in the Middle East is a naturally occurring resource. It has been utilised there
for around 40,000 years. It is said that it is floated down rivers on rafts of
reeds to this day..
It is still a highly sought-after material today
and it has been uncovered in excavations more than any other material.
It has been used as adhesive base to secure building materials, bricks, arrowheads
onto shafts and semi-precious stones and gold onto anything from furniture to
Jo Pond of Loughborough University
cutting out finished shell plaques before filling with bitumen.
by its Babylonian name of KUPRU (“KAFR” in Arabic and “Koper” in Hebrew) the semi-solid
grades of crude oil are well known as the very substance used by Noah to waterproof
his famous Ark, saving mankind from the flood that covered the world.
Old cunieform clay tablets refer to the use of bitumen and oil even back in the
distant past. Oil spills, oil-tankers and even latest prices are all recorded
in some 100,000 tablets, many still being translated.
The Lyre of Ur
Project is using original Middle Eastern bitumen donated by the Baghdad Museum.
We are using it to both fix cut stones and also to provide a black contrasting
base to the shell plaques used on the front of the Lyre of Ur.
bitumen was transported via no less than three countries to the UAE, from where
it was sent to Peterborough, wrapped in 17* plastic bags.
*It has (for
some weeks) without doubt, the foulest and most awful smell in the entire universe
! The Gold Lyre of Ur was decorated with Gulf Pearl Shells, Lapis Lazuli from
Afghanistan and Pink Limestone from the mountains surrounding Sumeria. Pure Gold
was obtained from either Turkey or Egypt.
Forests used to cover much of Lebanon, Syria, Southern Turkey and a little perhaps
into modern Iraq. It was used quickly even in ancient times by early cultures
and very little is left today. Small elderly groves are found in the mountains
of Lebanon looked after by the Maronite communities there.
even 5,000 years ago was largely without natural forests.
It is a highly
likely that this was the area from which Sumerians obtained their fine wood for
furniture and instruments.
These areas produce tightly grained wood from
high mountainous trees.
Little or no wood was found in the ancient excavations
of Ur. Fragments only from the various instruments were analysed and were stated
to be "likely to be soft wood in origin".
The shape of the
various harps and lyres found in Ur graves could only be surmised from indistinct
outlines in the soil clearly representing shapes but leaving much to speculation,
in terms of accuracy.
For decades it was not even sure how many instruments
were actually present at all !
Initial reconstructions created `round`
arms until corrected personally by Sir Leonard Woolley years later, into the present
more rectangular forms.
We are grateful to Muslim Aid who rang Mr Lowings
in Peterborough from Baghdad to donate, at no cost, authentic cedar wood, in the
very midst of present events there.
We have insisted on making a modest
donation back to them for their recognition.
Gold Lyre of Ur was decorated with Gulf Pearl Shells, Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan
and Pink Limestone from the mountains surrounding Sumeria. Pure Gold was obtained
from either Turkey or Egypt.
being cleaned for us at Dubai Heritage Museum
We decided to use
authentic gold to re make the Lyre. It is approximately of 0.15 mm thickness (24ct),
which is very thick indeed.
We had a fantastic donation of all the gold
required, as a gesture towards our aims, from a company in South Africa - Ango
Reproduced Gold Bulls Head at the British Museum ( thanks to Dr Lamia Guilani)
little remains of these early instruments sometimes that it is questionable how
many strings were actually used on each of them.
The Gold Lyre of Ur
was found without any strings. Others had slight traces left in the earth so it
is open to speculation about how many strings were used.
In ancient Sumerian
instruments anything from four to 12 are usual. We have opted for eight strings,
based on the present day legacy of similar ceremonial lyres, as used and played
today, in Africa.
Player and Singer Ur 4750 BC.
Only traces of strings were found in the ground, from
those other instruments that were found still strung. By way of technical methods
of macrophotography it can be seen how strings were aligned and set up. By analysis
of visible traces left it can be shown that strings were not metallic but were
`organic` in nature.
They could have been: silk, horse-hair, cotton,
sinew, gut, skin or leather. No DNA survives the difficult environments of the
"What strings were used ?" is always the first question
asked of us.
We have elected to use sheep gut strings.
have been kindly donated by Bow Brand Strings.
These are made in the same way today, sound good and can be highly tensioned.
It is likely that quite low notes will be produced, of similar pitch due to the
parallel yoke of a lyre and its regular and relatively long and low tension, string-length.