Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Lyres from the Royal Tombs of Ur: the Queen’s Lyre

The archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered pieces of several lyres (or Harps) in the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, ancient Mesopotamia. Those lyres, from about 2600-2400 BC, are considered to be the world’s oldest surviving stringed instruments.

The lyres remains were restored and distributed between the museums that took part in the digs.

Pictures n 1, 2, 3: One of two lyres found in the grave of Queen Pu-abi, the Queen’s Lyre. Along with the lyre, which stood against the pit wall, were the bodies of several women with fine jewellery, presumed to be sacrificial victims, and numerous stone and metal vessels. One woman lay right against the lyre and, according to Woolley, she was its player. The front panels of the instrument are made of lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone. The gold mask of the bull decorating the front of the sounding box had to be restored. While the horns are modern, the beard, hair and eyes are original and made of lapis lazuli. The shape of the lyre is meant to resemble a bull’s body.

Picture n 4: Woolley holding one lyre discovered in one of the tombs.

British Museum, London, UK