Tuesday, September 20, 2011

British Museum - Mesopotamian Tour

Monday, with the kids settled into school, I finally headed off on what I am calling my official first day of sabbatical! I had hour before I was going to meet some folks for lunch, so I headed off to the British Museum (which is only minutes from Birkbeck), and wandered off on one of their "Eye Opener Tours".

This one, meeting in room 56, was on Ancient Iraq.  The topic was Mesopotamia (6000-1500BC), the cradle of civilization. First thing I learned (yes... i probably should have already known this) was that the word 'mesopotamia' meant 'the land between the waters' (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers). I was happy that the guide started us off with a map of the area, so we could get a bit of a geographical sense of the area we were going to explore. I was having flashbacks as she was talking to Alex's homework from last year (in French of course), as he was having to make lists of the different characteristics that made civilization possible (rains, good soil, etc). Also fun to see that civilization started up high in the mountains (where there were some fertile field areas), and down closer to the seas (where annual flooding left rich alluvial soils behind). It was quite fun for me tying this to his homework! :-)

Also fun that the first thing we looked at was pottery! Ah, sweet pottery.  The guide pointed out the differences between the styles and decorations of pottery practiced in the mountain areas, and down further by the waters.  We headed right from the decorating of pottery vessels, to pottery as a way of dealing with writing!   So though it is not clear where the practices of writing were 'invented', some of the first examples of writing were found in mesopotamia.  And so she pointed out one particularly important piece of writing captured on a square of clay: a list of beer rations for workers!   Just what every worker needs!  :-)

We also saw a number of items excavated from Royal Tombs... In this window, you can see (on the right hand side of the cabinet), a reconstruction of the jewellry adorning a woman found in the grave.  On the left of the cabinet, you can see the actual head of that woman with her jewelry (flattened by the weight of the dirt in the grave... bleech!). They also found (and reconstructed) amazing lyres and other musical instruments.
This piece, found in one of the royal graves, was pretty cool.  The guy who found it named it "Ram in a Thicket" (a reference to the story of abraham finding a ram in the thicket, enabling him to sacrifice it instead of his son isaac).  The guide pointed out that the piece itself actually is a goat and not a ram.  Further, that this period of time is pre-judaic, and that it is more like the ways that goat actually DO climb up to eat from trees.  :-)   truth is, no one really knows its significance (ie. part of a lamp? of a table? something of religious meaning?)  In any event, it is quite beautiful: white shell, gold leaf, lapis lazulli...

And of course... games!   (here you have the board game, the counters, and pieces AND the rules ... on the little square tablet at the top).  Games, music, jewelry, pottery.... everything a person could want (whether is 2000AD or 3000 BC... all the same!)


  1. As you know I love board games, so I just had to know what game is in the photo.
    Turns out it is the "Game of 20 squares" or "Royal Game of Ur".

    Here is a little write up (featuring photo of the one you saw). Apparently there is much debate about which way one travels on the board (the rules are lost). And ecause this is a gamer writing, they describe an "elegant" suggestion of how to move your meeple. Or meeple of Ur, I suppose. I love those math/logic/board games types and their "elegant solutions" to everything.


  2. Forgot the article link!


  3. soo.... can you MAKE one of these boards for when we get home? we can start a new/old gaming group? :-)


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