Length: 21.000 inches (laid flat)
Room 56: Mesopotamia
Gold and lapis lazuli beads
From Ur, southern Iraq
About 2600-2400 BC
Discovered in the 'Great Death-Pit'
This collection of jewellery was discovered overlying a skull in the 'Great Death-Pit' in the cemetery at Ur. The skull, crushed flat by the weight of soil which was used to fill up the grave, was that of one of the serving ladies who appear to have been sacrificial victims accompanying the central burial. There was a total of seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women - laid in rows on the floor of the pit. Leonard Woolley, the excavator, suggested that bowls found beside many of the bodies may have contained poison, which they took as part of the burial ritual. An alternative is that they were killed.
The jewellery includes a gold hair ribbon, a wreath of gold pendants, a silver comb with inlaid flowers, gold ear-rings and necklaces of gold and lapis lazuli beads. Blue lapis lazuli was one of the most prestigious and valuable of stones. 'Lapis-like' was a standard way of describing unusual wealth in ancient documents and it was often associated with gods and heroes.
P.R.S. Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian materials (Oxford, 1994)
C.L. Woolley and others, Ur Excavations, vol. II: The R (London, The British Museum Press, 1934)