Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Necklace beads

Early Dynastic IIIa
ca. 2600–2500 B.C.
Mesopotamia, Ur (modern Tell al-Muqayyar)
Gold, lapis lazuli
L. 54 cm
Credit Line:
Dodge Fund, 1933
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
These four strands of beads come from the so-called Great Death Pit, one of the royal graves at Ur. The sixty-eight female bodies discovered in the pit were all adorned with the most splendid jewelry made of gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian.

When excavated at Ur, beads were rarely discovered in an undisturbed state, since they had been originally strung together using organic material that has long since disintegrated. Thus, it is not certain in which order the beads were originally strung. These strands consist of biconical shaped beads. They are strung in groups of three gold sheets and six lapis lazuli beads, ending with one of gold and three of lapis. Their repetition gives a sense of rich contrasting color within the highly uniform Sumerian artistic system. It is possible that the different materials held particular meanings, since later texts describe their amuletic and magical properties. They certainly evoked distant lands because none of them are native to southern Mesopotamia and indicate the importance of long-distance connections in the acquisition of precious materials. The lapis lazuli would have originated in the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan and the gold reached Mesopotamia from a number of possible directions since there were ancient sources in Iran, Anatolia, and even as far away as Egypt.
1928-1929, excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley on behalf of the Joint Expedition of the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum; ceded to the University Museum in the division of finds; acquired by the Museum in 1933, purchased from University Museum.

“Archaeology: Exploring the Past,” The Junior Museum of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 22, 1962–June 30, 1966.

Dimand, Maurice S. 1933. "Notes: Sumerian Jewelry." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 28, p. 114.

Woolley, C. Leonard. 1934. The Royal Cemetery: A Report on the Predynastic and Sargonic Graves Excavated between 1926 and 1931. Ur Excavations, Vol. II. London, pp. 67, 560, pl. 29-35.
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