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Sir Leonard Woolley

leonard woolley

Archaeologist and excavator of Ur
Born in a house on this site
(13 Southwold Road)

Leonard Woolley was born at 13 Southwold Road, London, the son of a clergyman.  He thought about following in his father’s footsteps but the call of archaeology lured him away.  He graduated from Oxford University and went on to become a great archaeologist.  

Woolley first started working at the Ashmoleam Museum at Oxford where he remained from 1905 until 1907.  He worked with T.E.Lawrence from 1912 to 1914 and later in 1919 clearing Carchemish, the Hittite City, and in Sinai.  From 1922 until 1934 he was in charge of the joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania excavations at Ur of Chaldees where he made his greatest discovery.

The Ur of Chaldees, found in present-day Iraq, was the royal burial site of many Mesopotamian royalties.  Woolley discovered tombs of great material wealth.  Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Mesopotamian culture at its zenith, along with amazing pieces of gold and silver jewellery, cups and other furnishings.  The most extravagant tomb was that of “Queen” Pu-Abi, which amazingly enough had been untouched by the hands of looters through the millennia.  Inside many well-preserved items were found, along with a cylindrical seal bearing her name in Sumerian.  Her body was found buried along with her attendants, who had poisoned themselves to continue to serve her.  Woolley reconstructed her funeral ceremony from the findings in her tomb.  Today her headdress, cylinder seal and her body are on display at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1936, after his discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilisations.  This led him to the Syrian city of al-Mina.  From 1937 to 1939 and from 1946 to 1949 he was in Tell Aichana.  Leonard Woolley was knighted in 1935.  Agatha Christie wrote ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’ because she was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs.  She later married his younger assistant.

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Page updated: 15 Jun 2010 

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