Necklace beads

Period: Early Dynastic IIIa

Date: ca. 2600–2500 B.C.

Geography: Mesopotamia, Ur (modern Tell al-Muqayyar)

Culture: Sumerian

Medium: Gold, lapis lazuli

Dimensions: L. 54 cm

Classification: Metalwork-Ornaments

Credit Line: Dodge Fund, 1933

Accession Number: 33.35.48


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.