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Clay coffin

General view of the coffin.

  • Detail of stamped decoration.

    Detail of stamped decoration.


Length: 1.960 m

Excavated by W.K. Loftus

ME 92006

Middle East

    Clay coffin

    Parthian, 1st century AD
    From Uruk, southern Iraq

    Decorated with figures of swordsmen

    This is one of three complete coffins excavated at Uruk by W.K. Loftus in 1850. Loftus records that he only succeeded in removing them 'after many fruitless attempts and the demolition of perhaps a hundred specimens'. The body and lid are decorated with stamped figures of soldiers covered with a green glaze.

    The coffin dates to the Parthian period, when Uruk was a flourishing religious centre, its temples rebuilt on a massive scale. Burial practices at this time were diverse. In northern Mesopotamia bodies were placed in stone-lined graves. In the south, as at Uruk, bodies were sometimes interred in these so-called slipper-coffins with oval lids.

    Scientific analysis in The British Museum indicates for the first time how these remarkable objects were made. They were built by joining slabs of clay to form a slipper-like shape, adding a finer clay skim and impressing or incising the decoration; the final stages involve covering the outside with a green glaze and firing the coffins in an upright position within the kiln. The hole in the foot of the coffin was probably intended to ease the manufacture.

    J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)

    D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

    J.E Curtis, ''Loftus' Parthian cemetery at Warka' in Akten des VII. Internationalee (Munich, 7-10 September 1979)


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