The historical context of the Sumerian discoveries


  • Annie Caubet

    1. Annie Caubet is a field archaeologist and has excavated at sites in Syria, Cyprus and Kuwait, among others. Until 2006 she was head of the department of the ancient Near East at the Louvre and was responsible for the opening of galleries dedicated to Mesopotamian, Persian, Phoenician and Cypriot antiquities. The temporary exhibitions she has organized aim to express the continuity from the civilizations of the ancient Near East to the present-day Western world and the relevance of these cultures for understanding our time.
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In 1877 the French consul at Bassorah, Ernest de Sarzec, initiated excavations on the site of Tello in southern Iraq. The artefacts, reliefs and sculptures found there bore inscriptions in an unknown language, bringing about the rediscovery of the Sumerians. Captain Gaston Cros proceeded with work on the site until 1909. Troubles in the region then worsened, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War. Between 1909 and 1924 looting took place on a grand scale. Major artefacts, often with inscriptions, came into the possession of the dealer Gejou. Between 1924 and 1925 a series of statues of the Sumerian dynasty, including the statue of Ur-Ningirsu, were sold to various European and American institutions or collectors. In 1974 the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York signed an agreement to the effect that the two institutions would reunite the head and body of the Sumerian statue and take turns to exhibit the whole artefact every four years.