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Andy Lowings

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 253068

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Decoration and Materials

Bitumen  WoodDecoration Strings


Bitumen 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 musical instruments.

Jo Pond of Loughborough University cutting out finished shell plaques before filling with bitumen.

Known 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.

This 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.


Cedar 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.

Sumeria, perhaps 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.


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.

Lulua 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 Gold Ashanti.

Reproduced Gold Bulls Head at the British Museum ( thanks to Dr Lamia Guilani)


So 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.

Lyre Player and Singer Ur 4750 BC.
                                                       British Museum London

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 past millennia.

"What strings were used ?" is always the first question asked of us.

We have elected to use sheep gut strings.

All 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.