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PG 1237, Royal Cemetery of Ur: Patterns in Death

  • Massimo Vidale (a1)


This article discusses the identity of the people buried in the Great Death Pit PG 1237, a mass grave of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, and the ways they died and entered the shaft. Admittedly, the evidence required to positively solve the many taphonomic and osteological questions involved does not exist, because of the way the site was excavated and published in the early twentieth century. Nonetheless, the original excavators’ skill and unquestioned care in mapping and recording still prepares the ground for new alternative interpretations. As the ‘Rams Caught in a Thicket’ (two statuettes found in the mass grave) may have been the front parts of lyres, and almost all the dead might have entered the shaft impersonating musicians, singers and dancers, the paramount importance of music in the funerals of Sumerian elites is emphasized. New radiographic evidence recently suggested that some of the buried persons were killed violently, refuting the traditional theory of a voluntary mass suicide by poison. The bodies of the victims might have been formally prepared and serially brought to the pit in burial groups. Stratigraphy and spatial distribution reveal consistent depositional patterns dictated by specific rituals, as already proposed on the basis of more limited evidence by other authors. Formal arrangement and ritualism, in turn, support Woolley's identification of the graves as sacred constructions and thus reaffirms their royal character. The article ends by considering the historical meaning of the nature of these impressive funerals at the verge of the political unification of Mesopotamia by the house of Sargon.


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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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