6,500-Year-Old Ur Skeleton Resurfaces in Penn Museum


A 6,500-year-old skeleton excavated from the site of Ur has once again seen the light of day after spending 85 years in anonymity in the Penn Museum basement. Photo: Kyle Cassidy, courtesy Penn Museum.

A 6,500-year-old skeleton from the site of Ur in present-day Iraq was recently rediscovered in the basement of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The skeleton had originally been uncovered in 1929–30 during the joint British Museum/Penn Museum excavation at Ur led by Sir Leonard Woolley. For 85 years, the skeleton has been lying in a wooden box in the Penn Museum’s labyrinthine basement; any associated documentation that may have once been attached to the skeleton or storage box has long been missing.

The remarkable rediscovery of this skeleton is due to the new British Museum/Penn Museum project Ur of the Chaldees: A Virtual Vision of Woolley’s Excavations, which seeks to digitize the records and artifacts from Woolley’s excavations in the 1920s and 30s. While poring over the excavation records and researching the Penn Museum’s collections, Ur Digitization Project Manager William Hafford saw that one skeleton that had been excavated in 1929–30 was noted in the museum’s object record database as “Not Accounted For” as of 1990.

Inquiries with Janet Monge, curator-in-charge of the physical anthropology section of the Penn Museum, led Hafford to an unidentified skeleton in a box in the museum’s basement storage. Monge had been aware of the skeleton for a long time, but with no identifying records associated with the box, the skeleton remained a puzzling curiosity. Comparing the skeleton with Woolley’s field notes, the researchers determined that they had found the mystery skeleton discovered in the 1929–30 excavation season at Ur and subsequently delivered to the Penn Museum.

In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.


Penn Museum researchers Janet Monge and William Hafford examine the rediscovered skeleton from Ur. Photo: Kyle Cassidy, courtesy Penn Museum.

The Penn Museum skeleton had been unearthed from an Ubaid-period (5500–4000 B.C.E.) grave located about 50 feet below the famed Royal Cemetery at Ur. The man whose skeleton was rediscovered at the Penn Museum was alive during a time after a great flood had deluged the region—what Woolley had identified as the Biblical flood. The Penn Museum researchers have therefore nicknamed the skeleton “Noah.”

“Utnapishtim might be more appropriate,” Hafford said in a Penn Museum press release, “for he was named in the Gilgamesh epic as the man who survived the great flood.”

Read the Penn Museum press release.


Learn more about Biblical Ur and Sir Leonard Woolley’s famed excavation in the BAS Library:

Alan R. Millard, “Where Was Abraham’s Ur? The Case for the Babylonian City,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2001.

Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt, “Abraham’s Ur: Did Woolley Excavate the Wrong Place?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2000.

Hershel Shanks, “Abraham’s Ur—Is the Pope Going to the Wrong Place?” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2000.

Richard L. Zettler, “Sumer: Woolley’s Ur Revisited,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1984.

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8 Responses

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  1. John says

    5500–4000 B.C.E layer then how could it be 6,500-Year-Old Ur Skeleton ?
    could it be 85 years in a damp basement aged it excessively from setting?

  2. Tiny says

    Why are there no good but simple books with scientic arguments for creation? I have only actual books about evolution. And a book with the age of 40 year about creation. Not really actual.

  3. GEORGE says

    Any usable DNA results publicly available?

  4. Virginia says

    To Tina,

    Check out the ministry of ICR, in Dallas TX, stands for Institute for Creation Research, has tons of very scientific, reputable books arguing for creation by PhDs in their various fields.

  5. BHD says

    Tiny, there are hundreds of books that detail the scientific evidence of creation and the great flood. If you are seriously looking for information I would suggest beginning at the Discovery Institute. Aside from the obvious appeal of Darwinian evolution the theory has been found to have many flaws and fictions. Although Darwin never address the issue evolution has no way of explaining how life began and then when we find the earliest fossil records (presumably the first living organisms) in the Cambrian layer we discover a vast array of diverse and complex life-forms, both animals and plants. Below is a link to a video (produced by Harvard University) showing the workings inside of a cell, the basic unit of life. After viewing that video try to imagine that all that came into existence in the “primordial soup” by random interaction of atoms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzcTgrxMzZk

  6. alex says

    tiny u no that u can subscribe to monthly magazines such as those found on creation.com (they also have books somewhere)

  7. Jolynn says

    Tiny, visit the websites of Creation Ministries International and Answers in Genesis. They both contain a wealth of information on creation and the flood. Both employ PhD level scientists and publish books, magazines, DVDs, weekly emails, online videos, etc. Answers in Genesis is the same organization that runs the Creation Museum located in suburban Cincinnati.

  8. Kurt says

    4026 BCE Adam Created: Adam, the “son of God,” is created in the fall, perhaps in the month of Ethanim (September/October).
    2370 BCE – Methuselah Dies: Methuselah, the grandfather of Noah, dies in the year of the Flood, but apparently not in the Flood, at age 969. He was born in 3339 BCE, the son of righteous Enoch. He is the oldest human on record, and eighth in the line from Adam to Noah.
    Genesis 5:21–27; it METHUSELAH.
    The Flood or Deluge: The Flood begins on the 17th day of the month of Bul, later called Marheshvan or Heshvan (October/November). The materialized angels dematerialize and return to the spirit realm; their hybrid offspring, the Nephilim, are destroyed in the Flood.
    Genesis 7:11 says that the “floodgates of the heavens were opened.” The waters that were suspended in the upper atmosphere above the earth during the second creative day begin to pour down upon the earth, possibly as if through floodgates into channels, such as at the poles, and also as rainfall. The weight of the water causes considerable tectonic movements, and the shifting and buckling of earth’s crust generates huge destructive tsunami waves. “And the rain poured down on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.”
    Noah is 600 years old, Japheth 100, and Shem 98. Noah will live for 350 years after the Flood, or until after the attempted building of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of the languages and the resultant scattering of mankind.

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