February

Ram Caught in a Thicket

Object: Ram Caught in a Thicket

Materials: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, copper, shell, red limestone, bitumen

Place: Iraq, Ur, Royal Cemetery, PG 1237

Date of Creation: Early Dynastic IIIA, circa 2550-2400 BCE

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, USA

EMu user since 2007

FebruaryStatuette of a goat standing upright against the branches of a flowering plant. The goat has been identified as a markhor (Capra falconeri), a wild species native to the mountains of Central and South Asia, by its large corkscrew-shaped horns. The statuette is a quintessential example of early Mesopotamian (Sumerian) composite art, with its rich mix of materials and colors. The goat’s face and legs are covered in gold foil, the underside of the body in silver. Its ears are rendered in copper. The horns, beard, eyebrows and pupils and locks of hair on the forehead are made of lapis lazuli. The fleece of the shoulder and chest is lapis lazuli, but the fleece of its body is shell. The lapis lazuli and shell tufts are made of individual pieces adhered to the body with bitumen. The goat stands on a wooden base, whose sides are covered with silver and whose top is inlaid with shell, lapis lazuli and red limestone. The stem, branches, leaf and floral rosettes of the plant are covered in gold. An upright projecting from the goat’s back is also covered in gold. The statuette is one of two nearly identical figures found by Sir Leonard Woolley in the western corner of a royal tomb (PG 1237 or “Great Death Pit”) in the Royal Cemetery of Ur during the 1928-1929 field season. Woolley dubbed these statuettes “ram caught in a thicket” because they aptly fit the imagery of the Biblical story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:13). The statuettes were not free-standing sculptures but were the base of a stand, the decayed upper element of which would have attached to the uprights projecting from the goats’ necks. The base probably supported a small tray similar to one shown on a roughly contemporary cylinder seal in Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum.

The two “rams” are fixtures of text books on art history and the ancient Near East and major attractions in the British Museum and Penn Museum today.

Acknowledgements

Joint Expedition of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to Mesopotamia, 1922-1934