The location of the ancient Ur city is in southern Iraq. The city had no inhabitant for a very long time after Euphrates River changed its course leaving the land unbearable for a human being and animals. River Euphrates was the primary source of water and people used water to irrigate their crops.
Early archaeologists dug the surface and unearthed many graves, and some of the graves had impressive names attached to them. One of these archaeologists is Leonard Woolley; he began his excavation in 1922 on behalf of the British Museum (Woolley, 1954). The large cemetery has been operating for the duration of three centuries starting with second half of the third millennium BC. According to Woolley, male and female corpses were found with their belongings that identified them as either rich or poor (Dickson, 2006).
Large number scholars all over the world have agreed on with the excavation of Sir Leonard Woolley and his interpretation of the Royal Graves at Ur. According to Woolley results, he implies that people sacrificed along with the reign and they were willing to die out of their loyalty, devotion, and faith in the dead monarchs. The rulers owned a divine status to the society, and the followers reacted by the steps taken by their leaders. The height of discussion rose when the excavator found that the tomb of the king had other peoples especially soldiers and other top officials who were the close follower of the king. There is an implication that these servants had supernatural faith on their divine ruler. Woolley excavated more than 1800 graves, and he found that most of these graves consisted of simple pits with the body put at the center of a clay coffin. Many materials surrounded the body especially vessels, jewelry and personal items. Among these graves, there was unusual grave made of stone tombs with several rooms, and those rooms had many bodies buried inside (Moorey, 1977). By 1927, Woolley identified sixteen burials distinguished by human sacrifices, and he maintained that these burial places belonged to kings and queens of Ur. On their death, they sacrificed part of their household.
In contrary to Woolley discoveries, it emerged other theories trying to prove that these graves were not royal tombs. They stated that these tombs were burials for priest and priestess who were put to death by people after representing chief god and goddess of Ur in a sacred marriage ceremony. Other scholars like Henri Frankfort argued that participants substituted kings and queens ritually, and they slaughtered them with by their attendants once their reign time gets over (Frankfort, 1956). Woolley objected these ideas because of their complexity and he did not find such information on his excavations. For instance, he says that sacred marriage involved a pair of lovers, and these would lead to the production of numerous tombs with double burials. He tried to mean that these sacrifices had purpose
Woolley classified sixteen royal with special structures. He found tomb –chamber of stone set at the bottom of the deep pit approached by a bank or a wall and burials of household servants, male and female with their master or mistress. These graves were well equipped comparing with individual graves. Also, Woolley found wheeled vehicles besides these tombs-pits although he did conclude that the vehicles portrayed the richness of the dead.
Archaeologists found that Queen Puabi’s tomb was a Royal Tombs, because of how well people maintained it for many centuries. People recognized that the tomb belonged to Queen Puabi because there was evidence of a cylinder seal where people wrote her name. There are a lot of debates about who Puabi is, whether she’s a queen or a priestess but there no full information about these arguments, but Puabi is believed to have died at the age of in between 40 to 50 years old at the time of her death, and that she was Akkadian. Her name in Akkadian is Pu’abi means “Commander of the Father.” In Sumerian, she is known as Shubad (Michalowski,. 2011). It might be it’s because of her legacy that made her burial special and preserved for a long time. Archaeologists found that inside Queen Puabis tomb, there was not only her skeleton ornamented with expensive jewelry, including a headdress made of, lapis lazuli, gold and carnelian, but also the skeletons of 26 attendants decorated with gold and lapis lazuli jewelry.
When Woolley discovered the Great Death Pit, he found that it was in poor conditions comparing to Royal tomb. There were a few stones and some gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian beads in exceptional conditions in the chamber. The Great Death Pit was an open place put aside where poor people like armed men were buried inside along with other bodies thought to belong to women or young girls. It is Meskalamdug, one of the kings of Ur who introduced massive burial of people. He started massive funeral with the sacrifice of soldiers and an entire choir of women to accompany him to the afterlife.
The Sumerians believed that the primary reasons for them to stay on this earth were to attend the gods, and, therefore, they would sacrifice themselves and follow their god/king when he died. Some scholars believe that these attendants were supposed to take care of the king or the queen after the resurrection for a new life. The above arguments try to show that people from Ur believe there is a supernatural being that control their life. Therefore, there is promise for a new life. People thought that the king or queen is in the tomb, and they need services and it is their workers who have the mandate to serve them (Zettler & Horne, 1998). Also, there is a belief that the king and queens should maintain the same title even after resurrection hence the company of their servant was relay crucial.
The arrangement of the ceremony was very clear and every person had to participate fully. The musicians held their harps, soldiers fully armed, and the court ladies dressed well in expensive clothing and beautiful headdresses would accompany their royal master into his grave. The procession looked like a ceremony but not like a burial. Sumerians believed that their King was immortal, and he cannot die. They perceived the death of a king like a rest because it was impossible for him to die (HOLLAND, 2009). So, his allies should accompany their rulers wherever they go even if they go to rest. Death means nothing to attendants of the masters. During the burial, the attendants surrounded the key person (the king) to protect him from any damage.
The early dynastic 111 A-Royal cemetery
After the discovery, Woolley assigned the 660 burials in the Early Dynastic royal cemetery. The majority here were inhuman that had body wrapped in reed matting or placed in a coffin, set at the bottom of a rectangular pit that had an average size of about 1.50 by 0.70 meters (Sylvester & Hillam, 2006). People placed the body on its side, with flexed legs, arms and hands put in front of the breast at about a level of the month. Clothes and all her belongings especially jewelry, cylinder sea, and dagger accompanied the dead during the burial (Frankfort, 1956).
The deceased held a cup, and a jar and a bowl that were nearby his body. Other goods surrounded the pit possibly to reflect the wealth and social status of an individual. Of the 660 burials, 16 were unique regarding wealth, and they represented the evidence of rituals (Van de Mieroop, 2007). Woolley termed them as Royal tombs assuming that it was only king and queens who were inside those tombs. The evidence that helped Woolley to construct such an assumption is the presence of a seal inscribed Meskalamdug, the king and the second one was Akalamdug, king of Ur and his wife, Ashusikikildingir (Van De Mieroop, 2016).
People set stone tomb chamber at the bottom of a deep pit, and the major body (the king or the queen) lay in the house, buried with substantial quantities of goods sometimes wheeled vehicles pulled by oxen. Other people especially attendant lie with the deceased king or queen and in the pit outside that Woolley termed as death pit. People who were in death pit were less significant comparing to those who accompanied the king because most of them were the close allies. Death pit comprised of soldiers, women and young people. Young people played a little role in Kingdom hence they had little recognition to the king and also the society. It was impossible for them to accompany the king to the tomb (Kogan, 2010).
The Burials of a king and queen
The most crucial artefacts come from two of the royal burials, PG 789 and PG 800. They have abundant of materials that archaeologists use to draw some shreds of evidence thus these tombs accommodated important people (Garfinkle, 2012). The joint between these tombs and their death pits is doubtful, but people still know these tombs are the final resting places of royalty. PG 789 may indeed have held a king, whose name is not known because there was no document to support, but PG 800 held a queen named Puabi.
PG 789’s death pit was well done, and it stayed undisturbed. At the foot of the access bank, there were bodies of six soldiers, wearing copper helmets and carrying spears representing an ideal that they are always armed to guard the king. In the entrance of the pit, there were two wagons, each drawn by three oxen. The wagons supported the bank of the pit; then bulls faced the entry to the pit. In the front of animals’ heads was a body, identified by Woolley as a groom. To the side of one wagon, there were two bodies, probably the drivers. To the northeast of the wagons, bodies covered the floor, and they were fifty-four in number. Women leaned against the southwest wall of the pit, labelled by Woolley as the “most richly decorated of all in the pit.” Of the rest, many were women, and the others who lined the narrow passage to the door of the tomb chamber were men. All these decoration were to accompany the god (king or queen).
In conclusions, it was due to endless duties of attendants that forced them to follow their king and queens when they die. They believed that royal people (the king and queens) needed service even while they are in the tombs. Furthermore, kings and queens were immortal, and they had a divine author to the people. So, these spiritual leaders were always on duty, and they needed a servant to help them.
Dickson, D.B. (2006) “Public transcripts expressed in theatres of cruelty: The Royal graves at Ur, Mesopotamia.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 16(2): 123-144.
Frankfort, H. (1956). The birth of civilization in the Near East. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Garfinkle, S. (2012). Entrepreneurs and enterprise in early Mesopotamia. Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press.
HOLLAND, G. S. (2009). Gods in the desert: religions of the ancient Near East. Lanham, Md, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Kogan, L. (2010). City administration in the ancient Near East. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns.
Michalowski, P. (2011). The correspondence of the kings of Ur. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
Moorey, P.R.S. (1977) “What do we know about the people buried in the Royal Cemetery?” Expedition 20(1): 24-40.
Sylvester, D. and Hillam, C. (2006). Ancient Mesopotamia. [Santa Barbara, Calif.?]: Learning Works.
VAN DE MIEROOP, M. (2016). A history of the ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC.
Van de Mieroop, M. (2007). A history of the ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 B.C.. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
Woolley, L. (1954). Excavations at Ur. London: E. Benn. Zettler, R. and Horne, L. (1998) Treasures from the Royal Tomb of Ur. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology