Silver 'lamp'


British Museum

British Museum

This silver object was discovered in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. In shape it resembles conch shell vessels also found in the Royal Graves. Although often described as 'lamps’ both the conch shells and their metal imitations were probably used for pouring. Similar vessels are used today in Hindu ceremonies for libating milk. It is possible that the Mesopotamian examples may also have been used in temple ritual.

When vessels such as this are found in burials, they are often very close to the deceased. The excavator Leonard Woolley describes a silver pouring vessel of unusual size that was placed across the body of 'Queen' Pu-abi, the owner of one of the richest burials at Ur. A similar vessel from the site of Tell Asmar has a metal ring through the end of the channel spout suggesting that it could be worn, or suspended from the neck of a jar.

It is known that deposits of silver were worked in Iran from the fourth millennium BC. these could have supplied Mesopotamia. However, Anatolia has the greatest quantity of silver-bearing ores of any of Mesopotamia’s neighbours. Some evidence suggests that in the third millennium BC silver was traded from Anatolia down the Euphrates into Sumer. It is not known which mining region was exploited.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Silver 'lamp'
  • Date Created: -2600/-2600
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 16.70cm; Width: 8.90cm; Height: 1.20cm; Weight: 105.00g
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: hammered
  • Registration number: 1928,1009.186
  • Production place: Made in Ur
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Royal Cemetery
  • Period/culture: Early Dynastic III
  • Material: silver
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Excavated by Woolley, Charles Leonard. Division of Finds Department of Antiquities of Iraq