Lyre with Bearded Bull’s Head and Inlaid Panel

by Early Dynastic III

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Lyre with Bearded Bull's Head and Inlaid Panel at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Credit: Courtesy Penn Museum

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(2550-2450 BCE)
Iraq’s Ancient Past
(215) 898-4001

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This is the bull’s head front and inlaid panel of one of the earliest musical instruments in the world, from the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur. The lyre's panel depicts a heroic figure grasping human-headed bulls above and animals acting as humans below. In the third panel, for example, an animal orchestra includes an ass playing a bull-headed lyre similar to the one the inlay decorates. The imagery used on the lyre represent significant aspects of Early Mesopotamian funerary rituals. The bearded bull on the front represents the sun god Shamash, depicted in cuneiform texts as the golden bull with lapis lazuli beard. Shamash is the divine judge who shines light on all things. Only Shamash can descend into the underworld and emerge again at sunrise. This ancient piece is on display in the Penn Museum’s exhibition Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery.