The great city of Ur, traditional birthplace of the prophet Abraham, and previously sacred to the Sumerian god ‘Sin’, or Babylonian ‘Nanna’, was occupied from around 4,000 BC. It was the centre of one of the Sumerian City States, and excavations conducted between 1922 and 1934 revealed spectacular Sumerian ‘royal’ tombs. There were also long sequences of monumental architecture from succeeding dynasties. The city was sacked and rebuilt many times as its fortunes waxed and waned, and finally abandoned about 500 BC. Its towering ziggurat still dominates the horizon today.
The excavations led by Sir Leonard Woolley brought Sumerian culture to the world’s attention, and the artefacts were among the first to be deposited and displayed in Iraq’s National Museum, founded in 1926. Among his team were Max Mallowan and his wife Agatha Christie, who wrote some of her famous murder mysteries at Ur.