io9 has a very interesting article today about a singular discovery made by British archeologist Leonard Woolley: the earliest recorded example of a museum, the collection of Princess Ennigaldi of the Neo-Babylonion Empire in the city of Ur. And no, this wasn’t just a private collection, as Woolley also found the earliest example of a museum label. Except instead of a little white card, it was this thing on the left.
Woolley describes finding clay cylinders in the chamber, each with text written in three different languages, including the language of ancient Sumerian and the more modern (for the period) late Semitic language… Sure, Woolley didn’t think much of the scribe’s attention to detail. But he was man enough to admit when he had been beaten to the punch – and in this case, he readily acknowledged that archaeology in Ur had been thriving about 2,500 years before he had ever set foot there. And, even more remarkably, this most ancient museum predated the first modern museums by about two millenniums.
As for the museum’s founder, Princess Ennigaldi, she was the daughter of King Nabonidus, who was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Her traditional role was that of the high priestess of the goddess Nanna, and as a teacher (in an 800 year old school for priestesses of Nanna, basically making her the dean or president of a university as old as Oxford). Her small museum’s collection contained only half a dozen items, including a carved “large oval-topped black stone” from 1400 BC, a fragment of a statue of Dungi (king of Ur in 2058 BC), and a “clay foundation-cone of a Larsa king” from 1700 BC. The artifacts she had amassed were roughly as old to her as the Ancient Romans were to us.
King Nabonidus himself was something of a historian, instituting projects of restoration around Ur, and the thousands of years old culture itself was going through a period of great historical nostalgia, just as it was about to fall to the Achaemenid or Persian Empire. Makes you wonder about the significance of our own museums, huh?
(Read the whole article at io9.)
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