Wednesday, April 24, 2013

History Mystery: Ur The Legendary City Of Abraham Part.I

For thousands of years a sandy hump brooded over the desert of lower Mesopotamia, covering the silent remains of a thriving urban community. It is the site of ancient Ur, a city whose discovery cast light on a forgotten chapter of history. ‘AND THEY SET OUT FROM UR OF THE CHALDEES…’ declares the Book of Genesis, describing how the family of Abraham left their native city for Canaan. The episode is of great significance in Biblical studies, for it was after leaving his place of birth that Abraham made his convenant with God, and from his seed – numberless as the stars – sprang the children of Israel. In the mid 19th century, scholars discovered that some scriptural passages had their origins in real people, places, and events.

Exciting finds at Nineveh and Khorsabad in northern Mesopotamia had cast dramatic light on Assyrian king named in the Old Testament. In this period of awakening interest, an English diplomat, J.E. Taylor, set out in 1854 to explore a site in southern Mesopotamia known to the locals as Tell al-Muqayyar: an ancient mound of mud-brick ramps and terraces. But archaeology was then in its infancy, and sites were studied more for their relics than for the information they could reveal. Taylor’s main hope was to find artifacts to display in a museum.

Head dress of Queen Puabi
After preliminary excavations at the bottom of the mound, Taylor ordered his workmen to the summit. The team found only clay cylinders with cuneiform (wedge-shaped) inscriptions, which were sent to London for examination. When the site was abandoned by the archaeologists, local Bedouins scavenged the mound for bricks, and its contours dissolved into dust and rubble. The depredations continued until the First World War, when a British officer, Major R. Campbell Thompson, once an assistant in the British Museum, tried to restore some of the damage. His enthusiasm had repercussions. The clay cylinders found by Taylor were for the first time given serious attention. Once deciphered, they disclosed that the mound was the site of a tower erected in the 3rd millennium BC by a Mesopotamian king, Ur-Nammu. The name or Ur was well known from the Bible. If the king ruled Ur, this desecrated site had to be the city of Abraham.

In 1923, an Anglo American expedition headed by Sir Leonard Woolley revealed the full grandeur of Ur. The team uncovered temples, storehouses, workshops, spacious residential buildings, and countless articles of everyday life. But the most dramatic discoveries were made in a royal cemetery dating back nearly 3000 years before Christ. Hear, a series of vaults contained a wealth of treasures which ranked for splendour with those of Tutankhamun, discovered in Egypt a year earlier. Yet these were older, dating from some 1000 years before the Egyptian pharaoh came to the throne. Excavations in Mesopotamia were building up a picture of an astonishingly advanced people. The culture with flourished on the lower Euphrated is known as the civilization of Sumer, and marked a turning point in the history mankind. The key to Sumer’s emergence from the shadows of prehistory was the soil – the primary source of the area’s wealth. The long rivers Tigris and Euphrates ran together for some 160km (100 miles) from their respective mouths, depositing rich alluvial silt along he lower reaches on the inland plain. Irregular flooding was hazard, but when the people began to harness the waters with canals, dykes, and reservoirs, the local economy was transformed. Three vital inventions increased the area’s agricultural yield: the ox-drawn plough for tilling the fields, the wheeled wagon for transporting goods, and the milking of animals to provide a sustainable supply of protein.

 These developments liberated some of the population from toil in the fields. Settlements grew into towns, where specialist skills such as pottery, weaving, and metalwork began to flourish. It is possible that the metalworkers of Ur first developed the lost-wax process. This method of creating moulds is thought to have been invented in the 4th millennium BC. An object would be modeled in wax in fine detail, then placed inside an earthen mould and covered with plaster or clay. The clay was then fired, and molten wax flowed out through holes, leaving a finely detailed hollow mould into which molten metal could be poured.

( Cont....)

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