Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The British Museum (permanent exhibition) Highlights: The Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur. From Ur, southern Iraq, about 2600-2400 BC. L 30 cm. The British Museum 120834.

The museum guide: "This is one of the oldest surviving board games in the world. According to references in ancient documents, two players competed to race their pieces from one end of the board to the other. The game was played all over the ancient Near East for about 3000 years."

The British Museum
Collection online
The Royal Game of Ur

    Object type        game-board term details
    Museum number

    Title (series)
        The Royal Game of Ur

    Game-board; wooden; the face is of 20 variously inlaid square shell plaques; edges made of small plaques and strips, some sculptured with an eye and some possibly with rosettes; on the back are three lines of shell triangular ornamental inlays.
        Early Dynastic III term details
    Production place
        Made in: Iraq
        (Asia,Middle East,Iraq)
        Excavated/Findspot: Royal Cemetery
        (Asia,Iraq,South Iraq,Royal Cemetery (Ur))
        shell term details
        Height: 2.4 centimetres
        Width: 11 centimetres
        Length: 30.1 centimetres
        Width: 5.7 centimetres (narrow part of b)
    Curator's comments

    Circumstances of discovery and consolidation in the field described by Woolley (and quoted by Grunfeld) as follows: "The board lay face upwards in the soil. With the decay of the wood the whole of the encrustation of the upper surface had sunk down into the void so left, while the strip-work along the sides remained sticking up above it; this collapse had resulted in the dislocation of much of the fine mosaic border, and the regularity of the surface was disturbed, the shell squares often lying at an angle and the lapis strips overlapping them; further, the end of the larger section had been broken and the three last plaques (all except the corner of that on the left, which was still attached) and the right-hand plaque of the next row lay separated from each other and half an inch or more away from the main board, and the border and edging here had been scattered. It was this broken end that we found first and probably some pieces of the strip edging were overlooked by us; when the presence of the object was recognized we worked along it a square or so at a time, pouring hot wax over it as we went, and finally the whole was secured with waxed cloth and lifted. It has not been taken to pieces and remade. The inside was cleaned and covered with waxed muslin and the cloth and wax removed from the face and then it was placed face downwards on a sheet of glass and by applying heat we were able to push the component parts down into their places; the three loose plaques were replaced in the order in which they were found, but nothing was done to restore the missing part of the border and edging. The red and blue spots inlaid in the shell plaques and petals of the flowers were loose in their sockets when found, but were fixed by the wax poured over them and very few of them have been disturbed and replaced [n. A few floated up in the liquid wax but could be at once pushed down into their holes]". The object was reconstructed by the WAA conservator I G Tremayne following sagging through a build-up of intense heat in the gallery (Report to Trustees 5 July 1961).Various replica versions, more or less based on the original, have been made and marketed, for instance by BMCompany and Ludibundus (Christmas 1980 sale catalogue).

        Lhôte J-M 2005a bibliographic details
        Finkel I L 1995a bibliographic details
        Grunfeld F V 1968a bibliographic details
        Finkel I L 2007a bibliographic details
        Becker A 2007a bibliographic details
        Aruz & Wallenfels 2003a no. 53a, p. 101. bibliographic details
        Woolley et al 1934a p.276, pl. 95b bibliographic details
        Du Ry C J 1969a p.57 bibliographic details
        Marseille 1991 pp.154-55 bibliographic details
        Barnett & Wiseman 1960a pp.24-25, no. 9 bibliographic details

    On display: G56/dc16
    Exhibition history


    2014-2015 13 Dec-15 Mar, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2014 23 Apr-01 Aug, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2012-2013 28 Nov-18 Mar, Paris, Musee National du Moyen Age, 'Jeux de la Babylone antique a l'occident medieval'
    2006 Jul, BM, Gallery 3 'The Royal Game of Ur'
    2003 5 May-17 Aug, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Art of the First Cities'
    1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.14
    1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.14
    1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.14

    G56/Early Mesopotamia gallery/case 16.

    Babylonian Room
        flower (?)
    Acquisition name
        Division of Finds: Department of Antiquities of Iraq biography
        Excavated by: Sir Leonard Woolley biography
    Acquisition date

    Acquisition notes

    Objects allotted to the British Museum from the Ur excavations, season 1926-1927.

    Middle East
    BM/Big number

    Registration number

    Additional IDs
        U.9000 (excavation number)

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