Theses Doctoral

Pu-abi's Adornment for the Afterlife: Materials and Technologies of Jewelry at Ur in Mesopotamia

Benzel, Kim

This dissertation investigates one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century - the jewelry belonging to a female named Pu-abi buried in the so-called Royal Cemetery at the site of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq. The mid-third millennium B.C. assemblage represents one of the earliest and richest extant collections of gold and precious stones from antiquity and figures as one of the most renowned and often illustrated aspects of Sumerian culture. With a few notable exceptions most scholars have interpreted these jewels primarily as a reflection in burial of a significant level of power and prestige among the ruling kings and queens of Ur at the time. While the jewelry certainly could, and undoubtedly did, reflect the identity and status of the deceased, I believe that it might have acted as much more than a mere marker and that the identity and status thus signaled might have had a considerably more nuanced meaning, or even a different one, than that of royalty or royalty alone. Based on a thorough examination of the materials and methods used to manufacture these ornaments, I will argue that the jewelry was not simply a rich but passive collection of prestige goods, rather that jewelry that can be read in terms of active ritual, and perhaps cultic, production and display. The particular materials and techniques chosen for the making of Pu-abi's jewelry entailed methodological operations akin to what Alfred Gell has called the "technology of enchantment and enchantment of technology" and allowed these ornaments to materialize from their creation as a group of magically and ritually charged objects.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Bahrani, Zainab
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2013