The Spinning of Ur. How Sir Leonard Woolley, James R. Ogden and the British Museum interpreted and represented the past to generate funding for the excavation of Ur in the 1920's and 1930's.

  • Alison Millerman

Student thesis: Phd


AbstractThis thesis examines the representation in both the public and academic arenas of the archaeological excavation at Ur, southern Iraq, during the 1920's and 30's through a study of the main characters involved. Sir Leonard Woolley's excavation is still fundamental to our knowledge of archaeology in that region. Current thought criticises his approach to and interpretation of his work, as having been "Bible driven" and of little scientific validity, but ignores the value of understanding the relationship between the excavator and the wider community from which his funding derived. Drawing on the Ogden archive, this study is our first opportunity to examine how knowledge about the Ur excavations was disseminated, how the archaeological past has been created and used, and how these interpretations presented entered the zeitgeist and still resonate today.As a result of my initial research findings, I gained access to the family archives of the goldsmith James Ogden, a substantial but previously unresearched body of material that provides an almost complete photographic record of the inter-war archaeology in this region as well as a comprehensive record of press coverage and public reaction. It also contains many unpublished letters between those involved at the time, explaining their methods and motivations. This archive complements substantial quantities of unstudied material in other archives of museums and learned societies. Taken together, the archival material provides a fuller understanding of the motivations behind a highly choreographed publicity campaign that successfully enabled the excavation to continue when threatened by inter-war financial shortages. This research elicits an understanding of the social, cultural and economic factors that shaped archaeology in a society that was uneasily assimilating the impact of the new sciences on a still largely Bible reading public.I analyse all the archives in the wider context of the role played by this campaign in shaping contemporary knowledge of the archaeology of Iraq, as well as reflecting inter-war British and Iraqi society. Archaeological activity was being conducted against the dramatically changing backdrop of the Near East after the First World War, the emergence of the nation states of the area, and a growing aggression and hostility to western occupation. The traditional imperialist view of the right to possession of the excavated antiquities was being challenged as the power structure in the region began to shift and new regional identities were forged.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorIna Berg (Supervisor) & Stuart Campbell (Supervisor)


  • Woolley
  • Ogden

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