I saw the beautiful Standard of Ur, seen above, when we visited the British Museum last summer. It is about 4,500 years old and was probably constructed in the form of a hollow wooden box with scenes of war and peace represented on each side through elaborately inlaid mosaics of Lapis Lazuli and shell. The standard of Ur shows the first unambiguous depictions of chariots in war. There has been some debate on whether a Sumerian chariot was actually used in combat. Many scholars believe that it was merely a “battle taxi”, used to convey a commander to a strategic part of the battlefield where he could lead his troops, in the same way that a modern general uses a jeep or helicopter to reach the front lines. Some scholars also believe the chariots were used to carry noblemen to the battle, where they would dismount and then fight on foot. The Standard of Ur along with the Vulture stele are the first depictions of war in history. The Standard of Ur dispels any question that chariots were used directly in combat. They were likely heavy and slow to start but undoubtedly were truly intimidating in combat, with an ability to scatter the enemy lines.
I recently visited the British Museum and found some beautiful pieces and the history accompanying them that I found very interesting. I am also providing a bit of background regarding the location of the tomb in which these artifacts were discovered. Pu-abi (Akkadian: “Word of my father”), also called Shubad due to a misinterpretation by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, was an important person in the Sumerian city of Ur, during the First Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2600 BCE). Commonly labeled as a “queen”, her status is somewhat in dispute. Several cylinder seals in her tomb identify her by the title “nin” or “eresh”, a Sumerian word which can denote a queen or a priestess. The fact that Pu-abi, herself a Semitic Akkadian, was an important figure among Sumerians, indicates a high degree of cultural exchange and influence between the ancient Sumerians and their Semitic neighbors.
The other day I was searching the web for another purpose and came upon a shopping list by Michelangelo, which was part of an exhibition “Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Master Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Spring of 2013. The exhibit included 26 drawings preserved in the artist's family home, the Casa Buonarroti, in Florence. “Because the servant he was sending to market was illiterate”, writes the Oregonian‘s Steve Duin in a review of a Seattle Art Museum show, “Michelangelo illustrated the shopping lists – a herring, tortelli, two fennel soups, four anchovies and ‘a small quarter of a rough wine’ – with rushed (and all the more exquisite for it) caricatures in pen and ink.” As we can see, the true Renaissance Man didn’t just pursue a variety of interests, but applied his mastery equally to tasks exceptional and mundane. Which, of course, renders the mundane exceptional. This scrap of ephemeral paper from the past fascinates me, the detail of the little drawings is astounding. We compose ephemera every day in the form of disposable to-do lists, directions to unvisited destinations, notes to people we know or have never met, and shopping lists of this kind. This kind of writing powers our ordered experiences, as ephemeral texts chart encounters before being rendered useless. Collected, disposable shopping lists create an archive of everyday artifacts that we can peruse for traces of the everyday both past and present. I thought I would present a few more examples and explore the origins of writing such lists.
The Holocene Impact Working Group is a collection of scientists from Australia, France, Ireland, Russia and the US who hypothesize that meteorite impacts on Earth are more common than previously supposed. The group has suggested that the Earth experiences one large global impact every 1,000 years. They claim that the geological formation known as a chevron or a wedge-shaped sediment deposit observed on coastlines, are created by megatsunamis and asteroid impacts. They have gathered some significant results and located major impact zones on Earth. The most important being the Burckle Crater, which is an undersea crater located to the east of Madagascar and west of Western Australia in the southern Indian ocean.
The impact zone is very large and estimated to be about 30 km (18 mi) in diameter. The Burckle Crater has yet to be dated by radiometric analysis, but it is strongly believed that the object impacted Earth between the years 2800-3000 BC, which is only 5,000 years ago. Near the crater, unusual metals have been reported, including carbonate crystals, translucent carbon spherules and fragments of mineral glass.
Numerous cultures make references to an ancient flood during this time in history and a wide range of events point to a disaster on Earth, including the end of the Early Harappan Ravi Phase, the end of the pre-dynastic “antediluvian” rulers of the Sumerian civilization and the start of the First Dynasty of Kish.