Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Queen's Lyre; reconstruction; wooden parts, pegs and string are modern; lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone mosaic decoration, set in bitumen and the head (but not the horns) of the bull are ancient; the bull's head in front of the sound box is covered with gold; the eyes are lapis lazuli and shell and the hair and beard are lapis lazuli; the significance of the beard is not known; panel on front depicts lion-headed eagle between gazelles, bulls with plants on hills, a bull-man between leopards and a lion attacking a bull; edges of the sound-box decorated with inlay bands; eleven gold-headed pegs for the strings.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 2600BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 112.5 centimetres
    • Length: 73 centimetres
    • Width: 7 centimetres (of body)
    • Length: 95.5 centimetres (top bar)
    • Length: 18 centimetres (pins)
  • Curator's comments

    Original parafin wax of the field reconstruction partially melted, with the detachment of the beard, following an intense buildup of heat in the relevant gallery on 1 July 1961 (Report to Trustees, 8 July 1961). The object was consolidated, and apparently reconstructed in 1971/72 from part of Woolley's harp-lyre 121198."Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years" catalogue entry

    Queen’s lyre
    Southern Iraq, Sumerian, about 2600-2400 BC
    From Ur
    Lapis lazuli, shell, red limestone and gold
    H112 cm
    Excavated by C L Woolley
    ANE 121198a

    J Rimmer, Ancient musical instruments of Western Asia in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1969), p. 17, fig. 3
    C L Woolley and others, Ur Excavations, vol. II: The Royal Cemetery (London, The British Museum Press, 1934), pp. 249-52, 74-77

    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.


  • Bibliography

    • Aruz & Wallenfels 2003a bibliographic details
    • Rimmer J 1969a bibliographic details
    • Woolley et al 1934a pl. 114 bibliographic details
    • Miyashita S 2004a pp. 3-4 (part of discussion of harps and lyres) bibliographic details
    • Imaginary Museum 2012 pp.8-9 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' 2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' 2012 27 Apr - 29 Jul, Moscow, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, 'The Imaginary Museum' 2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.12 1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.12 1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.12

  • Condition

    Gold surface slightly dented on the edge of the left ear and some minor cracks across the face (2006 condition report)

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Objects allotted to the British Museum from Ur excavation season 1927-1928.

  • Department

    Middle East

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • U.10412 (excavation number)


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Object reference number: WCO24684

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