THIRTY THOUSAND archaeological treasures and other finds from
Ur, the Mesopotamian city that Abraham is said to have come from,
are to be digitally recorded and the results published online.
Carried out by the British Museum and the University of
Pennsylvania, it is one of the largest projects of its type ever
The digitisation programme, costing £834,000, will allow
scholars worldwide to investigate ancient Ur - the city
traditionally associated with Abraham - to an extent that has never
been possible before.
It is thought that, in the era usually associated with Abraham,
substantial numbers of people from what is now Syria, and possibly
northern Israel, were present in east-Semitic-speaking Mesopotamia,
including the Ur area. With the digitisation, scholars may be able
to identify the houses where west-Semitic names occur on ancient
cuneiform writing tablets, and correlate them with particular types
of pottery and other artefacts.
Placing the digitised material online could potentially shed
important new light on Ur, and the time period (c.2000 BC)
traditionally associated with Abraham.
It will, for the first time, make it easy for scholars or,
indeed, interested members of the public anywhere in the world to
do new research on Ur.
Although the city was excavated by the British archaeologist Sir
Leonard Woolley between 1922 and 1934, many of the finds that he
dug up have never been fully researched. Putting all the material
online will now enable that to happen. Above all, it will allow the
ancient city to be studied afresh by analysis of the finds - and
their original find spots - quantitatively, comparatively, and
Dr Richard Zettler, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology, which is running the project in
co-operation with the British Museum, said: "One part of ancient Ur
dug by Woolley in the 1930s - dubbed by him 'Area AH', short for
'Abraham's House' - covered more than 7000 square metres, and had
more than 50 houses.
"Although he published some details, the picture of these
houses, and how ordinary people lived, remains thin. By putting all
of the original notes for individual houses in order, and compiling
lists of published and unpublished artefacts from the houses -
including cuneiform tablets and other artefacts, as well as burials
under the floors of the houses - we will be giving researchers the
potential to figure out how people lived in their houses, and what
sort of activities they pursued day to day.
"Researchers will be able to query the database for, say,
weights, and find all the known locations where these were found,
plotting them on a digital map of the ancient city to more clearly
see concentrations. The distribution of weights might, for example,
reflect the geographic spread of commercial activities."
The project, funded by the Leon Levy Foundation, based in New
York, will put online all 2350 of Woolley's photographs from the
site, along with pictures and/or details of 30,000 artefacts, and
more than 10,000 pages of Woolley's original notes. Members of the
public have been volunteering to help to transcribe Woolley's
handwritten material, but more volunteers are needed.
Some material is likely to be fully digitised and online by next
year. Much of the remainder is expected to be online by
The most spectacular artefacts that feature in the project are
thousands of gold, silver, cornelian, lapis lazuli, agate, and
other treasures from the mid-third-millennium-BC royal cemetery in
In the time traditionally associated with Abraham, about 30,000
people would have lived in the 220-acre walled central core of the
city. Many thousands more would have lived in the suburbs. Between
2100 BC and 2000 BC, Ur had control of most of Mesopotamia, and was
the most powerful state in the Middle East.