coast of India. By 1,750 B.C. Common Style seals are found in locations ranging from Spain, to Mycenaean Greece, to Marlik near the shores of the Caspian Sea. These seals were made from faience, a less expensive material, and used by smaller merchants. (5)

The first objects unearthed from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were small stone seals inscribed with elegant depictions of animals, including unicorn-like figures, and marked with Indus script writing which still baffles scholars. These seals are dated back to 2,500 B. C. Source: North Park University, Chicago, Illinois.

The first cylinder seals belonged to the now long dead civilization of the Sumerians, the inhabitants of Nippur, Lagash, and other cities on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in what is now Iraq. They spoke a strange language -- neither Semitic nor Indo-European, the family of languages spoken by many later civilizations and the most current inhabitants of the Middle East. Sumerian was an tongue, bearing resemblance to such diverse languages as Turkish, Finnish, Japanese, and Dravidian. Indeed, it was probably some version of the latter tongue that was spoken by their neighbours, the early inhabitants of the Indus river valley. These Indus valley people developed, soon after the Sumerians, their own civilization and unique style of seals. Modern speakers of Dravidian languages are scattered all over the Indian subcontinent, including remnants in Afghanistan and a large number of Tamils in southern India.

Seal impressions have been found in the ancient city of Harrapan, in the Indus River valley (modern Pakistan), that had been made by seals found in Lagash in Sumeria (modern Iraq). From 3,600 B.C. in Sumer, and a little later in the Indus Valley, we can find seals made out of a rare high-quality stone, lapis lazuli. These stones could only have originated from rather distant and inaccessible mines in Afghanistan.

(More about Mohenjo Dharo and the Indus Valley Civilisation IVC)

 

 

Gilgamesh: From Europe to the Indus Valley.

It was long suspected that there was a connection between the early dynastic Egyptians and the Sumerians. The Knife found at the Royal cemetery in Abydoss (right), with its depiction of Gilgamesh, is proof enough, but the following information suggests that this prehistoric cultural link may have been stronger than once thought.

Gilgamesh in Mohenjo Daro, Indus Valley (left), Sumeria (centre) and Abydoss, Egypt (right).

The 'Gilgamesh' figure is an iconic Sumerian image, found in other prehistoric civilisations such as Early Dynastic Egypt and the Indus Valley. The same image with a central figure, but with felines flanking a 'female' and not a male figure can be traced back through other prehistoric locations such as the Mycenaean, Anatolian and Maltese civilisations.

If we go back further into Anatolian prehistory to Catal hoyuk (8,000 B.C.), for example, we can also compare the figurine of a large female sitting upon a throne flanked by either Lions or leopards (right). The Prehistoric European Earth Goddess or Cybele (left), is also often depicted enthroned with lions as was the Minoan mountain goddess (centre).

It is interesting to note, in relation to the prehistoric images of an Earth-Mother-Goddess with Lions on either side, that the Egyptians used the symbol of two lions 'Aker' to represent the horizon. In this context, we can see through these earlier iconic images of a female Earth-Mother-Goddess flanked by felines, a depiction of the literal Earth itself.

(More about Earth Mother Goddess)

 

The same symbols were later used as 'guardians' of important cities, temples etc.

(From left to right - Persepolis, Alaya Huyuk, Mycenae - flanking the 'world-pillar')

(Cross-cultural similarities between Sumeria and Egypt)

 

(Other Sumerian Sites)

 

 

The 'Rough Guide' to ancient sites from around the world.

 

References:

1). http://www.markville.ss.yrdsb.edu.on.ca/history/16th/jleungUR.html
2). http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/neareast/g/121007Ur.htm
3). http://archaeology.about.com/od/uterms/g/ur.htm
4). http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/the_ram_in_a_thicket.aspx
5). http://history-world.org/sumeria.htm.
6). http://ablemedia.com/ctcweb/consortium/vammesopotamia8.html
7). Jane McIntosh. Ancient Mesopotamia. 2005. ABC-CLIO Publ.

 

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