Ostrich egg jar

From Ur, southern Iraq
About 2600-2200 BC

Leonard Woolley discovered this jar in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. Though such shells were fairly common in the graves, because of their fragile nature they were generally broken beyond preservation. It is uncertain which grave this one came from.

Ostrich shells were often cut open at the top to serve as cups or bowls and decorated with a band of mosaic round the rim. A disc of similar mosaic was added at the base. The jars were decorated in different ways: Woolley discovered one in fragments which had a tall neck and mouth of clay and a high clay foot covered with mosaic. Another cup, found in one of the 'Royal Graves', took the form of an ostrich shell, but was made of gold. It also had mosaic rim and base. Similar imitations in silver were found in the same tomb. They were also too broken and decayed for preservation.

Ostriches were found widely throughout the Near East in antiquity, but hunting gradually reduced their numbers. They were sometimes represented in art. Ostriches were still found in Arabia in the nineteenth century but the last few disappeared in the first half of the twentieth century.

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More information


C.L. Woolley and others, Ur Excavations, vol. II: The R (London, The British Museum Press, 1934)


Museum number

ME 123556



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