New Monumental Structure Uncovered Near Ur

Bible and archaeology news

The Standard of Ur

After nearly 80 years, archaeologists have returned to one of the world’s most prolific archaeology sites. While the site was initially excavated in the 1850s, Sir Leonard Woolley’s well-publicized 20th-century excavations exposed valuable artifacts and thousands of years of the Sumerian city-state’s history, spurring on associations with Abraham’s birthplace, the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees (see discussion below).

Archaeologists returning to Iraq have uncovered a massive structure on the ancient banks of the Euphrates River, ten miles from the city center. The recent discovery’s monumental size—with nearly nine-foot-thick walls—suggests that it was a palace or a temple. The team, led by University of Manchester archaeologist Jane Moon, employs techniques not available to Woolley and his team. Moon identified the structure in satellite images, and so far her team has only exposed a small section of the monumental complex. While Woolley’s excavations were famous for producing lavish artifacts including the Standard of Ur (pictured above, right), Moon’s modern archaeological toolkit will allow her team to reconstruct the economy, diet, climate and daily life at the Sumerian capital.

Read more.



Is the Sumerian Ur Abraham’s Ur of the Chaldees?

Find Out More in the BAS Library

Where Was Abraham’s Ur? The Case for the Babylonian City
BAR 27:03, May/Jun 2001
By Alan R. Millard

Abraham’s Ur—Is the Pope Going to the Wrong Place?
BAR 26:02, Mar/Apr 2000
By Hershel Shanks

Abraham’s Ur: Did Woolley Excavate the Wrong Place?
BAR 26:01, Jan/Feb 2000
By Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt

Woolley’s Ur Revisited
10:05, Sep/Oct 1984
By Richard L. Zettler

Where Is Abraham’s Ur?
BAR 3:02, Jun 1977
By Cyrus H. Gordon

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  • JAllan says

    Sterling: very true. The Jews of the “first diaspora” (accompanying the Babylonian exile) spread all over the Eastern lands, as well as to Egypt, before and just after the Temple was destroyed (but not to America as claimed by Joseph Smith). An even bigger connection is the fact that Armenia, not formally within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, had the first RULER to make the Christian church official.

    As for the flood, it is often claimed that since almost all human societies have some kind of flood story, there must have been a SIMULTANEOUS worldwide flood as described in Genesis. But physics points out that the water to flood the highest mountains as they are today would have to be created in a short time, then destroyed in a short time; biology and chemistry ask how water creatures (not carried in the Ark) requiring different levels of salinity would survive when some were oversalted and others undersalted (not to mention restoring the saltiness of the oceans and the freshness of the rivers and streams very soon afterward); and common sense says it is not necessary for all parts of the earth to have been underwater simultaneously, only for every culture, at some time in its history, to have been hit by a local flood so great that it seemed to their ancestors that it was worldwide. For some it could be a tsuami, for others the sudden (in geological terms) filling of a valley to make a sea, and for others it could be a seismic event such as an eruption of a volcanic island, making it disappear in the sea. One could imagine what future post-nuclear-war people would make of the Bikini nuclear test.

    There are three good candidates for the Middle Eastern cultures. First and oldest is the flooding of the Mediterranean Sea tens of thousands of years ago, when the natural dam between Spain and Morocco overflowed, then was eroded away by the force of the water. Next, about ten thousand years ago, a similar natural dam broke allowing the Mediterranean into the Black Sea basin (some archeologists claim to have photographed city remains underwater some distance from the shore). And of course, there are annual floods from the mountains of eastern Turkey and northwestern Iraq (COMING BACK FROM THE DIGRESSION), which occasionally might be large enough to sweep a boat or raft all the way to the Persian Gulf. An exceptional once in a millennium flood would have wiped out so much human habitation at the downstream end as to be remembered as “all the world” being destroyed, and immortalized in the Gilgamesh epic, later turned into an extreme morality tale in Genesis.

    The Black Sea coast is undoubtedly the way Indo-Europeans got into Europe, and probably the Semites spread north to mix with them also, before retreating back into the Fertile Crescent. Armenian is a distant (from us) branch of Indo-European, while there are no traceable common ancestral languages between the Semitic and Indo-European families. Count to ten in any IE language and say family terms like “mother”, “father”, etc. and you can see some vague connection, even between English and Hindi (or ancient Sanskrit). Look at the corresponding words in non-IE tongues and the words are TOTALLY different from English, German, Latin, etc; but Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and ancient Phoenician, Canaanite, Amorite, etc. are similar enough to ONE ANOTHER to define the Semitic family. If you know of closer connections between Armenians and Jews, please give some examples; I would love to learn about them.

  • Chip says

    JAllen: Urartu would also help to explain the many ties between the Jews and Armenians. The flood narrative seems to make Armenia a place of origin as well.

  • JAllan says

    I remember reading at least one of the articles referenced above, and it does seem more likely that Abraham came from Urartu, in what is now the Kurdish part of Iraq. It is closer (via the ancient route of the Fertile Crescent) to where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob settled, thus making the trips of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac, and of Jacob to find wives and fortune,
    more feasible. Also, there were no large cities there in Abraham’s time, and it was herding country, which matches the occupation of the patriarchal family. A later scribe would easily confuse Urartu with Ur, the more familiar location (especially if the editing took place in Babylon). One verse of scripture quoted in the Passover Haggadah (I do not have the reference) states that “my father was a wandering Aramean,” not Sumerian or Babylonian. And this would also explain why Lot’s family found the cities of the plain so appealing; they were not accustomed to city life and found it glamorous (Biblical writers associated urban life with sin and corruption, and nomadic herding with piety and virtue, like the writer of the post-WWI song, “How will you keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?”).

  • Chip says

    Ric: “Chaldees” (Hebrew “khasdim”) is obviously an anachronism in Genesis. That doesn’t rule out Ur as the possible birthplace of Abraham. It just means that by the time the narrative was written in its current form, the author made no distinction between Chaldeans and Babylonians.

  • Ric says

    “…Abraham’s birthplace, the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees.”

    Isn’t it about time we start correcting this claim as the redaction it is.

    The temple that the greater article is exploring states it dates 4,000 years ago. Making it impossible to be of Chaldean origin since Tiglath-Pileser I ca. 1076 of the Assyrian Middle Kingdom first describes Chaldean ancestors as Ahlamu-Aramaeans as they are drifting across Syria looking for a homeland. Then in the Late Empire period we find Assyrians calling them the Chaldeans.

    Furthermore, I know of no scholar that dates Abraham’s birth as late as 1076 BC.

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