Treasures of Ur: tip of the iceberg?

Dear Benny,
I read with interest the story about the Iraqi museum curators who came to Penn to look at the “Royal Tombs of Ur” exhibit. What portion of the Museum’s collection of objects from Ur is on display? How many of the finds from the 1922-1934 excavations are in the Museum’s collection? Are any of these on permanent display, or will they be?
— Fascinated by Finds

Dear Curious,
We asked Associate Curator-in-Charge, Near East Section, Dr. Richard Zettler for an answer to your question about the Ur objects. This is what he told us:

“ Over the course of 12 years of excavations, Charles Leonard Woolley, the director, used almost 20,000 catalogue numbers. Some of these numbers were used to record single artifacts, others a large number of finds. Iraq’s antiquities law at the time required the finds from the excavations to be divided between the Iraq Museum and the excavators, and the excavators then divided their share of the finds.

“ The Penn Museum has 7,198 artifacts from the excavations. Our traveling exhibit “Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur” included 419 artifacts, while our current incarnation of that exhibit has 321 artifacts.

“ Additionally, we have other artifacts from the Ur excavations on permanent display in our third floor galleries, but what is currently on display is a small percentage of what the Museum actually holds.”

The “Royal Tombs of Ur” exhibit—which former Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving called, “The finest, most resplendent and magical works of art in all America.”—remains on display at the Penn Museum through September of this year.


Got a question for Benny? You can ask Benny about benefits, worklife issues, University history or trivia, or other matters pertaining to life at Penn. Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106. A Current coffee mug goes to those whose questions we publish

Originally published on May 13, 2004