Studies on gold objects from the royal tombs of Ur

Studies on gold objects from the royal tombs of Ur

The Pennsylvania University Museum for Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia (Penn Museum) has a large collection of metal artefacts made of copper, bronze, silver and gold, which Sir Leonard Woolley had excavated in the royal tombs of Ur (middle of the 3rd millennium) between 1922 and 1934. Of the finds, one quarter went to the University Museum for Archaeology in Philadelphia, one quarter to the British Museum in London, and the remaining half to the Baghdad Museum. Before the 1st Gulf War in 1991 these objects were moved to the vault of the national bank, along with many other gold artefacts, and they have recently been “rediscovered” there.

The DBM’s first work on the artefacts began in 2009. The museum had agreed to a request to carry out analytical examinations of the metal finds. To begin with, 31 of the best known and most beautiful gold objects were analysed non-destructively with a portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer to determine their chemical composition.
The measurements produced very interesting results. Of particular interest was evidence of gilding using a tumbaga alloy: to “simulate” gold, i.e. to create a gold-rich surface layer, the original copper-silver-gold alloy was treated with acids. This ingenious technique was therefore not invented in South America in the 15th century AD, as previously assumed, but was already known in the ancient world around 2500 BC. These preliminary studies gave rise to a DBM research project with several partners. Following offers to extend the analyses to the finds in the British Museum, a continuation of the current project phase is under consideration.


Project manager

Prof. Dr. Andreas Hauptmann

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

Collaborators

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Main, Institut für Mineralogie / PD Dr. Sabine Klein

Penn Museum, Philadelphia / Dr. R. Zettler, Prof. Dr. Vincent Pigott

Funding

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

private funding

Duration

2000 - 2018



Publications

  • Hauptmann, A., Kirchner, D., Klein, S. & Zettler, R. 2013, Golden Hair Ribbons from King Puabi’s and other Royal Tombs of Ur, 2600 / 2500 BCE. In: A. Hauptmann & D. Modarressi-Tehrani (Hrsg.), Archaeometallurgy in Europe III. Der Anschnitt, Beiheft, in Vorb.
  • Hauptmann, A., Kirchner, D., Klein, S. & Zettler, R. 2014, Golden Hair Ribbons from King Puabi’s and other Royal Tombs of Ur, 2600 / 2500 BCE. In: A. Hauptmann & D. Modarressi-Tehrani (Hrsg.), Archaeometallurgy in Europe III. Der Anschnitt, Beiheft, in Vorb.
  • Hauptmann, A., Klein, S., Baumer, U., Bode, M., Dietemann, P. & Zettler, R. 2013, Composition and Provenance of Pigments from the Early Dynastic Royal Tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia. In: A. Hauptmann, O. Mecking & M. Prange (Hrsg.), Archäometrie und Denkmalpflege, Jahrestagung an der Bauhaus Universität Weimar, 25.-28. September 2013. Metalla, Sonderheft 6, 298-304.