Silver fluted tumbler

From Ur, south Mesopotamia
Early Dynastic Period, about 2600-2400 BC

Survived destruction in a grave at Ur

This fluted tumbler comes from the Royal Cemetery at Ur. It is often only in undisturbed graves that we can glimpse the extraordinary abilities of the ancient metal workers. Metal was expensive in Mesopotamia, where there are no metal deposits. Also, little survives from antiquity because it was melted down and used again.

Several vessels like this one were found at Ur, often made from gold. Silver was widely used but unlike gold the metal corrodes and so does not survive so well.

We know that deposits of silver were worked in Iran from the fourth millennium BC. These could have supplied Mesopotamia. However, Anatolia has the greatest quantity of silver-bearing ores of any of Mesopotamia's neighbours and during the late fourth millennium silver may already have been extracted. Indeed, in the third millennium evidence strongly suggests silver was traded from Anatolia down the line of the River Euphrates into Sumer. It is not clear exactly which mining region was exploited.

A number of pieces of silver jewellery from Ur, now in the University Museum, Philadelphia, have been analysed, and they contain small percentages of copper. This may have resulted from repeated re-melting, or on purpose as an economy, or to try and harden the silver.

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Diameter: 10.000 cm
Weight: 159.000 g

Museum number

ME 122258



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