Silver 'lamp'

From Ur, southern Iraq
About 2600-2400 BC

The excavator Leonard Woolley discovered this silver vessel, often described as a 'lamp' in the first of the Royal Graves that he excavated at Ur. Though the pit had been completely ruined by ancient plunderers, traces of the original tomb chamber did remain. The floor of the pit was covered with matting and the bones of three humans were found. It is unclear from the excavation report whether Woolley discovered the vessel between two copper bowls or inside a copper pot. Either way it was protected by contact with the copper, and so was unusually well-preserved.

The eight-petalled rosette decorating the base is a common design found on objects and seals in Mesopotamia. Its original significance, if any, is not known. It later seems to have magical, protective qualities.

The silver for this vessel may have come from Anatolia (Turkey) or Iran. Analysis of remains in lamps found elsewhere in the Near East has shown that vegetable or fish oil was burnt to provide light. It seems more probable, however, that this vessel was used for pouring libations (liquid offerings) in a ritual.

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More information


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


Diameter: 10.300 cm (rim)
Weight: 78.000 g

Museum number

ME 120695



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