Height: 112.000 cm
Excavated by C.L. Woolley
Room 56: Mesopotamia
From Ur, southern Iraq, about 2600-2400 BC
Music for the afterlife
Leonard Woolley discovered several lyres in the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. This was one of two that he found in the grave of 'Queen' Pu-abi. Along with the lyre, which stood against the pit wall, were the bodies of ten women with fine jewellery, presumed to be sacrificial victims, and numerous stone and metal vessels. One woman lay right against the lyre and, according to Woolley, the bones of her hands were placed where the strings would have been.
The wooden parts of the lyre had decayed in the soil, but Woolley poured plaster of Paris into the depression left by the vanished wood and so preserved the decoration in place. The front panels are made of lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone originally set in bitumen. The gold mask of the bull decorating the front of the sounding box had been crushed and had to be restored. While the horns are modern, the beard, hair and eyes are original and made of lapis lazuli.
This musical instrument was originally reconstructed as part of a unique 'harp-lyre', together with a harp from the burial, now also in The British Museum. Later research showed that this was a mistake. A new reconstruction, based on excavation photographs, was made in 1971-72.
A similar bull-lyre is depicted on the Standard of Ur.
J. Rimmer, Ancient musical instruments of (London, The British Museum Press, 1969)
C.L. Woolley and others, Ur Excavations, vol. II: The R (London, The British Museum Press, 1934)