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General archaeology questions for Dr. dig

I need to find out about Sir Leonard Woolley's work with ancient Sumer, how his wife helped him, and which Agatha Christie book he is a character in.

Dr. dig responds:
Sir Leonard Woolley excavated the Royal Cemetery at Ur, in Iraq from 1921 to about 1934. Perhaps you can get a hold of his book entitled Ur of the Chaldees which was published in 1929. A shorter account of his excavations at Ur has recently been published in a book edited by Brian Fagan, Eyewitness to Discovery, Santa Barbera, 1996, pages 131-140.

One of Sir Leonard Woolley's colleagues, archaeologist Max Mallowan, met the detective novelist Agatha Christie at the excavations of Sir Leonard Woolley. Mallowan later married Agatha Christie, and her book Murder in Mesopotamia is based on her experiences at the excavations at Ur. The murder victim in the Agatha Christie's detective is Katherine Woolley, Sir Leonard's wife. Katherine Woolley was not much liked by anyone, and in Christie's detective story everyone was suspected of the murder because everyone had a motive to kill her! Happy sleuthing!

You will find loads of information about Sir Leonard Wooley, Mesopotamia, and the Royal Graves at Ur when you log on to the website of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, at www.upenn.edu/museum/Collections/mesopotamia.html


How did Sir Leonard Woolley become interested in the distant past? Does he have any lasting affects on modern archaeological methods and proschedure? For what reason was he knighted?

Dr. dig responds:
Leonard Woolley was born in London, the son of a clergyman. Often, as a child, he thought about following in his father's footsteps, however, the call of archaeology lured him away. He graduated from Oxford and went on to become a great archaeologist. His most notable work was the information he gathered about the Sumerians from the excavations at Ur of the Chaldees.

Woolley first started working as Assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford where he remained from 1905 until 1907. He worked with T.E. Lawrence from 1912 to 1914 and later in 1919 clearing Carchemish, the Hittite city, and in Sinai. Woolley also worked in Tell el Amarna with the Egypt Exploration Society. From 1922 through 1934 he was in charge of the joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania excavating at Ur of the Chaldees where he made his greatest discovery.

The Ur of Chaldees, found in present-day Iraq, was the royal burial site of many Mesopotamian royalties. Woolley discovered tombs of great material wealth. Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Mesopotamian culture at its zenith, along with amazing pieces of gold and silver jewelry, cups and other furnishings. The most extravagant tomb was that of "Queen" Pu-Abi. Amazingly enough, Queen Pu-Abi's tomb was untouched by the hands of looters through the millennia. Inside many well-preserved items were found, along with a cylindrical seal bearing her name in Sumerian. Her body was found buried along with her attendants, who had poisoned themselves to continue to serve her. Woolley reconstructed her funeral ceremony from the findings in her tomb. Today her headdress, cylinder seal and her body are on display at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1936, after his discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilizations. This led him to the Syrian city of al-Mina. From 1937 to 1939 and from 1946 to 1949 he was in Tell Aichana.

Leonard Woolley was knighted for his many archaeological achievements in 1935.

The lasting effects he has had on archaeologists of today are his remarkables discoveries which really paved the way for future research into Mesopotamian studies.

Agatha Christie wrote Murder in Mesopotamia because she was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs. She later married his younger assistant.

Woolley wrote over 25 books. Two of his more famous books are Spadework: Adventures in Archaeology, published in 1953 and Excavations at Ur: A Record of 12 Years' Work, published in 1954.

I hope this information helps you in your research project. what an interesting topic. You will certainly want to go to the University of Pennsylvania Museum website. The University of Pennsylvania Museum has in its collections many objects found by Woolley during his excavations of the Royal Tombs at Ur.


What methods of excavation did Woolley's team use to excavate the tombs of Ur?

Dr. dig responds:
Woolley hired local people to do most of the digging. The tools they used were simple - local pick axes, shovels, barrows and hand trowels. The methods of excavation were pretty rudimentary compared to the high-tech scientifific methods we use today. His method was based pretty much on simple stratigraphy, observation and inference.


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