North Mesopotamian Jewellery during the Third Millennium B.C.: Some Considerations. (Fabrice De Backer)


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Volume II. Analysis




            As a starting point to our research, we need a question to answer, or at least a general idea that needs to be demonstrated and confirmed, or not.

            In the third millennium B.C., where we locate Northern Mesopotamia, people wore clothes and adornments including “precious” materials: why ?[6] Our first impression is that this was a mark of status, another indicator of this conspicuous consumption phenomenon which reveals a social organisation including different levels or fields of activity. Other functions might also complete jewellery’s characteristics, such as the economical and magical aspects, and we will see how we can manage to identify them.

            As ethnographical comparisons, we tried to see when and where this kind of values, attributed to what we could also name “jewellery”, started or ended. A simple look at the two following figures will show this kind of thought seems to belong to part of human’s culture. There is no real difference between this person buried during the Upper Palaeolithic in Zungir, ex-USSR, with what must have been a magnificent clothes with sewed shells and the Chairman of Cambridge’s College nowadays when he wears his ceremonial dress. People have taken time to realise such clothes for them, which means they both received some respect from the other humans of their proper society.


Fig. 265: Zungir Tomb skeleton.



                                                           Fig. 266: The Cambridge College Chairman in 1979.


            Now, let us see how this might be revealed by the jewellery for the societies living in Northern Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C.

            First, we will briefly install the historical context of the three periods studied and, then, we will mention some essential clues to the comprehension of the general frame of the civilizations, i.e. sources of raw materials, meanings of transport or workshops.

            Secondly, we will manage to precise which kind of evidences can be yielded by the three specific archaeological contexts we have to deal with: tombs, deposits and hoards.

            Thirdly, we will discuss the four particular functions of the jewellery, as they appear in the light of this study: economic, social, magic, “professional”, and international.

            At the end of this analysis, a short conclusion will summarize the evidences collected during our study and indicate further topic of research.



1. Historical Context


a: Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2900-2350):


      The development of irrigation, agriculture and animal-breeding contributed to the emergence of city-states in Northern and Southern Mesopotamia. After the apparition of huge fortifications around cities, food and metal trades also helped the contemporary local civilizations to desire a place close to the sun. Periods of war and peace succeeded as the fighters could afford better weapons, derived from metal, or vehicles, linked with animal breeding. Both things are illustrated in archaeological excavations and on contemporary documents, such as the Vulture Stelae and the Standards of Ur or Mari.


Fig. 267: Heavy spearmen and chariots on the Standard of Ur.


      These two aspects of the warfare were related to the position of those cities on the natural resources map of Mesopotamia at that time. Being close to the Mediterranean area, to Anatolia, Iran and Afghanistan, Northern Mesopotamian cities have a nice place in the centre of the international trade and technical network of the North. On the other hand, Southern Mesopotamia was a hard competitor, with its key position over the Persian Gulf, controlling the international trade and technical network with the Sea Lands, Africa and India.


  Fig. 268: Natural resources of Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C.


      “Kingship”, as it is mentioned in the Sumerian Kings List, was travelling from a city to another, stayed for a while, then once again left for another. War had also other motivations, such as the control of territories, raw materials sources or trade roads. In this climate of relative security, cities managed to create alliances by marriage or economical treaties. Ambassadors and messengers ran the international relationships network in every direction, defying the dangers of travels, and bringing with them presents for their hosts or future allies. Ships and caravans transported their freight of goods and precious materials

-metals, organics and stones- from even the far India or Afghanistan.

      Trade, writing and war provoked the emergence of new classes of “citizens”, enriched by their economic activities, their knowledge or by their behaviour on the battlefields. An examination of the contemporary tombs from Ur or Mari clearly reveals this kind of diversification of the people’s usual dress according to the equipment they were buried with. Warfare became a specific professional trade and this leaded to the creation of specific types of soldiers for specific purposes, heavier or lighter equipped[7]. Scribes and merchants also emerged as professionals, leading to the creation of a kind of “establishment”, thus complicating the intra-social contacts of the cultures.

      Briefly, as a society includes specialists, there might be a need to recognize them, and as there must have existed older or much more specialized ones, there is also a need to show some part of respect from one to another.


b: Akkadian Period (ca. 2350-2193):


      The parts of tradition and history of the Old Akkadian Period are quite hardly distinguishable.  What we know is that a “True King”, as the name of Sargon is translated from Old Akkadian, conquered the Sumerian city-states under his single rule. Ships were still coming from the Indian and Persian Gulf area to his capital, Akkad, and military campaigns sent to Anatolia and other bordering areas in search for precious goods and strategic positions. The daughter of the king eventually became High Priestess of Nanna, the Moon god of Ur, as the cultural exchanges between Sumerians and Akkadians were very ancient and pursued. As a useful point to mention for our analysis, let us say that the king also relied over his army officers to administrate conquered territories, meaning they must have received and exhibited some status indicators of their functions[8].


Fig.269: Part of Narâm-Sin’s Victory Stelae, showing one of the closer soldiers below him
and some attributes surrounded in red.

      Archaeology shows this kind of concern as we find the corpse of a sargonic general in a re-used E.D. tomb at Tell Beydar or one of the akkadian kings wearing quite a similar

hair-dress to the usual sumerian ruler’s on a statue head[9].

      After his death, his heirs, Rimush and Manishtushu, had to subdue rebellions in the conquered lands, reached the shores of the Upper and the Lower Sea, and added Assur, Elam and Oman to their kingdom.

      Sargon’s grandson, Narâm-Sin, also needed to fight to preserve his possessions and changed the kingship’s nature. He became himself a living god instead of ruling for them, which can be deduced by some evidences, such as the horns added to his tiara’s representations in the art or the cuneiform sign for “god” before his name in the inscriptions[10].


Fig. 270: Head of a statue thought to represent Narâm-Sin of Akkad.


Fig. 271: Electrum helmet of Meskalamdug of Ur.

      Things started to go wrong again when his son received the crown. Shar-Kali-Sharri’s central administration could hardly maintain its control over such a large empire. With the Amorite Tribes on the West, the Guti Tribes in the eastern mountains, the inner fight of high dignitaries for kingship and the inner rebellions of the vassals. The two last rulers of Akkad, Dudu and Shu-Durul saw the remains of their empire devastated by the Guti invasions.


c: Ur III Period (ca. 2193-2000 B.C.):


      After the fall of Akkad and the following invasion, Gudea of Lagash, one of the former vassal city-states, started a new period of cultural and economical wealth.

The sea- and river-ships, as the caravans, travelled again to complete an international relationships network[11]. Ur-Nammu of Ur took part in this process and managed to group some of his neighbours around him in a kind of political sphere of influence by marriages or treaties. In the mean time, Utu-Hegal of Uruk freed Sumer from the rule of the invaders.

      At the death of his father, Shulgi became King of Ur and initiated a double-sided process: fight and diplomacy helped him to enlarge and re-organize his empire, reaching Assur and Suse, to the north and east of Mesopotamia. He also retained the Amorite Tribes pressure between Tigris and Euphrates, but his too-perfected and heavy bureaucracy will lead his sons and grandson to disaster. His rule saw a large development in the cultural, political and economical wealth of Ur, with intensive contacts, further and further[12].

      His sons and heirs will achieve the new part of the Kings or Ur’s graveyard and will eventually show evidences of a kind of political decadence. Within a single generation, territory after territory, region after region, city after city, the kings of Ur lose the greater part of their possessions. After the military putsch of Ishbi-Era and the establishment of his dynasty at Isin, ruling over Northern Babylonia, the Elamites looted Ur and brought the last king back to Anshan.



2. General Frame


            The raw materials used in jewellery came from some specific sources, either because they were not available on the proper territory of Mesopotamia, or because hostile cultures blocked and controlled the access roads to them. Here is a short mention for the provenance of some quite precious goods we had to deal with in this present work:

            Trade was usually the very way to answer the problem of local unavailability, by exchange or as payment for petty things such as creating a kind of “colony” for people coming from a certain country in the Sea Lands and installed in Mesopotamia[13]. War could also allow people to reach precious materials by sending military campaigns in the regions the sources lied in.

            Another mean to obtain precious goods was to gain the control of strategic key-points over the very large network of roads and trails through the ancient Near East, from Turkey and Cyprus to India, and from Georgia to the Persian Gulf.

            Usually, precious goods, mainly metals and stones, came from their provenance point and reached the storerooms of the temples by means of caravans or ships[14]. There, in the temple or palace’s workshops, artisans and artists transformed them into jewels or furnitures, either for human’s social or ritual use and adornments, or for architectonic and statuary decoration[15]. Once finished, and according to the type of object realised, those precious items were stored, placed where they were assigned to be in specific areas, or used for diplomatic purposes, as reward for honourable people, political gift or dowries[16].



3. Sources and Consequences


            As we want to study jewellery, we have to take its archaeological provenance in account, as this could and will influence the results of our research. We will so have a short review of the three types of contexts where jewellery was recovered and see which context can bring information about which point of research.


a. Tombs

                        Obviously, tombs are suspected to give us more information about people adorned with jewels, thus revealing a part of their society’s establishment, and groups might be established according to specific functions of the items. It could be interesting to see whether a certain kind of groups or “hierarchy” existed within the jewellery and how these might be linked to specific fields of activities, such as military, religious, economic or politics.


b. Deposits

                        Deposits usually include a more religious function than tombs, as they may belong to such categories as foundations or other specific rituals. Enough is to say this kind of context appears, for our catalogue at least, only in religious or semi-religious areas, i.e. temple or palace complexes. The problem with that kind of assemblage lies in the fact that real typology can hardly, or not really be traced.


c. Hoards

                        As one can understand, this kind of assemblages can hardly yield clues about something else than the precious values of the materials it includes. Some examples will show that, for some pieces, it seems the symbolic value also played a role in the motivation to save it from looting or destruction.



4. The Functions of the Jewellery


            Jewellery is not only worn for its pleasant appearance, to our advice at least, because there are some more reasons for the possession of jewels. There was obviously an inclination for the shapes or the colours of the materials, as we also find bronze and copper jewellery, which must have been polished when they adorned people or other things. As there is also a proportion of frit, faïence, even clay beads recovered in jewellery assemblages, it seems people who could not afford the precious stones had to turn themselves to cheaper ones or copies, as it is still the fact today with fashion items or strass.


a) as a Precious Material Reserve


            As they were quite scarce, and hard to obtain, some goods became obviously precious and researched. So people, who could afford it, tried to get some of these, mainly because it is a pleasant and sure way for one to keep some “emergency funds” over in case of problems. This was still the fact during World War II, when even the golden teeth of the Jews were recovered, for instance, or when the prisoners bought chocolate or false I.D. papers with their alliance.

            For the periods we are interested in, we have traces in texts that some materials, gold and silver above all, were used as a kind of money for exchanges or to settle up expenses when it was needed or when other goods were not available[17]. Jewellery could also be exchanged that way, as some small sticks or unrolled hair-locks, in silver or gold, which could easily be cut in parts[18]. Nevertheless, people who wore precious materials jewels daily might not really have needed them as money-like objects.

            Another way to exchange money-like jewellery was the “ring money” used in Mesopotamia until the end of Ur III Period, with typical marks over it to identify its weight and value, maybe following the number of strings ?[19]

            The contexts belonging to the three periods studied in this thesis have yielded a lot of hair-locks, usually and mistakenly called “earring” by the excavators. Three simple points support this idea: firstly, the thickness of the extremities might push the people passing them into the hole pierced through their ear lobe to shout with suffering. Secondly, this kind of object is large enough to grip some locks of hair together, and, lastly, these are usually recovered next to the skull or to the chest of the bodies in tombs. This must not obviously mean they were earrings, for the reason we explained above, but many samples of this kind of jewel on one single ear might enlarge it a lot. On the other hand, as it has been the fashion during summer some years ago, they can be fitted around the hairs, to decorate some threads, which can be demonstrated by both their place around the skull or the chest and the presence of many examples over a simple side of it.


Fig. 272: Tell Brak: Deposit including some unrolled golden hair-locks.

Fig. 273: Tell Brak: complete golden hair-lock


Fig. 274: Tell Brak: Hair-lock with one of the extremities cut off.


                        Another way to transport jewellery when this served as money was maybe to give it the shape of a chain, whose stitches could be taken off quickly[20]. After all, the exchange rates were sometimes expressed in weight values, which could be an argument to support this hypothesis[21]. This reminds the Chinese practice with their pierced coins that people stringed over a wire[22]. A chain is also a kind of jewel but only two were recovered in the contexts studied in this thesis. It might mean this type of adornment was not used as a personal decoration it Northern Mesopotamia or that its precious materials were recuperated each time it was needed and so let no traces. Comparisons can be found in the Burial 93 of Kish, Tell Asmar Palace and in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, as parts of male headbands. The function of Deposit FS 1958 chains from Tell Brak is still problematic.


Fig. 275: Silver chains from FS 1958 at Tell Brak.

            Precious stones might also have served as a kind of money, mainly with the shape of bracelets or necklaces, as we take a look at the textual evidences or at the hoards[23]. It also appears that stones, moreover foreign ones, can be usually found in large number, as parts of jewels or, more scarcely, as a recuperation material. We can not find explicit traces of stones being exchanged for economic purposes, except hazily in the Ur III texts and the Old Assyrian Period, but this might have happened as so many texts descript metal and stone jewels without a clear context[24].


b) as a Status Indicator


1) General Symbolization


            The conspicuous consumption of rare, so to say precious materials is related with the emergence of state or societies with maintained wealth[25].

            Precious metals, gold and silver mainly, owe their success on the one hand to their appearance and way to reflect light. The goldsmith’s techniques obviously take advantage of the quite easy way both can be worked. The durability of gold also made it one of the most researched symbols of excellence[26]. On the other hand, silver implies a more specialized technology and maintaining work, as it is scarcely found pure in nature and greenish quite easily with moisture. Anyway, as long as both were kept in good conditions, they could retain their lustre for indefinite periods, which was surely one more reason for people to wear them as symbols of excellence. As gold has the first hand on this aspect of their characteristics, it seems clear that a kind of “hierarchy of the metals” was designed, even unconsciously.

            Base metals, i.e. bronze and copper, could be easily afforded by other people, still having some reasons to obtain them, for weapon, tool or even cheaper jewellery production[27].

            One of the essential points on which we rely to explain this kind of hierarchy is that base metals needed to be maintained and protected from corrosion, by such means as cleaning them with a cloth, abrasive materials and oil. One of the others is that they were easier to find or to obtain in the Mesopotamia of the third millennium B.C., and so dispersed and widely used for a lot of different purposes, for they were tougher than gold and silver, the last one being jewellery[28]. The third argument we would like to use is a fact we remarked in the excavation reports of L. Woolley in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. He noted a difference in the metallic components of the weapons and jewellery found next to the bodies of soldiers in the Great Death Pitt. Some spears had points and shafts decoration made out copper, bronze, silver or gold as the weapons lied closer and closer to the authority’s chariot[29]. Finally, precious metals are found in each type of context –tomb, deposit, hoard- studied in this thesis and seem to have received much more attention from the contemporary humans than other metals.

            Copper and tin have mainly been imported and exchanged for other goods, such as food or such things, as it is told in a Sumerian poem[30]. This means that, even as base metals, they had still a certain value, as the tombs of Mari show a large proportion of bronze jewels and that the single tomb of Tell Brak yielded a single copper bracelet. As another example, let us remind that the lions keeping the palace of Mari were made out of copper.


            After his victory over the demon Asakku and the rebelled part of the Stone-men community, the god Ninurta thanked the loyal stones, the future “precious ones”, by allowing them to be part of gods and humans adornment. A specific text, called the “Abnu shikni-shu” established the geographical origins, characteristics and qualities of the stones, naming them according to their use as medicine potion components, magical items or jewellery, still with a zoological, phytological or natural event association. Modern identification of these minerals is quite difficult with our own terminology, but some might quite easily be recognized[31].

            The attention accorded to precious stones by human relied over some specific characteristics of the materials. Colour, texture, durability, rarity and exotic origin compose the essential ones we can mention[32]. Further the stone comes from, higher is the importance of the owner as it is an indicator of power: he/she needed people, travel means, wealth and employed people to obtain it, that makes this person important. The following lines will show to the reader the importance of this point in the position of the sites we studied in this work[33].

            Lapis-lazuli could only but provoke a huge interest for some Ancient Near Eastern civilizations, and elsewhere, for its gold-spotted blue colour, reflecting light in so many smaller rays, and coming from so far an area as Afghanistan, where the mines were still exploited in 1986. Caravans brought it to Northern Mesopotamia, where it was either used or re-directed by ships or caravans to the Mediterranean Area, Anatolia, Central Asia or Southern Mesopotamia. This helps us to understand the effective position of Tell Brak as an outpost warding the northern trade routes and Mari’s as a checkpoint for the river trade on the Euphrates. Lapis-lazuli sometimes appears as a magic stone related with violence or death because it is mentioned in the Old Akkadian version of “Inanna’s descent to the Netherworld” as the basic component of the royal palace, where Nergal and Ereshkigal ruled this part of the world, and of the rod given to the late Dumuzi[34]. Lapis-lazuli seemed to represent a highly valuable material, as twenty kg of it were recovered in one of the inner courts of the palace of Ebla[35].

            Carnelian, a dark, reddish orange stone came from India or the Persian Gulf, by means of boats reaching Southern Mesopotamia, which explains then the importance and wealth of Ur as a key-point for the control of this kind of trade. Another way to obtain this stone was to travel across Iran and the surrounding areas with caravans to the upper or the lower part of Mesopotamia.

            Turquoise and similar stones, such as rock crystal, onyx or jet came from Iran, India or Persian Gulf Islands and turned around key-centres as Ur, Brak or Mari by means of boats or caravans.

            Precious stones were also used to decorate statues or temples, produce jewels, please foreign sovereigns as a diplomatic gift or as another mean of settling up expenses when it was needed.


Fig. 276: Map showing the road network of Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C.:

Tell Brak: red; Mari: green; Ebla: blue; Ur: orange.


            No need is to mention that animal-breeding cities, as Ebla, must have taken a lot of interest, advantages and risks in that situation. In spite of the political problems, perhaps except during a period ranging from one to three years when things were really going bad, either for the importers or for the exporters, the international trade never really stopped for a long time.


2) Society Level Indicator


            As it is the case in modern Western Europe, people from the ancient near east sometimes received gift for special events of their life, as a first male child, a marriage, an ordination or funerals. Funerary offerings and burial rituals were displayed to show the family’s wealth or the relative social status of the late person. This one was supposed to live a flat imitation of life in the Netherworld as the physical remains were confined in the tomb and prevented from going out and haunt humans by means of rituals or offerings[36].

            We must take some facts in account when we try to infer the social status of people from their tombs, as they might not be buried with their own belongings, meaning with those they wore during their life-time[37]. As examples of this, let us mention the Substitute King Ritual or the custom of offering gifts to ancestors when a new person was buried, i.e. see in the texts of Ebla[38]. We have to be warned, when using such sources, that differences certainly existed in the social values of those neighbouring but different towns, and that these texts only mention ladies apparel. We have to accept the temporary failure of our attempts to define whether a kind of jewel could be worn only by special authorization of authorities, i.e. king and temple.

            It seems to us that, according to the order following which Inanna was undressed of her divine jewels at the entrances of the Netherworld, the basis of a certain hierarchy of the jewels might be established[39]. This is the following one: crown, earrings, necklaces, toggle-pins, belt (of stones), bracelets and garment. Hair-locks and rings maybe stood on a different meaningful plan than the other jewels or were just details of the social apparatus indicators.

            As we wrote it above, materials were also organized in a kind of hierarchy, including electrum, gold, silver, bronze and copper, and lapis-lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, rock crystal an frit and faïence from top to bottom. As a simple example of this, let us mention that the poorer tombs we have in our catalogue for the third millennium B.C. usually include at least one bracelet or toggle-pin, eventually in copper. Lead and iron jewels existed but we have no such objects in the contexts we had to study for this work.

            Did the different kinds of jewel, along with those of metals or stones represent a certain level of the society? We think this might have been the case, as the Immortals of Darius IIIrd or the army officers of the “Guerre en Dentelle” of the XVIIIth century in Western Europe wore uniforms decorated with golden or silver brandebourgs according to their place in the hierarchy[40]. For the stones, we just have to think about the scholars of the former Emperor of China, the “mandarins”, who wore a specific kind of gem on the top of their hat to identify their place in the nobility or their field of activity.


3) Field of Activity Indicator


            The main problem one encounters when trying to recognize specific jewels as specific function indicators, is that there is nearly no way to do so. Jewellery, as a symbol of power or sacredness, is very confusing when one compares the archaeological and philological data because we need the other items belonging to the assemblages to do so. As a clue, we would like to mention some evidences that might be helpful, such as the presence of daggers, maybe more related with secular power, or tools, maybe related with more sacred power, as they belong to specific attributions of the deities. An analysis of jewellery from any context, well structured, and using the iconography of seal-cylinders decorative patterns, for example, would be very interesting.


Fig. 277: Akkadian cylinder-seal impression showing gods with some of their attributes.
The Sun god in the centre holds a saw.


            It actually seems that power and sacred attributes appear very often mixed, either for ED, Akkadian or Ur III period[41]. Were they identified by their decorative pattern ? This is quite hard to say for the same reason. This may lie within the fact that Mesopotamian palace organisation was interweaving the secular and religious powers so much that the differentiation of specific attributes became soon difficult to make[42]. Eventually, some sources let us consider some other jewels were related to kingship or to religious power as the text called “The Death of Ur-Nammu” but without precisions.

            We will have a brief review of the jewellery we encountered during our research and see what we can manage to obtain as information.


            Narâm-Sin’s statue wears a headband (Akk.: ša-mu) very similar to the shape of one which had adorned a statue recovered in the Temple of Ishtarat at Mari[43]. As both include a sacred context, divinity, and a secular one, king and palace, it becomes hardly feasible for the non-initiated that we are to identify one or the other specific item relating to any of them. The philological evidences for that can, for instance, simply rely on the well-known text, “Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld”, showing a perfect, and deliberate, confusion in the godess’s power attributes definition[44]. It would be easier with the discovery of other evidences giving much more information for some “obvious” functions related to special jewels, as the Christian bishops have their ring for example. Sadly, the texts from Ebla do not really shed further light over that question, as the late ladies received the same type of jewels, either for their marriage, their ordination as priestess or for their funerals[45].

            Gudea’s curly or rings diadem might better be related with religious power, as rings were part of god’s garments and that it also can be seen on his figurines as a worshipper[46]. On some stelae or cylinder-seals, we may then make a first difference between this curly diadem and the kind of ring or headband which is shown, with what seems to be necklaces, as a symbol of investiture[47].



Fig. 278a: Statue representing Gudea of Lagash as a worshipper with the ring-diadem;
b: detail of the diadem


            Necklaces and bracelets (Akkad.: ma-ha-na-gúm; gú-li-lum/GIŠ.DU) are commonly shown on Akkadian and Ur III religious and secular power representatives, as Narâm-Sin, the King of Lagash or Ur III cylinder-seals, without any noticeable differentiation between metallic and stone materials[48]. As they also appear on military officers, they might also have served as a kind of military decoration for soldiers[49]. ED documents scarcely show this kind of jewels on statues because the jewels could be taken off the statues to be repaired of changed[50]. As the ED period saw small city-states fighting each other, it is possible that authority or social rank was expressed in another way, such as hair- and beard-dress, special garment or weapon. This last hypothesis seems partly demonstrated by the recovery of precious material weapons and equipment in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, for example the electrum helmet of Meskalamdug[51]. Besides, jewels also appear on the representations of goddess or priestess figurines, maybe representing Ishtar.


Fig. 279: King Narâm-Sin of Akkad with the bracelets surrounded by a red line.



Fig. 280: Detail of Narâm-Sin’s victory stelae, showing the divine attributes, including tiara, necklaces and bracelets, the laters surrounded by a red line.                                              


Fig. 281: a: Moon-god Nanna tends a headband (?) and necklaces to Ur-Nammu;
b: Detail of the headband and necklaces hold by the deity.



Fig. 282: Detail of a clay figurine supposed to represent a king of Lagash
with the bracelets surrounded by a red line.



Fig. 283: Clay figurine representing a Syrian godess, maybe Ishtar, adorned with jewels.


            Toggle-pins (Akkad.: bu-di) were an important society marker, as the poorer tombs have at least one made out copper and other group sometimes including eight pieces, with or without the hole in the shaft to fix a seal-cylinder[52]. The reason for that is, being fitted over the breast to maintain garments, it was one of the first things to be seen by other people. These objects were also a good gift, for the male or female, living or dead relatives, whether they were offered to the new member of the family when there was a wedding, or to the ancient ones when an interment took place[53]. As the texts of Ebla mention, the ladies which received that kind of jewel were priestess or related the ruling family. A close look at the pre-sargonic shell inlays from Mari shows that curved toggle-pins seemed to be used alone, as it might be the case for the straight ones also, and to be reserved to a certain type of women, at least at Mari. Both types of pins, i.e. curved and straight one, can hold either something like a string of bead ended by a kind of ring or a cylinder-seal. This analysis should be deepened, but time and room are limited as we have to write it within a single year and cover a whole millennium.


Fig. 284: Shell inlays from Mari showing a woman wearing one single curved toggle-pin (green line) with cylinder-seal (blue line) and a priestess with two straight toggle-pin (red) and what may be a string of beads ended by a ring (yellow).



Fig. 285: Shell inlays from Mari showing two women with a straight toggle-pins decorated with what seems to be a string of beads ended by a ring (green) or a cylinder-seal (blue).



                        Others scenes show some military officers of the pre-sargonic army wearing what seems to be one or two straight toggle-pin(s) over their breast to fix their mantel.




Fig.286: Shell inlay fragments from the palace of Mari: a: army officer wearing what seems to be two straight toggle-pins (surrounded in red) crossed over his breast to fix his mantel; b: army officer wearing what could be a single toggle-pin (surrounded in red) to fix his mantel over his shoulder.

            We found no traces of toggle-pins representations on human figures neither for the Akkadian Period nor for the following one. On the other hand, as these objects are present in the hoards and deposits dating back to those time-periods, their use, even just as valuables, must have been maintained.


            Before starting to discuss about the “pectorals” (Akk.: á-ra-ma-tum), we would like to precise the nature of some objects we have assimilated with that kind of “jewel” within our catalogue and before the beginning of the analytic period of our redaction of this thesis. The “pectorals”, as we name these pieces in the catalogue, can be divided into three parts: curved, flat and couples.

            It seems that the curved ones usually appear associated with headbands, weapons (i.e. axe-heads or daggers or arrow-heads) next to the head of the corpse and are generally made out bronze. This fact invites us to think it might be identified with pieces of armour. For Mari, because this is the place where those pieces where recovered at, they could be a part of the light material “helmet” worn over their heads by soldiers. Being placed on top of the head, and maintained in position by any means (this study is not our present topic), they might well have been kinds of caps to protect the head against the blows of weapons during the battles[54]. It is necessary to mention that some objects of this types were recovered next to or over the scapula of the body, but we have mentioned the importance of taphonomy for the study of tombs in the first volume of his thesis. Let us note that this type of protection was still used under the tricorns of the Austrian heavy cavalry of the “Guerre en Dentelle” of the XVIIIth century. The head of a soldier’s statue found at Mari, even if this object is quite later than the studied periods fits the comparison well with the pre-sargonic shell inlays found at the there and supports our idea.


Fig. 287: Head of a warrior statue recovered at Mari and showing the «helmet», with the supposed position of the curved and circular plate indicated by a red arrow.

Fig. 288: Mari: shell inlays fragments showing the light materials helmet The details which might emphasize the position of the bronze curved and circular plate over the head as part of it are surrounded by a red line.

            The following lines will come to enlighten and support this thesis, as they prove our theory and show another way to adorn people with another certain kind of jewellery.

            As we mentioned it in the first part of this thesis, the army changed a lot during ED period, with the apparition of a heavy class of soldiers represented, for instance, on the Standard of Ur[55]. Those warriors wore an armoured mantel, called the kur-si-du / qúr-pí-su, the far fore-runner of the future scale-armour of the second millennium B.C.[56] This type of garment was firstly designed for the statues of the gods, studded with precious materials plates or clothed with garment including sewed plates of metals which could, when needed, be taken off for repair or cleaning[57]. It also served as a vestis regia for some civilizations of Western Asia, as evidences of this practice are not only mentioned in the texts, but can also be observed on the material documents. This practice can be traced as far as the fourth millennium, at least in the Obeid Culture from Southern Iraq, on clay figurines representing a man or a woman with an ophidian head. Following the gender, the small and circular pellets appear either on the breast or the arms of these beings.


Fig. 289(right): Male figure with small pellets (surrounded by a red line) over the breast


Fig. 290 (left): Female figure with the small pellets (surrounded by a red line) over the arms.


            Different ornaments could be sewed over the borders of the garments of the deities statues (Akk.: mušiptu / niphu) during the third millennium B.C., such as rings, rosettes, disks, stars, beads, ribbons, plants, animals (i.e. lion: UR.GU.LA)[58] or square elements. Means to fix those objects over linen or leather-coated garments varied from rings soldered to the back, or holes drilled into the centre, the border or the corners[59]. The number and arrangement of these bracteates, which could be fixed on tiara, mitre, frontlet, fillet, shawls or garments, might have varied a lot according to each peculiar society. This does not ease our task when all the supports where these items were sewed on have disappeared and that we have scanty traces on visual arts, usually associated with a religious or secular context.      Another problem we encounter, is to make the difference between the bracteates and the beads, for the very small-size objects, or between the beads and the tassels, as texts mention also tassels as decoration for the garments of statues and ruler or ruling family members[60]. From ED to Ur III, at least for our catalogue, it seems the tendency will go on, with some varieties, such as the shells beads published as earrings that might well be part of such a “golden garment”[61].

            We also have to think about all these tiny amulets that we think were pendants, that could also be part of vestis regia or vestis dei ornaments for their prophylactic qualities as precious beads and for their kind of apotropaic decorative pattern showing animals or plants[62].


Fig.291: Shell inlay fragment found in the Palace of Mari, showing the king, wearing a garment decorated with what might be bracteates (surrounded in red).



Fig. 292: Statue of a female worshipper from Ur, wearing a garment decorated with beads (surrounded in red).

Fig. 293: Statue of Idi-ilum, šakkanakku of Mari, found in the Palace. The garment includes small items (surrounded by a red line) similar to beads or amulets.




Fig.294: Female figurine found in the Palace precinct of Tell Brak, with two plates (surrounded by a red line),
or a double pectoral, over the breast.


This fashion will become more and more complex until the discovery of embroidery but still be used on an equal point to “plating” at least until the Achaemenids.

            As we me mentioned it earlier, the circular plates of this group were sometimes associated with weapons in the tombs, whichever metal they were made of gold, silver or bronze. This is just to remind us that Napoleon Ist’s infantry officers wore parts of armour around their throat, the “hausse-col”, whose metal allowed people to identify the peculiar type of troops they were serving in, but this is just an interesting remark, nothing else.

            Another type of pectoral has perhaps been identified, the so-called double pectoral of the princess and priestess of Ebla that we think must have been very similar to the one recovered in the Treasure Jar of Mari[63].

Fig. 295: Double pectoral from the Treasure Jar of Mari.


            The ribbon used to decorate the hair (Akk.: šibtu) or the hat of people, usually fixed by a hairpin or maybe some simple pins, that might also well have set maintained the turban. On the shell inlays fragment of Mari, the wreath appears in varying ways, from a single one on “priestess” hat or many on other women’s, or on the remains of Puabi of Ur[64].

Fig. 296: Puabi’s beauty jewellery: a golden hair-pin (green arrow), a golden crown made with interlaced rings (blue arrow) and golden ribbons, maybe maintained by pins in the hair (red arrow).


Fig. 297: Shell inlay fragment from the Palace of Mari showing the head of a woman with ribbons decorating the head.


            The only crown we have in our catalogue, from the Akkadian period, comes from a treasure found in Tell Brak, along with a headband, a “pectoral” and two necklaces[65]. Puabi’s beauty apparel showed us that necklaces can also be a kind of head decoration item. Maybe this was offered to a goddess or to a dead queen spirit, but this stays a simple hypothesis until new discoveries are published.


            Earrings, hair-locks and finger-rings can hardly be related to a specific function, as they appear in nearly every context we have studied and sometimes in large numbers. The Akkadian version of “Inanna / Ishtar’s Descent to the Netherworld” changed the rod she left at the second door for earrings, but ED and Ur III groups also yielded similar objects[66].

Maybe these jewels were a mark of economic wealth, as they also belong to the funeral belongings of an Assyrian merchant and as they are found in very large numbers in the Royal Cemetery of Ur[67]. This way, they might be a way to identify some people of a relative high social status, even if this one came from wealth, because statesmen and temple authorities did thank the merchants or people having fulfilled their mission for them by special gift[68]. As we had to concentrate on Northern Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C., we could not deepen this idea.


            Before the beginning of the last chapter of this analysis, we would like to precise the nature, or at least to give an hypothesis, of the omega-shaped objects we have in our catalogue[69]. Were it in bronze or in copper, we might have thought of a kind of skirt hook-fastener, as this kind of device was used to such purposes until 1960 A.D. As there are only two, in silver, and always found with weapons, “plates”, pectorals and precious jewels, this might be an item designed to look like the symbol of Ishkur, the storm god, as an amulet. A. Green precises it appears rarely on Akkadian or Old Babylonian documents, but this might be an exception, as long as our hypothesis is later demonstrated or not[70].


c) as a Magical Device


            We want to stress the fact that, maybe more than the material it was made out of, the decorative pattern might also really have played an important role in some part of the prophylactic nature of the jewels, such as stars, rosettes or demon-like pendant[71]. We have scarcely found such kind of decoration, at least in a very good state of preservation, in our catalogue.

            Except in some cases, it is really hard to identify a specific use of specific stones for specific reasons. We will give some examples we collected during our researches in the following lines. A carnelian necklace, placed around a generic evil figurine, was used to repel a haunting ghost; a belt, decorated with specific stones, was supposed to facilitate the delivery of pregnant women or to enhance their sexual and fertile powers[72]. The origins of this kind of magical device seem to go back as far as the Hassuna and Obeid period, if we assume this is what we think.




Fig.298 (right): Anthropomorphic figurines with necklaces, Hassuna, sixth mil. B.C.

Fig. 299 (left): Anthropomorphic figurine, suckling a baby, with a painted stripe over the waist,
Obeid, fourth mil.


            One might remark, having fully read our catalogue, that most important precious stones quantities are found within the sacred context, moreover in the “ritual” deposits or tombs, maybe attesting a preference of the gods for the jewels encrusted with precious stones. They could also be given to prevent the ghost to haunt the living members of the family. After all, Western Europe has also its wishing well or fountains and the custom of throwing a handful of earth on the coffin during the internment.


d) as an International Contact Agent


            As a precious material object, jewellery has a lot of reason to travel, and so to link people; even a simple tomb-looter, going to sell his booty from an ancient grave to a contemporary city serves this cause.


            When a wedding took place, jewels were amongst the dowry given by a ruling family, and some high officials, to the other, as it has certainly been the case for the treasure contained in the jar found at Mari.


            Besides dowries, religious or military booty -as the statues of deities could be deported for a long time in case of war-, there were also travelling artists and artisans, or foreign merchants thanked by a certain authority for a well-done job. All these functions have been discussed further in the preceding lines, now let us explain how jewellery sometimes helped to keep peace and equilibrium, less than dowry but still.


            As we wrote it at the beginning of this volume, the ED period was very unstable, the Akkadian one was very busy with foreign expeditions or rebellions to subdue and the Ur III one was a time of liberation, centralisation, organisation and extension. All the events have one fact in common: the travelling armies, from a city to another then back to the previous one or forth to another place. This means a lot of troops were having some rests to any friendly or allied halting-places, where they received certain amounts of gifts as honourable offerings for them, in a way to greet their sovereign. Moreover, at this period also, the letters that kings, princes or governors were sending to each others also mentioned some good wishes for the armies, fields and flocks. The gift exchanges were organised on a value scale, rigorously recorded by the giver and by the receiver, to be sure the status was respected and that next time will see at least the same amount given to the previous receivers when the situation would have been inversed. The textual evidences support this idea as the titles that were used in the mail followed the power and wealth of people, from top to bottom: my “father”, my “brother”, my “son”. As a good protocol rule, there were titles and amount of persons to respect, according to their status: officials, soldiers or merchants. For instance, a general could receive, besides food, garments and shoes, golden ring and disk, while his ten captains would receive a golden bracelet and ring and the twenty following lieutenants, one ring of silver[73]. After all, the modern world has also its medals and honorific gifts and titles, given sometimes to visiting V.I.P.’s, scholars or stars, as the golf course super Mari: shell inlays fragments showing the light materials helmet The details which might emphasize the position of the bronze curved and circular plate over the head as part of it are surrounded by a red Tiger Woods is Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Taiwan.


            Deities also seemed to be a travelling agent for jewellery, as it appears from a votive toggle-pin head (?) found in the Treasure Jar from Mari[74].


            The decorative pattern of some jewels, i.e. necklaces beads or hair-locks, shows the extent of the international diplomatic network, or at least the cultural one, during the third millennium B.C. The famous double or quadruple spiral beads, found from Georgia to the Indus and from Cyprus to Iran, are one of the material remains of this wonderful kind of international culture[75].


Fig. 300: Quadruple-spiral bead from Troy.


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[6] This idea of «precious» obviously varies according to the ressources and needs of the people living in a certain area at a certain time.

[7] See Fig. 267.

[8] See Fig. 269.

[9] See Fig. 270 and 271.

[10] POSTGATE J., 1995, p. 400.

[11] LIMET H., 1977, p. 53.

[12] OPPENHEIM L., 1954, p. 10.

[13] POTTS D., 1995, p. 1455, LEEMANS W., 1977, p. 7.

[14] BAHRANI Z., 1995, p. 1677.

[15] PARROT A., 1967, p. 198, fig. 245-246; MALLOWAN M.E.L., 1947, p. 160-162, pl. XXIX, A-B.

[16] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 174.

[17] SNELL D., 1995, p. 1489-1492.

[18] This is at least our personal advice, some other evidences might be found in SNELL D., 1995, p. 1489.

[19] See Catalogue 2TB67 for instance, but this is still an hypothesis..

[20] OATES D., 2001, p. 44-65.

[21] SNELL D., 1995, p. 1488.

[22] At least until the end of the Twentieth century’s nineties.

[23] LIMET H., 1960, p. 188-208; p. 140-165.

[24] LIMET H., 1986, p. 110-165; 190-237; KRAMER S., 1977, p. 62-64.

[25] CLARK G., 1986, p. 50; 65.

[26] CLARK G., 1986, p. 51-52.

[27] Not to say a lower status one, which will be much more clearly explain later.

[28] STECH T., 1986, p. 43-55; MOOREY P., 1982, p. 17-25; MUHLY J., 1995, p. 1515.

[29] WOOLLEY L., 1934, I, p. 33-147; 299-366; WOOLLEY L., 1934, II, pl. 129; 148-155; 165; 189-190; 228-229; WOOLLEY L., 1936, p. 34-40.

[30] Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta  .

[31] JOANNÈS F., 2001, p. 655.

[32] CLARK G., 1986, p. 65.

[33] See Fig. 276.

[34] SCURLOCK J.O., 1995, p. 1887; TALON Ph., 1988, p. 23.

[35] JOANNÈS F., 2001, p. 655.

[36] D’AGOSTINO B., SCHNAPP A., 1982, p. 19; SCURLOCK J.O., 1995,p. 1884.

[37] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 173.

[38] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 166.

[39] TALON Ph., 1988, p. 17-18.

[40] The brandebourgs are the precious metals embroideries on the borders of garments and uniforms; See for example Fig. 266.

[41] KATZ D., 1985, p. 222.

[42] POSTGATE J., 1992, p. 45; ROBERTSON J., 1995, p. 446.

[43] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 195; See Fig. 270 and Frontispice.

[44] KATZ D., 1985, p. 225; KATZ D., 2003, p. 127.

[45] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 178.

[46] This might explain the large numbers of rings in the tombs and deposits; see OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p. 180.

[47] See Fig. 281 a and b.

[48] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 190-191; 193.

[49] See Fig. 269.

[50] See Frontispice.

[51] See Fig. 271.

[52] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 188.

[53] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 180.

[54] See Fig. 286.

[55] See Fig.  267.

[56] ROUAULT O., 1977, p. 194; OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p. 190.

[57] OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p. 176; ROUAULT O., 1977, p. 181-193.

[58] See the lion-headed eagle pendant (?) found in the Treasure Jar of Mari: Catalogue 1TH38.

[59] OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p. 174.

[60] ARCHI A., 2002, p. 192.

[61] OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p. 166; See catalogue 1TH30.

[62] OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p.191; GREEN A., 1998, p. 93-99.

[63] See Catalogue: 1TH39.

[64] See Fig. 284-285.

[65] See Catalogue: 2TB46-2TB51.

[66] TALON Ph., 1988, p.15.

[67] CALMEYER P., 1977, p. 87; See Catalogue 2/3TH92-94; 2/3TH128.

[68] KRAMER S., 1977, p. 62; LIMET H., 1977, p. 53; YOFFEE N., 1995, p. 1392; FOSTER B., 1977, p. 32.

[69] See catalogue: 2/3TH53, 2/3TH176.

[70] GREEN A., 1998, p. 118, fig. 96.

[71] OPPENHEIM A., 1949, p.191; 177.

[72] SCURLOCK J. O., 1995, p. 1891; JOANNÈS F., 2001, p. 655; TALON Ph., 1988, p. 18.

[73] A study of the army organization of the third millennium mespotamian civilizations would be very interesting, but only for that purpose.

[74] PARROT A., 1966, p. 216-225.

[75] WATKINS T., 1983, p. 20; MALLOWAN M.E.L., 1947, p. 170-176; CULICAN W., 1964, p. 36.