The 'Ram in a Thicket'


British Museum

British Museum

This is one of an almost identical pair discovered by the archaeologist Leonard Woolley in the 'Great Death Pit' at Ur (modern Tell al-Muqayyar), in southern Mesopotamia (south Iraq). The Great Death Pit (PG 1237) was the name given by Woolley to one of sixteen tombs at Ur that he distinguished as ‘Royal Tombs’ because of their construction, abundance of grave goods and evidence of elaborate burial rituals and human sacrifice.

The 'ram' is more accurately described as a goat. He is standing upright in order to reach the tastiest branches of a tree or plant. This figure was named the 'Ram in a Thicket' by the excavator Woolley, who liked biblical allusions. Woolley was referring to the Biblical story of Abraham who was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, but at the last moment 'Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns’ (Genesis 22:13).

This is a rare three-dimensional representation of the enduring Mesopotamian artistic theme of the goat and tree. This motif symbolised fertility and reflects the crucial importance of domesticated animals and plants to the inhabitants of Ur. This object was probably part of a larger item such as a table, but the wooden parts did not survive being buried. The goat and branches are made of a variety of materials – mainly gold, copper, lapis lazuli and shell. None of these materials were found in Mesopotamia but they were obtained by trade in return for agricultural produce.

Items like this one, made of rich, exotic materials that were buried in the Royal Tombs at Ur testify to the wealth of Ur, the skill of Sumerian craftsmen and the strength of belief in the afterlife.

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  • Title: The 'Ram in a Thicket'
  • Date Created: -2600/-2600
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 45.70cm; Width: 30.48cm; Length: 4.50in (base); Width: 2.50in (base)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: inlaid
  • Subject: mammal; tree/bush
  • Registration number: 1929,1017.1
  • Production place: Made in Ur
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Royal Cemetery
  • Period/culture: Early Dynastic III
  • Material: gold; lapis lazuli; shell; wood; silver; limestone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Excavated by Woolley, Charles Leonard. Division of Finds Department of Antiquities of Iraq