Experts baffled by 4,500-year-old Iraq royal tomb food offerings discovered in Bristol box

By Ben Miller | 25 June 2014

A set of tomb artefacts was split between London, the US and Iraq – so how did a box of objects end up in Bristol?

A photo of a brown wooden box of artefacts
Experts in Bristol are describing this find as a "box of enigma"© Dr Tamar Hodos
Food offerings from a 4,500-year-old royal tomb, found in a box during a laboratory clear-out and indexed with cards from an excavation in southern Iraq decades ago, are mystifying archaeologists in Bristol after an agreement was reached to put the artefacts on display at the British Museum.

Believed to originate from Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavations at Ur, the rare examples of environmental archaeology from the 1920s and 1930s include animal bones, pottery and seeds.

The dig was sponsored by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum, with the finds split between London, Philadelphia and Baghdad - making the location of the box, at University of Bristol's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, a puzzling one.

"The remaining mystery is how this material came to be at Bristol in the first place,” says Dr Tamar Hodos, of the university, who contacted curators in London after reading the cards accompanying the objects, annotated with the words Predynastic, Sargonid and Royal Tombs.

“The environmental remains themselves were published in 1978 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“The authors of that study were based at the Institute of Archaeology, London, and at the University of Southampton, and none of them had any known connection to the University of Bristol that might explain how the material came to reside here.”

The laboratory was being emptied ahead of the creation of a new radiocarbon dating facility, expected to open in late 2015. The finds are now on display in rooms 55 and 56 of the British Museum, while their conservators are appealing to the public to help explain how they arrived in Bristol.


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A photo of two women looking at a box of artefacts in an office surrounded by books
Dr Alexandra Fletcher (left) and Dr Tamar Hodos pack the items at Bristol's Department of Archaeology ahead of their move to the British Museum© Dr Tamar Hodos
A photo of various boxes of artefacts set out on a table
Some of the finds© Dr Tamar Hodos
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