Copper frieze

From the temple of Ninhursag, Tell al-'Ubaid, southern Iraq
About 2600-2400 BC

A rare metalwork survival

This relief was one of a group of objects found at the small site of Tell al-'Ubaid, close to the remains of the city of Ur. It was discovered at the base of a mud-brick platform on which had been built a temple dedicated to the goddess Ninhursag.

The frieze may have originally stood above the door of the temple, and if so, is the most striking element of what survives of the temple façade. The frieze was badly damaged when it was found. Only one stag's head was recovered intact and the head of the eagle had to be restored. This restoration, based on images of similar date, shows the lion-headed eagle Imdugud, the symbol of the god Ningirsu. The artist has allowed the lion head to break out of the confines of the framework, suggesting Imdugud's great power.

The relief is formed from sheets of copper alloy beaten into shape and fastened, with pins and twisted lengths of copper, to a wooden core coated with bitumen. The survival of such a large piece of metalwork from this period is exceptional. Though copper, probably from the regions of modern Oman and Iran, was the most widely-used metal at this time, most metal objects have either disintegrated or the metal was melted down and re-used.

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More information


H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

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

M. Roaf, Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia (New York, 1990)

H.R. Hall and C.L. Woolley, Ur Excavations, vol. I: Al-Uba (London, Oxford University Press, 1927)


Length: 2.590 m
Height: 1.070 m

Museum number

ME 114308 (1919.10-11.4874)


Excavated by H.R.H. Hall


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