The royal tombs of Ur revealed Mesopotamia's golden splendor

Dating from 2600-2300 B.C., a decorative bull's head of gold and lapis lazuli adorns a lyre discovered in the tomb of Queen Puabi in Ur.
The 1920s marked a golden age in high-profile archaeological discoveries. Beginning with Howard Carter’s landmark 1922 discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian king Tutankhamun, the decade would end with another stunning find: Leonard Woolley’s discovery of intact Mesopotamian royal tombs dating back more than 4,000 years in the ancient city of Ur, located 140 miles southeast of Babylon in modern-day Iraq. The tombs were the work of the ancient culture of Sumer that had flourished at the dawn of civilization.

 The discovery of the tombs dominated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, not only for the quantity and craftsmanship of the objects found but also for the light they shed on the grisly nature of Sumerian burial practices. The finds included exquisitely crafted jewelry and musical instruments, as well as large numbers of bodies: servants and soldiers entombed alongside their dead sovereigns.


Epic exploration

Scholarly and public fascination with the ancient culture of Mesopotamia had been steadily growing since the latter part of the 19th century. It was in December 1872 that an Assyriologist, George Smith, presented a paper to a packed session of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, attended by the British prime minister, William Gladstone. What he unveiled in his lecture caused an international sensation.
War, Peace, and Sacrifice Known as the Standard of Ur, this box is held at the British Museum. It depicts scenes of peace on one side (above) and war on the other. It was found in a royal tomb near the body of a sacrificed man.