No excavation in the more than one hundred fifty years of archaeological work in Mesopotamia has excited as much public attention as Charles Leonard Woolley's work at Tell al-Muqayyar, ancient Ur, Biblical “Ur of the Chaldees,” in the 1920s and early 1930s. Newspapers around the world printed countless articles about the excavations, and of all Woolley's discoveries the “Royal Cemetery of Ur,” an extensive and long-lived burial ground that included the richly apportioned tombs of the kings and queens who ruled the city-state during the late Early Dynastic period, ca. 2500 BCE, probably received more intense coverage than any other.
Woolley recovered a wealth of exotic artifacts from Ur’s sixteen royal tombs, but the evidence for the burial of guards, court attendants, musicians and mourners with Ur’s kings and queens fascinated and shocked Western spectators with the suggestion of “human sacrifice” in the “cradle of civilization.”
Old Excavations and New Tricks will focus on the attendants buried with Ur’s kings and queens, re-examining Woolley’s assumption that they had gone willingly to their deaths, by drinking some deadly or soporific drug. Recent forensic analysis of the skulls of two royal attendants in the University of Pennsylvania Museum has provided compelling evidence that they had been killed by a blow to the head. It also turned up some limited evidence for the post-mortem treatment of the corpses.
Richard L. Zettler is the Department Chair, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania; Associate Curator in Charge, Near East, Penn Museum. He is an archaeologist specializing in Mesopotamia. He received his MA and PhD (1984) in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago.
He is currently working on the publication of the excavations of the temple of Inanna at Nippur, which took place in the 1950s and early 60s, and his own excavations at Tell es-Sweyhat. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Zettler is Associate Curator-in-Charge of Penn Museum’s Near East Section, which houses more than 100,000 artifacts from excavations across the Middle East. He co-curated Penn Museum’s Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur, a highly successful travelling exhibit which appeared at venues across the U.S. from 1998-2007. He collaborated on the re-installation of the Museum’s collections from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, entitled Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering the Royal Cemetery of Ur.
NOTE: Programs and dates are subject to change.