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Queen Puabi seated, with attendants, circa 2600 BC. Queen Puabi with attendants.jpg
Queen Puabi seated, with attendants, circa 2600 BC.
Reconstructed Sumerian headgear necklaces found in the tomb of Puabi, housed at the British Museum Reconstructed sumerian headgear necklaces british museum.JPG
Reconstructed Sumerian headgear necklaces found in the tomb of Puabi, housed at the British Museum

Puabi (Akkadian: 𒅤𒀀𒉿 Pu-A-Bi "Word of my father"), also called Shubad due to a misinterpretation by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, was an important person in the Sumerian city of Ur, during the First Dynasty of Ur (c. 2600 BC). [4] Commonly labeled as a "queen", her status is somewhat in dispute, although several cylinder seals in her tomb identify her by the title " nin " or "eresh", a Sumerian word denoting a queen or a priestess. As most women’s cylinder seals at the time would include a reference to one’s husband, Puabi’s seal does not place her in relation to any king or husband, which supports the theory that she ruled on her own. [5] The fact that Puabi, herself a Semitic Akkadian, was an important figure among Sumerians, indicates a high degree of cultural exchange and influence between the ancient Sumerians and their Semitic neighbors. Although little is known about Puabi's life, the discovery of Puabi’s tomb and its death pit reveals important information as well as raises questions about Mesopotamian society and culture.

Akkadian language extinct Semitic language

Akkadian is an extinct East Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia from the 30th century BC until its gradual replacement by Akkadian-influenced Old Aramaic among Mesopotamians by the eighth century BC.

Sumer Ancient civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia

Sumer is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and one of the first civilizations in the world along with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place. Prehistoric proto-writing dates back before 3000 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date to between roughly c. 3500 and c. 3000 BC.

Ur Archaeological site in Iraq

Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, located at the site of modern Tell el-Muqayyar in south Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate. Although Ur was once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf, the coastline has shifted and the city is now well inland, on the south bank of the Euphrates, 16 kilometres from Nasiriyah in modern-day Iraq.


Tomb of Puabi

British archaeologist Leonard Woolley [6] discovered the tomb of Puabi, which was excavated between 1922 and 1934 by a joint team sponsored by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Puabi's tomb was found along with some 1,800 other graves at the "Royal Cemetery of Ur". Puabi's tomb was clearly unique among the other excavations, not only because of the large number of high-quality and well-preserved grave goods, but also because her tomb had been untouched by looters through the millennia.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Leonard Woolley British archaeologist

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley was a British archaeologist best known for his excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia. He is recognized as one of the first "modern" archaeologists, who excavated in a methodical way, keeping careful records, and using them to reconstruct ancient life and history. Woolley was knighted in 1935 for his contributions to the discipline of archaeology.. He married the British archaeologist Katharine Woolley.

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology archaeological museum

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology—commonly called the Penn Museum—is an archaeology and anthropology museum that is part of the University of Pennsylvania. It is located on Penn's campus in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Headgear of queen Puabi Ur excavations (1900) (14580924750).jpg
Headgear of queen Puabi

Objects in the Tomb

The number of grave goods that Woolley uncovered in Puabi's tomb was staggering, and included a magnificent, heavy, golden headdress made of golden leaves, rings, and plates; a superb lyre (see Lyres of Ur), complete with the golden and lapis-lazuli encrusted bearded bull's head; a profusion of gold tableware; golden, carnelian, and lapis lazuli cylindrical beads for extravagant necklaces and belts; a chariot adorned with lionesses' heads in silver, and an abundance of silver, lapis lazuli, and golden rings and bracelets, as well as her headdress, a belt made of gold rings, carnelian and lapis beads, and other various rings and earrings. Puabi’s headdress drew inspiration from nature in its floral motifs and is made up of gold ribbons and leaves, lapis and carnelian beads, and gold flowers. [7]

Lyres of Ur

The Lyres of Ur or Harps of Ur are considered to be the world's second oldest surviving stringed instruments after the ones discovered in the Maykop culture. In 1929, archaeologists led by the British archaeologist Leonard Woolley, representing a joint expedition of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, discovered the instruments when excavating the Royal Cemetery of Ur between from 1922 and 1934. They discovered pieces of three lyres and one harp in Ur, located in what was Ancient Mesopotamia and is contemporary Iraq. They are over 4,500 years old, from ancient Mesopotamia during the Early Dynastic III Period. The decorations on the lyres are fine examples of the court art of Mesopotamia of the period.

Tableware items used for setting a table and serving food

Tableware are the dishes or dishware used for setting a table, serving food and dining. It includes cutlery, glassware, serving dishes and other useful items for practical as well as decorative purposes. The quality, nature, variety and number of objects varies according to culture, religion, number of diners, cuisine and occasion. For example, Middle Eastern, Indian or Polynesian food culture and cuisine sometimes limits tableware to serving dishes, using bread or leaves as individual plates. Special occasions are usually reflected in higher quality tableware.

Lapis lazuli A contact metamorphic rock containing lazurite, pyrite and calcite

Lapis lazuli, or lapis for short, is a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense color.

The "Death Pit"

Cylinder seal of Queen Puabi, found in her tomb. Inscription Pu-A-Bi-Nin "Queen Puabi". The last word "" can either be pronounced Nin "lady", or Eresh "queen". Flickr - Nic's events - British Museum with Cory and Mary, 6 Sep 2007 - 185.jpg
Cylinder seal of Queen Puabi, found in her tomb. Inscription 𒅤𒀀𒉿 𒊩𒌆Pu-A-Bi-Nin "Queen Puabi". The last word "𒊩𒌆" can either be pronounced Nin “lady”, or Eresh “queen”.

A number of “death pits” were also found outside of the chambers as well as above Puabi’s chamber, which calls into question the initial attribution of the death pits to Puabi specifically. [12] The largest and most well-known death pit held 74 attendants, 6 men and 68 women, all adorned with various gold, silver, and lapis decoration, and one female figure that appeared to be more elaborately adorned than the others. [13] She was also buried with 52 attendants: servants, guards, horse, lions, a chariot, and several other bodies retainers who were suspected by excavator Leonard Woolley to have poisoned themselves (or been poisoned by others) to serve their mistress in the next world. In Puabi’s chamber, the remains of three other people were found, and these personal servants had minor adornments of their own. The pit found above Puabi’s chamber contained 21 attendants, an elaborate harp/lyre, a chariot, and what was left of a large chest of personal grooming items. Due to the location of the pits and general lack of evidence, it is largely unclear whether the death pits can be directly linked to Puabi. [12]

Theories of Cause of Death

Recent evidence derived from CAT scans through the University of Pennsylvania Museum suggests that some of the sacrifices were likely violent and caused by blunt force trauma. A pointed, weighted tool could explain the shatter patterns on the skulls that resulted in death, while a small hammer-like tool was also found, retrieved and catalogued by Woolley during his original excavation. The size and weight fit the damage sustained by the two bodies examined by Aubrey Baadsgaard, PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Cinnabar, or mercury vapour residue, was observed as well, and it would have been utilized to prevent or slow the decomposition of the bodies for the necessary funerary rites. [14]

Cinnabar Red mercury sulfide mineral

Cinnabar and cinnabarite, likely deriving from the Ancient Greek: κιννάβαρι (kinnabari), refer to the common bright scarlet to brick-red form of mercury(II) sulfide (HgS) that is the most common source ore for refining elemental mercury, and is the historic source for the brilliant red or scarlet pigment termed vermilion and associated red mercury pigments.

Queen's Lyre, one of the Lyres of Ur, Ur Royal Cemetery. Queen's Lyre Ur Royal Cemetery.jpg
Queen's Lyre, one of the Lyres of Ur, Ur Royal Cemetery.


Puabi's physical remains, including pieces of the badly damaged skull, are kept in the Natural History Museum, London. [15] The excavated finds from Woolley's expedition were divided among the British Museum in London, the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the National Museum in Baghdad. Several pieces of the treasure were looted from the National Museum in the aftermath of the Second Gulf War in 2003. Recently, several of the more spectacular pieces from Puabi's grave have been the feature of a highly successful Art and History Museum tour through the United Kingdom and the United States.

Natural History Museum, London Natural history museum in London

The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.

British Museum National museum in the Bloomsbury area of London

The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence, having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It was the first public national museum in the world.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

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<i>Ram in a Thicket</i>

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Royal Cemetery at Ur archaeological place in the current province of Dhi Qar, in southern Iraq

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Katharine Woolley, née Menke was a British military nurse and archaeologist who worked principally at the Mesopotamian site of Ur. She was married to archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley.

Bull Headed Lyre of Ur

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  1. British Museum notice WA 121544
  2. Crawford, Harriet (2013). The Sumerian World. Routledge. p. 622. ISBN   9781136219115.
  3. Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and; Hansen, Donald P.; Pittman, Holly (1998). Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur. UPenn Museum of Archaeology. p. 78. ISBN   9780924171550.
  4. Diakonoff, I. M. (2013). Early Antiquity. University of Chicago Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN   9780226144672.
  5. "Queen Puabi's Headdress from the Royal Cemetery at Ur - Penn Museum". www.penn.museum. Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  6. Wooley, Leonard (1934). Ur Excavations II, The Royal Cemetery. London-Philadelphia. p. 73 & ss.
  7. Hafford, William B. (Spring 2018). "A Spectacular Discovery: Burials Simple and Splendid". Expedition: 62–63.
  8. British Museum notice WA 121544
  9. Crawford, Harriet (2013). The Sumerian World. Routledge. p. 622. ISBN   9781136219115.
  10. Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and; Hansen, Donald P.; Pittman, Holly (1998). Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur. UPenn Museum of Archaeology. p. 78. ISBN   9780924171550.
  11. James, Sharon L.; Dillon, Sheila (2015). A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. John Wiley & Sons. p. 9. ISBN   9781119025542.
  12. 1 2 Hafford, William B. (Spring 2018). "A Spectacular Discovery: Burials Simple and Splendid". Expedition: 65.
  13. "The Death Pit" . Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  14. Baadsgaard, A., Monge, J., Cox, S., & Zettler, R. L. (2012). Bludgeoned, Burned, and Beautified: Reevaluating Mortuary Practices in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Sacred killing: the archaeology of sacrifice in the ancient Near East (pp. 125-158). Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns.
  15. Jennifer Y. Chi, Pedro Azara. From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics. p. 51.