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6.2.2 The Queen’s Lyre from the Royal Tombs of Ur

This photograph is of a lyre, an ancient string instrument. It is made of wood and is decorated with precious stones and gold. The base of the instrument is topped by a model of a bull’s head, in gold, with white horns.

Unknown Mesopotamian Artist
circa 2600 – 2400 BCE
British Museum

Unknown Mesopotamian artist. Lyre, 2600 – 2400 BCE, Sumerian, © The Trustees of the British Museum, #121198.a, 1928.1010.1.a,'s+lyre&page=1

The first photograph is of a lyre, a musical instrument. The wooden parts, pegs, and strings are modern recreations, but the decoration and the bull’s head were made between 2600 and 2400 BCE. The blue eyes, hair, and beard are made from lapis lazuli, a rare stone that came from the northern mountains of modern-day Afghanistan. The shell used in the front panels came from the northwest coast of South Asia (near the mouth of the Indus River). The bull’s head is covered with gold, which probably came from Persia. The lyre was found in the grave of a woman named Pu-abi in the Royal Cemetery at Ur in Mesopotamia. Find all of these places on the map. What do the location of these places tell us about Mesopotamian connections? Since the Mesopotamians did not use coins or any type of money, historians call these connections networks of exchange.

Our evidence for networks of exchange comes from archaeological finds, especially from graves of wealthy, powerful people. There is no evidence to show how the materials traveled from the Indus River and Afghanistan to Ur and how they were obtained. For this reason, historians use the term exchange rather than trade, which implies merchants and money. This lyre and the headdress of Source 3 were items found in the 1930s in excavations by Sir Leonard Woolley. He excavated in the compound surrounded by the ziggurat and temple complex dedicated to Nanna, the rain god and the patron god of the city of Ur. Out of the more than 2,000 graves, Woolley called 16 of them “royal tombs” because of their wealth and evidence of rituals. Woolley named the lyre “the Queen’s lyre” and the tomb the “King’s Tomb.” There were many attendants, probably sacrificed, buried in the tomb.