The Lyre of Ur Project. Presentation delivered to the international conference " Sounds from the Past: Music in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean Worlds " by Keith Jobling 7 th January 2008. firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.lyre-of-ur.com. The re-constructed Golden Lyre of Ur.
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The Lyre of Ur Project
Presentation delivered to the international conference
"Sounds from the Past:
Music in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean Worlds"
by Keith Jobling
7th January 2008
The re-constructed Golden Lyre of Ur
This presentation gives a brief insight into the background of the project, the
re-construction of the playable copy of theGolden Lyre of Urand describe some the activities of the Lyre group
Pictures courtesy of the British Museum and other contributors
The Lyre of Ur ProjectRegistered UK Charity No 1118015
Andy Lowings – Chairman
Jennifer Sturdy – Administrator
Keith Jobling – Treasurer
Maeve Lowings - Secretary
We are a small body of individuals who have given up time and effort in trying to fulfil our dream of recreating the Lyre.
We do not claim to be educationalists, historians or archaeologists; we are musicians.
We have no regular external funding or support from any establishments and almost all the costs have been met from our own resources and from donations from sympathetic donors and helpers.
Our story begins over 4,500 years ago in the City of Ur. The city and kingdom is in mourning as they prepare for the funeral of Queen Pu-Abi
This a representation to the funeral cortège at Pu-Abi's funeral from objects found in her tomb and the Royal Standard of Ur that shows the use of the Lyre in ceremonials
The Ur of Chaldees, found in present-day Iraq, was the burial site of many Mesopotamian royalties
We now move on to the 20th Century.
In 1929 archaeologists from the British and Pennsylvania museums discovered tombs of great material wealth.
Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Sumerian culture at its zenith, along with gold and silver jewellery, cups and other furnishings.
The most extravagant tomb was that of Queen Pu-Abi. Amazingly enough, Queen Pu-Abi’s tomb was totally untouched by looters.
The discovery of this tomb, and its contents, is on a par with that of the tomb of Tutankhamen.
At the southern end of the death pit the bodies of ten women wearing elaborate headdresses were positioned in two rows facing each other.
Some of these attendants were associated with musical instruments, including a harp and lyre.
Sir Leonard Woolley describes the scene as being “as if last player had her arm over her harp. Certainly she played to the end.” he recounts.
The burial in the Great Death-Pit was accompanied by seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women - laid down in rows on the floor of the pit. Three lyres were piled one on top of another.
The Great Ziggurat (temple) in the background
Inside the tomb, many well-preserved items were found. Queen Pu-Abi’s body was adorned with beads of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and agate, as well as other pieces of elaborate jewellery……
Queen Pu-Abi’s Headdress and Jewellery
Queen Pu-Abi’s Headdress
……including cylinder seals, one of which had an inscription that identified her as Pu-Abi, the Queen. The seal is made from lapis lazuli.
She was buried with attendants, who had presumably been poisoned in order to continue to serve her after death. She was buried with soldiers and ladies in waiting, retainers who had apparently poisoned themselves (or been poisoned by others) to serve their mistress in the next world, found there as if asleep.
The elegant and sensuous tumbler
made out a combination
of gold and silver called electrum.
Did this tumbler contain the poison- hemlock perhaps?
The Royal Standard of Ur
Detail from the
Royal Standard of Ur
To the northeast a stone built tomb chamber was located with its floor nearly two metres below the level of the death pit. Many grave goods, including stone vessels, silver vessels, gold vessels, and an inlaid gaming board, were found arranged around a large wooden chest in the middle of Pu-Abi's "death pit.“
The “Daisy” Mounted on the front of the yoke
Gaming Board showing the “Daisy”
Found after almost 5,000 years under 60 ft. of soil, the organic material of the instruments had long since deteriorated and much of the rest was badly decayed in the earth but Woolley was able to fill the voids left in the decoration with wax and plaster and subsequently the Lyre was reconstructed and put on display in the Baghdad museum
The Gold Lyre of Ur as reconstructed by
Leonard Woolley in the
Remains of the Gold Lyre of Ur found in the Museum Car Park
Well, here is the Lyre, as it is today. In bits; as it was found, after the looting of the Museum in 2003, in the car park! Dr Lamia Al Guilani of Baghdad Museum sent us this picture of the remains of the original lyre. Thieves had taken the strips of gold on the arms and the silver from the yoke. The Gold Bulls Head was found in a private vault in the Iraqi Bank where it had been stored, and we can only surmise that it was probably placed there ready for selling-on.
Could this famous original artefact be reconstructed? Why not? When we started to rebuild a playable version of the Baghdad Gold Lyre of Ur it was not immediately apparent what problems lay ahead. One of the more surprising problems was “how authentic must we be in recreating such an instrument?”Having set in our constitution the words ‘authentic reconstruction’ it then became clear that however hard we tried, in the end we would have to compromise. We set about gathering support and craftsmanship. ‘Sumerian’ wood, the correct stone, the right adhesive techniques and, if it was covered in gold, then we felt we must do exactly the same. Perhaps we might learn something in doing this work, even re-discovering the techniques that may have been used !!We set about investigating the materials, Cedar Wood for the frame, Mother of Pearl, Lapis Lazuli and Pink Limestone for the decoration, Shell for the cameos, Bitumen for fastening the decoration, Gold for the Banding and the Bull’s Head, Silver for the Yoke, Papyrus for the bridge and gut strings
West Dean College of Art in England offered to make the gold bull’s head for us. This involved careful research into the size and shape of the original Bull’s head. Fortunately, the British Museum has two exact replicas of the original (made in 1960) and we were able to take detailed measurements.
Taking detailed dimensions at the British Museum
Work progressed on all fronts. Jonathan Letcher, an instrument maker, set about cutting the wood and making the lyre body using our working diagrams and formers
with the Lyre sound box
and rear arm attached
The Lyre under construction
in the workshop
At West Dean, Roger Rose carved the Bull’s Head, horns and beard, Daniel Huff, with goldsmith Tony Beentjes, set out to rediscover the technique of cutting gold sheet and laying onto the head parts.
Daniel used sheet tin to carry out the research and perfect the technique before moving to the gold sheet. These pictures show some of the processes
The gold sheet cut to fit the carving
Melody Zamolio, Student Goldsmith
at West Dean College
preparing the gold sheet
for laying onto the carved wood
Before he returned to USA, Daniel gave us his journal explaining each process and the detailed description of the problems he faced and how he overcame them. This will be a useful reference in any future work.
Daniel Huff with the
completed Bull’s Head
at the hand-over
The Bands of Gold decoration on the arms of the Lyre were laid on by Royal Goldsmith, Alun Evanswho works for Simon Benneythe famous
Fine Metal Workers of London.
This took almost three weeks of work, full time, and required careful cutting-out of the templates, firstly on paper and then in GOLD. It was done using gold sheet and nailed in place using hand-made nails!
Royal Goldsmith, Alun Evans
laying on the Bands of Gold
decoration on the arms of the Lyre.
In the meantime research and experimentation was being undertaken on the decoration.
Over 5,000 pieces of cut Limestone, Mother of Pearl and Lapis Lazuli are
used on the new
Gold Lyre of Ur.
Working from detailed photographs, each piece copies, as nearly as possible, the exact shape and size of the original.
There are 105 sections of this decoration around the sound box alone.
Detail of the decoration
Mother of Pearl
Applying the stone tesserae to the Lyre
Each piece is firmly set in a bed of warm bitumen
Dr Lamia Al Guilani
of Baghdad Museum organised someone to go to HIT in Iraq to collect a
2 kg lump of natural bitumen for us.
It was then driven overland by Mr Ayad Abbas to
Abu Dhabi and sent to us wrapped in 17 plastic bags to contain the pungent odour
Andy Lowings, Chairman of the Group,
Jennifer Sturdy cutting and
then sorting the cut stones
Pure bitumen itself is too rubbery.
After some of research we found that a 30 % addition of beeswax made it perfect to stick down the bits of stone (tesserae).
It hardens over time as the bitumen sets.
Everyone in the team had a hand in the preparation of the stone tesserae and the decoration
Dr Jalili, head of the
National Association of British Arabs
Keith Jobling applying the stone
tesserae to the arms of the Lyre
These pictures show the detail of the finished decoration
on the sound boards and the rear arm
Detail of the decoration on the sound boards
Pink Limestone, Mother of Pearl and Lapis Lazuli
The front of the Golden Lyre had shell plaques attached.
These mythical pictures on the
front of the Lyre showing
demi-gods and cows and leopards
The shell plaques
from the original
We were offered hand cut Cameo images by
Cameo Jewellery Company Ltd in Naples
who do similar work today.
Loughborough University and
Liverpool University Department of Laser Engineering
also offered their joint help.
Cameo cutting, Traditional and Laser
We were eventually given these two sets
The “new” shell plaques
They are set in the same bitumen mixture.
The Plaques from Naples are on the left.
Jo Pond of
handing over the set of shell
plaques cut by
(on the right)
to Andy Lowings
Having completed the construction work we set about investigating
the strings and endeavouring to find out how the lyre was tuned.
Only traces of strings were found in the ground from
other instruments that were found still strung.
By way of technical methods of macro photography
it could be seen how strings were aligned and set up.
The British Museum advised us that original strings were `not metallic` but certainly organic. There are a number of materials from which they could have been made. They could have been: silk, horse-hair, cotton, sinew, gut, skin or leather.
We have elected to use gut strings. All strings have been kindly donated by Bow Brand Strings.
We very soon came across the work of
Professor Anne Kilmer who researched
so exactly the system of tuning of
Sumerian lyres from cuneiform texts.
This is the system we have used
today to tune the Lyre.
The Papyrus Bridge
We next approached the mechanics of tuning the Lyre:
Silver tuning levers were found in the grave, shown clearly on the Silver Lyre.
Similar mechanisms are used today on lyres found throughout the region.
This is the same simple “Spanish Windlass” mechanism that we used.
Tuning levers on the Lyre
Now that the reconstruction of the Lyre
is complete, our aim is to display it
and use it in performances. I would have liked to have brought the lyre to the exhibition and conference but,
being a small charity, funded entirely by ourselves and private donations, we did not have the necessary funding
to have it flown here with the necessary courier and insurance cover.
We now have a number of performance ideas to promote the Lyre based on the story of the last Lyre player.
Also two ballets “Dance for a Golden Lyre” based on the story of the Last Lyre Player have been choreographed and performed, one by a member of the
Royal Ballet Company, the other by the Department of Dance, The University of Iowa. Both are featured on our DVD.
Our future plans include a reconstruction of the
We have already been given the wood for the instrument.
We now have to set about raising the necessary
funds to complete
this next reconstruction
The Silver Lyre
In September 2006, we took the completed lyre to
5th Symposium of the International Study Group of Music-Archaeology in Berlin
where we presented a paper and also made a musical presentation at the Ethnological Museum
In December 2006, the Gold Lyre of Ur Project went to Jordan to take part in the
1st Lyre Forum at Aqaba. Sponsored by UNESCO and the Jordanian Ministry of Culture our newly completed Lyre was transported to Amman and then on to Aqaba where the four-day event took place.
In February 2007, supported by Anglo Gold Ashanti from South Africa, the Gold Lyre of Ur Project was part the 3rd Great African Rift Valley "Earth Festival" held by the Gallmann Foundation in LAIKIPIA Kenya.
In May 2007 we also took part in “INANNA DAY” at the British Museum. Dr. Dominique Collon, a curator in the British Museum's Department of the Ancient Near East, spoke on the geography, history, art, religion, and culture of Sumer.
Wherever we have taken the Lyre, we have received an enthusiastic welcome and generated great interest in this replica of what is probably the oldest known stringed instrument. but, what is probably the most telling reaction arrived in this e-mail received after an earlier presentation:
“I salute you and your team for the great job you have done to reincarnate the Sumerian lyre.
I was one of the first few people to hurry into the Iraqi Museum shortly after it had been plundered! It was not only plundered, but destroyed and messed with intentionally. My eyes were searching for the lyre among the debris. I was scared! I just wished and wished, prayed and prayed (inside).
When I saw its pieces scattered on the ground, I started to cry loudly like a child seeing his own toy crushed into pieces!
From all the languages I know I couldn't remember except one word:
Leesh, leesh, leesh! (Why, why, why!)
Now, when I saw my beloved lyre coming to life again, I wept of pleasure! So thank you, thank you, thank you for that!
I would certainly love to co-operate with you! Unreservedly!
Just tell me what to do!”
We have made a DVD with the Golden Lyre and Silver Pipes (also found at Ur) featuring
Bill Taylor on the Lyre,
Barnaby Brown on the Pipes and narrated by Jennifer Sturdy.
Also the two ballets
“Dance for a Golden Lyre”
based on the story of the Last Lyre Player.
The DVD is available by contacting:
We have invitations to take the Lyre to Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the USA to give performances. The only difficulty we face with all these wonderful invitations is the lack of funding.
If we are to display this iconic instrument to the world, it is imperative that we receive full financial sponsorship. A conservative estimate of expenses for transport, travel and insurance alone is close to $20,000 per annum
We have been criticised (not too harshly) by experts but we hold one thing very dear:
If the last player who laid her hands over the Lyre, as she died 4,750 years ago, were here today we would like to think she would say
“Yes that’s my very own lyre.”
And perhaps she will be here,
after a long journey.
The Lyre of Ur Project
Pictures courtesy of the British Museum and other contributors