JAIC 2003, Volume 42, Number 2, Article 6 (pp. 261 to 278)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2003, Volume 42, Number 2, Article 6 (pp. 261 to 278)




The site of Ur is located near the Euphrates River in southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Inhabited from the 4th to the 1st millennium B.C., Ur was one of the southernmost large cities of Mesopotamia, an important administrative and commercial center with substantial facilities for water transport.

Ur was excavated from 1922 to 1934 by a joint expedition of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum, directed by C. L. Woolley under a permit granted by the Iraq Antiquities Service. Among the most important areas excavated by Woolley was the Royal Cemetery. The 16 burials he identified as royal tombs all have a chamber of stone or mud-brick set at the bottom of a pit that was approached by a ramp. The pits were filled with the bodies of servants who were sacrificed at the time of the primary burial. The tombs were lavishly provided with tools, weapons, vessels of various kinds, personal ornaments, and musical instruments. The levels in which the royal tombs are located have been dated by carbon 14 to 2600–2500 B.C. (Moorey 1977, 24).

Although many of the objects allocated to the University of Pennsylvania Museum were sent to Philadelphia in “as excavated” condition, several major pieces, including a lyre with a bull head of gold, silver, and lapis lazuli and a frontal plaque of shell set in bitumen, had been restored (figs. 1a, b, see page 246). The bull head, crushed and severely distorted when uncovered (de Schauensee 2001, pl. 30), had been reshaped and provided with an entirely new soundbox, the original having survived only as an impression in the ground. Unfortunately, the dimensions of the restored soundbox did not match the measurements given in the excavation report (Woolley 1934, 70), and the box had been decorated with reproduction inlay modeled after the genuine inlay from another lyre.

When it became possible to have a new soundbox constructed, the head was removed from the old soundbox and brought to the Conservation Laboratory for examination and treatment. Initially there was no thought of taking the head apart; the intent was to clean the surface and make minor repairs.1

Copyright 2003 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works