See C. L. Woolley, Ur of the Chaldees (1930, repr. 1965), Excavations at Ur (1954, repr. 1965), and The Buildings of the Third Dynasty (1974).
Ur (Sumerian:urim ; Akkadian:?) is modern Tell el-Mukayyar, Iraq, and was a city in ancient Sumer. Once a coastal city near the mouth of the then Euphrates river on the Persian Gulf, Ur is now well inland. Currently, Ur is south of the Euphrates on its right bank, from Nasiriyah, Iraq and close to the site of ancient Eridu.
The site is marked by the ruins of a ziggurat, still largely intact, and by settlement mounds. The ziggurat of Ur was a temple of Nanna, the moon deity in Sumerian mythology, and has two stages constructed from brick: in the lower stage the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the upper stage they are joined with mortar. The temple was built in 2100 B.C. during the reign of Ur-Nammu. The temple stands high.
The location of Ur was favourable for trade, by both sea and land routes, into Arabia. Many elaborate tombs, including that of Queen Puabi , were constructed. In this cemetery were also found artifacts bearing the names of kings Meskalamdug and Akalamdug. Eventually, the kings of Ur became the effective rulers of Sumer, in the first dynasty of Ur established by the king Mesannepada (or Mesanepada, Mes-Anni-Padda), who is on the king list and is named as a son of Meskalamdug on one artifact.
The third dynasty was established when the king Ur-Nammu (or Urnammu) came to power, ruling between ca. 2112 BC and 2094 BC. During his rule, temples, including the ziggurat, were built, and agriculture was improved through irrigation. His code of laws, the Code of Ur-Nammu (a fragment was identified in Istanbul in 1952) is one of the oldest such documents known, preceding the code of Hammurabi by 300 years. He and his successor Shulgi were both deified during their reigns, and after his death, he continued as a hero-figure: one of the surviving works of Sumerian literature describes the death of Ur-Nammu and his journey to the underworld.
According to one estimate, Ur was the largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000.
In the 6th century BC there was new construction in Ur under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, improved the ziggurat. However the city started to decline from around 550 BC and was no longer inhabited after about 500 BC, perhaps owing to drought, changing river patterns, and the silting of the outlet to the Persian Gulf.
Ur is mentioned four times in the Tanakh or Old Testament, with the distinction "of the Kasdim/Kasdin" — traditionally rendered in English as "Ur of the Chaldees", referring to the Chaldeans, who were already settled there by around 900 BC. The name is found in , , and . In Nehemiah 9:7, a single passage mentioning Ur is a paraphrase of Genesis.()
In the mid-17th century, the site was visited by Pietro della Valle, who recorded the presence of ancient bricks stamped with strange symbols, cemented together with bitumen, as well as inscribed pieces of black marble that appeared to be seals.
The first excavation was made by British consul J.E. Taylor, who partly uncovered the ziggurat. Clay cylinders found in the four corners of the top stage of the ziggurat bore an inscription of Nabonidus (Nabuna`id), the last king of Babylon (539 BC), closing with a prayer for his son Belshar-uzur (Bel-ŝarra-Uzur), the Belshazzar of the Book of Daniel. Evidence was found of prior restorations of the ziggurat by Ishme-Dagan of Isin and Gimil-Sin of Ur, and by Kuri-galzu, a Kassite king of Babylon in the 14th century BC. Nebuchadnezzar also claims to have rebuilt the temple. Taylor further excavated an interesting Babylonian building, not far from the temple, part of an ancient Babylonian necropolis. All about the city he found abundant remains of burials of later periods. Apparently, in later times, owing to its sanctity, Ur became a favorite place of sepulchres, so that even after it had ceased to be inhabited, it continued to be used as a necropolis.
After Taylor's time the site was visited by numerous travelers, almost all of whom have found ancient Babylonian remains, inscribed stones and the like, lying upon the surface. The site was considered rich in remains, and relatively easy to explore.
Excavations from 1922 to 1934 were funded by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania and led by the archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. A total of about 1,850 burials were uncovered, including 16 that were described as "royal tombs" containing many valuable artifacts, including the Standard of Ur. Most of the royal tombs were dated to about 2600 BC. The finds included the unlooted tomb of a queen thought to be Queen Puabi – the name is known from a cylinder seal found in the tomb, although there were two other different and unnamed seals found in the tomb. Many other people had been buried with her, in a form of human sacrifice. Near the ziggurat were uncovered the temple E-nun-mah and buildings E-dub-lal-mah (built for a king), E-gi-par (residence of the high priestess) and E-hur-sag (a temple building). Outside the temple area, many houses used in everyday life were found. Excavations were also made below the royal tombs layer: a 3.5m thick layer of alluvial clay covered the remains of earlier habitation, including pottery from the Ubaid period, the first stage of settlement in southern Mesopotamia. Woolley later wrote many articles and books about the discoveries.
Most of the treasures excavated at Ur are in the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Archaeological names of periods of habitation include:
Some of the areas that were cleared during excavations were also sanded over again.
The site is set up for tourism, however not on the scale exhibited by some sites in Egypt. Electricity is at the site and several lines of poles go through the site area. There are a few steel poles about high, near the Great Ziggurat, that seem to be intended for lighting of the site; however there are no actual lamps on them. Tourist information signs are also found at the site in Arabic. There are a few shaded resting places available for tourists located close to the entry of the site.
Since the Iraqi war, westerners have been coming here again, in the form of Coalition forces. The road up to the site is covered with little shops, selling everything from Saddam Hussein money bills to genuine, exquisite rugs. There is only one shop on the actual site.
One can visit the whole site, view any grave or climb any peak without restrictions. The huge United States / Coalition forces Ali Base (formerly called Tallil Air Base), and now called Camp Adder, is located nearby.
The Great Ziggurat is fully cleared and stands as the best-preserved and only major structure on the site. One can walk around it, and will observe very little damage. Only the top is covered with debris and is at times a confusing mix of loose stones, broken pottery and partial reconstruction.
The famous Royal tombs, also called the Neo-Sumerian Mausolea, located about 250m south-east of the Great Ziggurat, in the corner of the wall that surrounds the city –- a wall difficult to locate today unless one knows it is there -- are nearly totally cleared. Parts of the tomb area appear to be in need of structural consolidation or stabilisation.
One can see cuneiform (Sumerian writing) on many walls, some entirely covered in script stamped into the mud-bricks. It is sometimes difficult to see the text, but on close inspection, it covers most surfaces.
Modern graffiti has also found its way to the graves, usually in the form of names made with colour pens (sometimes they are carved). The Great Ziggurat itself has far more graffiti, mostly lightly carved into the bricks.
The graves are completely empty with nothing left in them. It is possible to climb into and out of all of them.
The whole site is covered with pottery debris, to the extent that it is virtually impossible to set foot anywhere without stepping on some piece of broken pottery. It even surpasses Saqqara in Egypt in that regard, and is easily on the level of Dendera (a much smaller area). They are mostly small pieces, but once in a while there are also large pieces. Some have colours and paintings on them. One can see that some of the 'mountains' of broken pottery are of newer creation, and are debris removed from excavations. Similar 'mountains' can be seen at Egyptian sites, like Giza Pyramids, Saqqara and Dendera.
Pottery debris is inside many of the walls of the royal tombs area. It can only be speculated whether this is of ancient making or modern restoration, but it is a fact that they are, literally, filled up with pottery debris.