Shell plaque

From Ur, southern Iraq, about 2600-2400 BC

A priest making a liquid offering

This plaque was found by Leonard Woolley while he excavated the cemetery at Ur. It was loose in the surface soil, and it is not known to what it was originally attached.

It is unusually large in comparison with other plaques. The carved image of a man seems to depict a priest, since he is clean shaven and naked, typical preparation for purification. He pours a libation (liquid offering) before a post supported on bull's legs. It is likely that the image continued on another plaque above, since the two ribbons hanging from the top may have been attached to the pole and a cult image. The date of the manufacture has been deduced from the style of carving.

The shell itself probably came from the Gulf. Shell, often combined with different coloured stones, was one of the most popular ways of decorating objects in Sumer. It was used to decorate wooden items such as fine musical instruments and pieces of furniture, as well as pillars and wall panels.

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More information


J.E. Reade, Mesopotamia (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

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)


Height: 7.500 cm
Width: 4.600 cm

Museum number

ME 120850



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