Skip to main content Accessibility help

Of Priestesses, Princes and Poor Relations: The Dead in the Royal Cemetery of Ur

  • Susan Pollock (a1)


Archaeological discoveries of dead individuals, usually in the form of burials, have frequently captured the imaginations of public and professional audiences alike. In addition to the allure of exotic artefacts and seemingly bizarre funeral rites, burials offer rich possibilities for investigating myriad aspects of past social, cultural and even individual life. This discussion focuses on one of the more renowned archaeological excavations of an ancient cemetery, the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Consideration of who was and who was not buried in the cemetery suggests that cemetery burial was the prerogative of those people who were closely attached to ‘public’ institutions. This leads to a number of observations on Sumerian treatment of the dead and attitudes toward death, as these can be approached from archaeological and textual sources.



Hide All
Alster, B., (ed) 1980. Death in Mesopotamia. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag
Delougaz, P., Hill, H. & Lloyd, S., 1967. Private Houses and Graves in the Diyala Region. Oriental Institute Publication 88. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Diakonoff, I.M., 1971. On the structure of Old Babylonian society, in Schriften zurGeschichte und Kultur des alten Orients I. ed. Klengel, H.. Beiträge zur Sozialen Struktur des alten Vorderasien. Berlin: Akademie Verlag Berlin, 1531
Ellison, R., Renfrew, J.M., Brothwell, D., & Seeley, N., 1978. Some food offerings from Ur, excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley, and previously unpublished. Journal of Archaeological Science 5, 167–77
Foxvog, D.A., 1980. Funerary furnishings in an early Sumerian text from Adab, in Death in Mesopotamia, ed. Alster, B.. Mesopotamia: Copenhagen Studies in Assyriology 8. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 6775
Gelb, I.J., 1979. Household and family in early Mesopotamia, in State and Temple Economy in the Ancient Near East, 1, ed. Lipinski, E.. Leuven: Katolieke Universiteit te Leuven
Gelb, I.J., Steinkeller, P., AND Whiting, R.M., 1991. Earliest Land Tenure Systems in the Near East: Ancient Kudurrus. Text. Oriental Institute Publications 104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Kovacs, M., 1989. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford: Stanford University Press
Kramer, S.N., 1947. ‘Gilgamesh and the land of the Living.’ Journal of Cuneiform Studies 1:346
Kramer, S.N., 1950. ‘Inanna's Descent to the Nether World’, continued and revised, part I. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 4, 199211
Kramer, S.N., 1951. ‘Inanna's Descent to the Nether World’, continued and revised, part II. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 5, 117
Kramer, S.N., 1969. Sumerian myths and epic tales, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. Pritchard, J.B.. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 3759
Mackay, E., 1925. Report on the Excavation of the ‘A’ Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia. Part I. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, Anthropology Memoirs 1(1)
Martin, H., 1988. Fara: A Reconstruction of the Ancient Mesopotamian City of Shuruppak. Birmingham: Chris Martin & Associates
Martin, K., Moon, J., & Postgate, J.N., 1985. Abu Salabikh Excavations, II: Graves 1 to 99. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq
Matthews, R.J. & Postgate, J.N., 1987. Excavations at Abu Salabikh 1985–1986. Iraq 49, 91119
Moorey, P.R.S., 1977. What do we know about the people buried in the Royal Cemetery of Ur? Expedition 20(1), 2440
Morris, I., 1987. Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Nissen, H.J., 1966. Zur Datierung des Konigsfriedhofes von Ur. Bonn: Rudolf Habelt
Pollock, S., 1983. The Symbolism of Prestige: An Archaeological Example from the Royal Cemetery of Ur. PhD dissertation, University of Michigan
Pollock, S., 1991. Women in a men's world: images of Sumerian women, in Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory, eds Gero, J. & Conkey, M.. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 366387
Postgate, J.N., 1980. Early Dynastic burial customs at Abu Salabikh. Sumer 36, 6582
Steele, C., 1990. Living With the Dead: House Burial at Abu Salabikh. PhD dissertation, SUNY-Binghamton
Steible, H., 1982. Die Altsumerischen Bau- und Weihinschriften. Teil 1: Inschriften aus ‘Lagas’. Freiburger Altorientalische Studien. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner
Steinkeller, P., 1980. Early dynastic burial offerings in the light of textual evidence. Unpublished paper read at the 190th meeting of the American Oriental Society, San Francisco, April 1980.
Steinkeller, P., 1990. Threshing implements in Ancient Mesopotamia: Cuneiform Sources. Iraq 52:1923
Winter, I., 1987. Women in public: the Disk of Enheduanna. The beginning of the office of enpriestess, and the weight of visual evidence, in La Femme dans le Proche-Orient Antique, ed. Durand, J-M.. Paris: Editions Recherches sur les Civilisations, 189201
Woolley, C.L., 1934. Ur Excavations, II: The Royal Cemetery. London: The British Museum
Woolley, C.L., 1954. Excavations at Ur. London: Ernest Benn
Wright, H.T., 1981. The southern margins of Sumer, in Heartland of Cities, ed. Adams, R.McC.. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 295345
Zagarell, A., 1986. Trade, women, class, and society in ancient Western Asia. Current Anthropology 27, 415–30
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed