The instrument shown here is one of the three original lyres of Ur found in 1929, which are held today in the Museums of Pennsylvania, London and Baghdad as unplayable models.

It is approximately 4,550 years old and is thought to predate the construction of the Great Pyramid, and even Stonehenge in England.

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Introduction

1. The HISTORY of the Gold Lyre of Ur Project.

In 1929 archaeologists from the British and Pennsylvania museums discovered an amazing find in old graves in the City of Ur during excavations between Baghdad and Basra in Iraq. It appeared that these were Royal graves, from a time around 4,500 years ago and that what was uncovered was the poignant scene of a mass suicide. Tens of bodies lay, as if asleep, dressed in similar costumes, identical jewellery: head dresses covered in gold and beads of lapis lazuli, carnelian and silver. In a corner of one of the graves a pile of very deteriorated musical instuments, three lyres and a harp.

Sir Leonard Woolley describes the scene as being "…as if last player had her arm over her harp….certainly she played to the end," he recounts.

These instruments, or what remained of them (mostly stone decorations, silver and gold) were restored and distributed between the museums that took part in the digs. The finest of them was given to the Baghdad Museum and is called The Gold Lyre of Ur.

In April 2003, the millennia old lyre was damaged by looters at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

It was vandalised and found in the car park of the museum, broken in pieces and stripped of its silver and pure gold sheet covering.

The Bull's Head was later found in the National Bank of Iraq.


This Lyre was the earliest stringed instrument ever found and the destruction of this artefact, and the vision of the players dying alongside their instruments, struck a chord in the mind of Mr Andrew Lowings. As a harp player himself, he felt that this amazing story could accompany a new, playable version of this Gold Lyre and might bring these largely unknown times of Sumeria to life again for a new generation.

Andy decided to assemble a team of contributors and helpers, experts in their own fields, who might offer to co-operate to recreate this object collaboratively. If a playable version were to be made, then it must be made as authentically as possible. It must have real `Sumerian` cedar wood, the correct original gemstones, the right techniques and, as it was covered in gold, then it would be necessary to try to do exactly the same. Perhaps something might be learned in doing this work again. In one sense it is an instrument that belongs to everyone. Moreover, the time of the original Lyre was long before the present world differences; and music is the international language of the world.

The gathering together of materials and craftsmen began in the summer of 2003. The idea of re-creating the Lyre using authentic materials and methods was published on the internet. Firstly, authentic wood was needed in order to begin the project. On November 12th 2003 in a telephone call, from the heart of Baghdad, a man said "We have your cedar wood Mr Andy…Come and get it!" A gentleman in Muslim Aid had seen our idea on the internet and wanted to help. He had obtained 75 kgs of cedar wood. The problem now was to arrange for it to be transported to England. The Royal Air Force was contacted. There was, understandably, a marked reluctance to offer any official assistance. However that was not, thankfully, the end of the matter.

Some weeks later a phone call was received to say that the cedar wood had been collected from Muslim Aid in Baghdad and one of the Royal Air Force teams had brought the wood back to the UK. They, and other members of the Armed Forces on duty in Iraq, feeling that the project was worthwhile, had undertaken the task willingly and at some risk to themselves.

The importance of this musical project was brought home when the BBC wanted to film the story.

With the cedar wood now available, work began in earnest. Research on the project was started with the help of the museums in London, Baghdad, Pennsylvania and later, many independent experts who helped to recreate this ancient artefact. Pictures and information sent from Baghdad gave the dimensions to enable the recreation to be undertaken.


The Gold Lyre of Ur is covered in some 5,000 individual pieces of cut pink local limestone, Lapis Lazuli and Mother-of-pearl shell. These were fixed onto the body using bitumen from the Hitt region. If the project was to be successful, then it was necessary to obtain these natural materials also.

Mary Schmidt, a lady in Hamburg contacted an Iraqi tailor in Schleswig-Holstein. The tailor persuaded a friend in Iraq to ask a taxi driver to drive into the northern Iraqi desert and collect the best "red rock" he could find. The taxi driver found a red rock and, thanks to this unknown person in Mosul, it was eventually brought to England from Germany. It was perfect for the job.

The tailor said "You must have a proper suit to stand up beside the finished Lyre of Ur" and donated a fine suit: Such is the goodwill that this project creates.

The lapis lazuli from the only source, Afghanistan was purchased; mother-of-pearl shells were collected from the shore of the Persian Gulf by the Hassall family living in Dubai and sent to England.

Dr Lamia Al Gailani, conservator at the Baghdad museum, arranged for the collection of a 2 kg lump of natural bitumen from Hitt. It was driven overland to Mr Ayad Abbas in Abu Dhabi, then wrapped in 17 layers of plastic as it smelt so foul, before being sent to us in the UK. It was absolutely ideal for the job and the perfect levelling medium for cut stone and shell.

Then, too, a donation of natural cow gut strings came from the only remaining maker in the UK "Bowbrand Strings" of King's Lynn Norfolk.

Dr David Poston, an ex-tutor from Loughborough University suggested contacting a South African Gold producing company about the gold that was needed. The company was contacted and the project explained. They replied: "We would like to support this humanitarian idea" and then offered to supply all the gold needed. It was a major moment for the project. They subsequently sent 24 ct gold which was passed on to Tonny Beentjes at, the West Dean College of Art in England who had offered to make the gold Bull's Head. The carving of the Bull's head, by Roger Rose, and the goldwork, carried out by Daniel Huff and other students, took nine months. The gold sheet is 0.5 mm thick and it is nailed in place! The gold bands, to create the gold-covered arms were laid on by Mr Alun Evans, a member of the staff of Simon Benney, Gold and Silversmiths, Royal Goldsmiths to HRH Prince Charles.

The reconstruction followed the reference work in the book by Maude de Schauensee of Pennsylvania in order to recreate the lyre. The curatorial work done by Pennsylvania Museum for the Lyre on show there is well documented and this was used as a guide.

The front of the Lyre has four mythical scenes showing fables with animals, made of cut shell set in bitumen and placed on the front. These mythical pictures showing demi-gods and cows and leopards are fascinating. They nevertheless reinforce the huge lack of background knowledge about these early times of Mesopotamia.

Jo Pond of Loughborough University Jewellery Department, working with Liverpool University, offered to create them using laser technology. Italian cameo makers, La Compagnia del Cammeo s.r.l (Cameo Jewellery Company Ltd) in Naples, who still do similar work today, offered to make a set of hand-cut cameo images. These cameos were made by Mr Alfredo De Paolo.

Eventually two sets of cameos were donated to the project, each set in the correct bitumen mixture.

The decoration on the body of the Lyre has over 5,000 pieces of stone, shell and limestone on it, requiring around 30,000 individual cuts of a diamond disc. It took over seven months to do this work. 6 diamond discs were worn out, each donated by a kind supporter. How the Sumerians achieved this result with just sand, copper and, later, carborundum is beyond comprehension today. Each piece is set in a bitumen mixture.

It was discovered that pure bitumen itself is too rubbery. After some research it was found that an extra ingredient, bees wax, would need to be added to make it perfect to stick down the bits of stone (tesserae). This mixture was found to harden over time as the bitumen sets.

It was decided not try to achieve "perfection" but to replicate, as far as possible, the standard of work of the original. Perfection may be a modern concept. The original Lyre is not regular in workmanship and detail.

Further research highlighted the work of musicologists who had spent their lives deciphering early cuneiform texts from the region. The argument is long and complex about the way in which tuning and music could be conveyed by such tablets, and what can be deduced from them. Dr Anne Kilmer, amongst others, has created music from such cuneiform texts. Her research indicates that a modal system was probably used based on a conventional "diatonic" system. This is complex, academic topic that engenders much discussion.

One day in 2004 a phone call came from London. The caller, Mr Ayub Ogada, said "I play your lyre. It is a ceremonial lyre. We call it an "Entiti lyre". We came from that area long ago my people say. And for a time, we think, we lived in what is modern day Iraq."

That this ancient instrument might somehow have a contemporary legacy today was something that had not been considered. A visit in London to see Ayub, was arranged the very next day. He showed a similar lyre and said, …"Look this has the same colours, the same levers, same shape but your bridge is wrong".

Ayub comes from the Luo people of West Kenya and he believes that the spread of the Lyre came along the Nile from Egypt and, before that, from Sumeria. Can folk memory be true? Lyres are still played in Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Cretan lyres are also documented in Greek times and might well be associated with Sumerian contact. Perhaps there exists a history of Lyres in the northern countries adjacent to Sumeria; perhaps Turkey, Iran or even in the Russian states.

In July 2005, as a result of Ayub Ogada`s involvement in modern World Music, an invitation to take part in Live8 Africa Calling was received.

Several BBC Radio programmes that told the story have been recorded. Part of one was an impromptu recording of Iraqi and African harp/lyre players working together.

These ancients instruments had names.

A list of Lyre names, that figure highly in cuneiform texts, have been provided by Archaeologists.

Cow Abundance
Lady truly looked upon
The Red Eyed Lord.

And the favourite

"The Lyre/ Harp…. for the day of the disappearance of the moon" (The Lyre harp of the goddess Ninibgal of the City state of Largash and of Umma. This sacred instrument was used in ritual processions around the city)

As a result of having created a fine work of art, and also a point of contact across the world, the objective to play together with other musicians of the world can now be fulfilled. Invitations have already been received to perform or give presentations to some 20 venues and contact is welcomed from any interested establishments or parties who would like to issue invitations or to contribute to the aims.

How has the project been financed?

The project has been totally self-financed with contributions from many individuals and grateful thanks are given to all who have made donations from the start, and also to those who have worked for nothing with no request for recognition or return.

Playing

There is a growing list of the types of presentations that can be made. Some are unashamedly `popularist', however, if the Lyre is only played absolutely correctly, as it was 4,550 years ago, but no one wants to listen for more than five minutes, then the effectiveness and impact is totally lost.

It is impossible to hear with the same ears as people of 5,000 years ago who had a different mentality; so absolute authenticity is impossible.

SOUND FILE to be added

For the Lyre Project, authenticity and perfection were important but not the only objectives.

Equally important are the "playing" and the "bringing to life of a story" of the time of Stonehenge and the first Pyramids, a time before all present world difficulties.

Great efforts have been taken to create something authentic and true to the evidence.

There may be errors in what has been done during this re-creation, but it is felt that if the last lyre player were here today, someone who died with her arm still over it, she would say:
"That is my lyre. ..Yes that's it! "

And perhaps, in one sense, she is here again today.

Please contact us info@lyre-of-ur.com

CONTRIBUTED POETRY SECTION

Contributions have been received from people inspired by the Project.

A selection is shown here.

Thanks you to all who have sent us their creations.

Come, sit closer. Draw near.
Chris Green - Carpenter

Come, sit closer.
My voice is weak, for I haven't been able to speak
for such a long time,
and I do have things to say to those who will hear.

The last time I remember being able to speak freely
was long ago, in the chamber of my Queen in the city of Ur.

Well, perhaps not so freely, for in that cool and fragrant chamber
I could only grieve and sorrow, I could only cry, I could only give voice
to the sorrows and miseries of that land,
for the Queen, my Queen, our great Queen, had died.

The last time I spoke, it was to give voice to a lament,
a greater lament than had been heard in the land between the rivers,
it was through me that the land gave voice to its pain and grief.
It was through me that the land, the people
yea, it was through me that even the gods,
gave a final lament for the Queen, my Queen, our Queen,
and for her attendants, who were my attendants.

It was through me that those two mighty rivers,
It was through me that the mighty land of Sumer,
It was through me that the very gods themselves
sang their misery.

Such a burden, such a misery, such a great sorrow
for a simple instrument to give voice to,
and I have had a great need to rest.
And so I have been silent for a long time.
I have rested now, for a long time,
but the time for lamenting has ended.

Come, sit closer. Draw near.
My voice is weak, for I haven't been able to speak
for such a long time,
and I do have things to say to those who will listen
and I do have things to say to those who will hear.
Come, sit closer. Draw near. Listen.
Listen, and when you hear the melodies played upon my strings,
you may hear words which are ready to be born,
and you may hear words which say:
The time for lamenting has ended,
and it is time to sing of joy, it is time to give jubilation.

Come, sit closer. Draw near.

My voice is weak, for I haven't been able to speak,
for such a long time.


Death of Queen Pu-Abi

Liliana Osses Adams - Harpist

Between two mighty rivers
The Fertile Crescent expands
                    Hanging Gardens
                    Babel Tower
                    Gates to Eden

An old indigenous man
Created a harp of his own
                    Arched bough, silver and gold
                    Lapis lazuli, ivory and pearl

Sumerian Queen Shub-Ad
Asleep in eternal silence
                    The harpist from the Royal Tomb
                    Distant memory of Atlantis

___________________________

Amidst the ruins of a ziggurat where the City once existed
an inscription carved in cuneiform adorns the blazing wall of the temple

For the gods have abandoned us
like migrating birds they have gone
blood flows as the river does
the lamenting of men and women
sadness abounds
Ur is no more

Ur is no more...

                                      ...No more...

  

___________________________

If you feel you have skills that would contribute to the aims of the project then why not get in touch with us. We should like to hear from you.
Please contact us
info@lyre-of-ur.com

Sponsorship to help us promote the Lyre of Ur is welcomed.

We would like to play it for you and tell its story all over the world.

This is a not-for-profit project that involves anyone
and it is non-political in its aims.