The honors of the excavation of the Royal Cemetery at Ur goes to an archeologist by the name of Leonard Woolley (also known as Sir Charles Leonard Woolley; 1880 , 1960). How did this British archeologist gain a claim to fame? He is best known for his excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia, which contributed to earning the title of ‘first “modern” archeologist.’
Because of his contributions to the field of archeology, he was also knighted in 1935. To learn more about Woolley, we must travel back into time , to 1905, when he became the assistant keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Officially, Woolley’s career in excavation began in 1906, when he was called upon by Arthur Evans to run the dig associated with the Roman site at Corbridge. He would later admit that he hadn’t studied any methods of archeology and didn’t even know how to create a ground plan.
If you’re wondering where in the heck Ur is located, you will find this site situated in what is now known as present-day Iraq. The site was significant because it served as the burial site for many royals of the Sumerian culture. Woolley was able to uncover tombs that consisted of great wealth. Inside the tombs, huge paintings gave insight to the ancient Sumerian culture. He also found gold and silver jewelry, goblets, and other exquisite furnishings.
One of the most elaborate of the tombs belonged to Queen Pu-Abi, whose final resting place was lucky enough to withstand the tyranny of looters. The tomb revealed a great deal of well-preserved objects, such as a cylindrical seal that bore the name of Pu-Abi written in the Sumerian language.
The Queen’s body was found buried with two attendants by her side. It is believed that they were poisoned so that they could continue to serve the Queen even after her passing. The reconstruction of Pu-Abi’s funeral ceremony also took place by using the objects found in her tomb. This was completed by Woolley. At first, some of the objects found in the tomb were put on display at the University of Pennsylvania (such as her headdress, cylinder seal and body). Today, they can be found in the British Museum in London.
After Woolley made strides in Ur, he became interested in finding connections between the ancient civilizations of Aegean and Mesopotamia. Through his travels, he found his way to the Syrian city of Al Mina. Sadly, in the middle of his archeological career, Woolley was interrupted when the United States army called upon his presence during the beginning of the Second World War. This is when he became a part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section of the Army.
If you’d like to learn more about Woolley’s world and some of the things he explored, consider some of the publications that he wrote, including Digging Up The Past (1930); Alalakh, An Account of the Excavations at Tell, (1955); Spadework: Adventures in Archaeology (1953); Excavations at Ur: A Record of 12 Years’ Work (1954); and The Ancient Near Eastern World, (2005).