Height: 6.000 cm
Length: 16.500 cm
Room 56: Mesopotamia
from Ur, southern
Early Dynastic period, about 2600-2400 BC
From the grave of 'Queen' Pu-abi
This is the only obsidian vessel recorded in the graves of the Royal Cemetery, and it is from the exceptionally rich tomb of 'Queen' Pu-abi. There are references to fragments of obsidian vessels or lids in third-millennium BC levels, in the account of Sir Leonard Woolley, the excavator at Ur. The vessel is a close copy of local metal vessels so it would appear to have been made in Sumer, if not actually at Ur.
Obsidian is a volcanic glass, and was one of the most sought after materials in prehistoric times, as it produced a very sharp cutting edge and made excellent tools. However, from the later fourth millennium BC, there was an increasing use of metals for tools in Mesopotamia, and obsidian becomes less and less common, though the stone, as here, continued to be imported for decorative purposes and for luxury goods.
There are major sources of this natural volcanic glass in central and eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey). Obsidian from different sources has slightly different characteristics, and it may eventually be possible to determine exactly where this example originated.
C.L. Woolley and others, Ur Excavations, vol. II: The R (London, The British Museum Press, 1934)
T.C. Mitchell, Sumerian art: illustrated by o (London, The British Museum Press, 1969)