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Empires of AntiquitiesModernity and the Rediscovery of the Ancient Near East, 1914-1950$
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Billie Melman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198824558

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198824558.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use.date: 26 June 2022



Modernity and the Matter of Antiquity between Two World Wars

(p.159) 5 Ur
Empires of Antiquities

Billie Melman

Oxford University Press

Chapter 5 focuses on Ur, Tell al-Muqayyar, in southern Iraq, and the discovery and popularization, after the First World War, of Sumerian civilization, largely unknown until then. Excavated between 1922 and 1934 by an Anglo-American expedition directed by Leonard Woolley, the most prominent public archaeologist of the Near East between the wars, Ur became a spectacle of a distant antiquity that was related to modernity. The discovery of Ur’s cemeteries, studied here, competed with the contemporary exposure of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The chapter considers Ur’s appeal as an “antique modern”, combining the drawing power of the biblical paradigm manifested in the identification between Ur, Abraham, and the birth of Abrahamic religions, and the appeal of the material riches discovered in the cemeteries, extracted from their place of origin and displayed in metropolitan museums and venues, a process which the chapter recovers. Represented as an Ur-culture, the place of origin of Near Eastern and world civilizations, older than Egypt, Ur was modernized and envisioned as the hub of a global ancient world, a vision that matched mandate notions about the development of Iraq. At the same time, evidence of live burials at the cemeteries was connected to mass killing during the First World War and the commemoration of the war dead. In addition to written, archival, and published sources, the chapter makes use of a wealth of visual representations, including aerial photography, illustrations, and archaeological objects.

Keywords:   Ur, Sumer, Iraq, Leonard Woolley, British Museum, Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Abraham, Royal Cemeteries, global antiquity, First World War

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