During the early decades of the twentieth century, C. Leonard Woolley, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, excavated at a site near the modern day city of Al-Nasiriya in southern Iraq. Known locally as Tell al-Muqayyar, this site has also been recognized as the capital city of ancient Sumeria called Ur.
Ur was likely first settled during the Ubaid period near the end of the 6th millennium BC. Over time a true city grew, until about 2500 BC, by which time the city was one of the transportation centers of the Sumerian civilization. In this, its heyday, Ur was an important harbor at the head of the Persian Gulf. Because of Ur's extensive trade contacts, the rulers of Ur had access to the wealth of Arabia, India, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Woolley concentrated on the cemetery from the mid-third millennium, specifically on sixteen tombs of Ur's elite, rulers buried with about eighty attendants. These tombs held what are some of the world's greatest treasures of the past: a golden dagger encrusted with lapis lazuli; a statue of a ram in a thicket; a lyre decorated with a bull's head; a crown of golden leaves and rosettes belonging to the Lady Puabi.
After excavation, the Ur treasures were divided in the 1920s and 1930s among the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, the British Museum in London and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. Five years ago, the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania gathered artifacts from each of these museums to create a traveling exhibit which Director Thomas Hoving has called "the finest, most resplendent and magical works of art in all of America".
So far the exhibit has traveled to 12 locations throughout the United States, and from March 13 through September of 2004, it will be at the Museum, University of Pennsylvania.