The World’s First Museum

Located in what is present-day Iraq, the world’s first museum was the work of a woman, Princess Ennigaldi, the daughter of the last king of the Neo-Babylonia Empire.  The museum was established in the state of Ur and scholars have dated it to c. 530 B.C.  The daughter of King Nabonidus, Ennigaldi was encouraged by her father to respect history and, consequently, her place as an ancient curator and preserver of the past serves today as a powerful reminder of her culture and time.

 

Nabonidus

While Ennigaldi is credited as the world’s first curator, her father is revered as one of the world’s first archaeologists.  Historians have been able to demonstrate his love for restoration and preservation.  He was known to locate and restore many artifacts that were antiquities in his era.  He then shared his historical interests and pursuits with his daughter.  Although Nabonidus was recorded unfavorably by the later Greeks and Persians who wrote about his reign, this appreciation for the past adds an interesting dynamic to his persona for historians and scholars of ancient history.

 

The Museum

Archaeologists determined that their discovery of Ennigaldi’s treasures were, indeed, a royal museum by the cylinders associated with the collection’s contents.  These cylinders are regarded as the first museum labels in the world and they were inscribed with various languages to denote the objects they represented.  Some of the contents included a statue of King Shulgi who completed the famous Great Ziggurat of Ur and a serpentine decorated boundary marker called a kudurru.  The collected relics and their labels were stored in a temple beside a palace where Ennigaldi resided.  The objects in her collection related to her heritage and the Babylonia history.  Scholars have asserted that her museum also had an educational component and assisted the princess in other aspects of her life.  The collection was first excavated in 1925 by London Archaeologist Leonard Woolley who first noted that the found and labeled items were all from different places and different times.

 

Ennigaldi

As ancient princesses go, Ennigaldi appears to have been a mover and a shaker and not merely a royal who was pampered and married off in the typical fashion for the sake of alliance-building.  Following in the tradition of her grandmother, Ennigaldi also became a high priestess and was involved in educating priestesses.  She apparently ran a school for the training of priestesses and her museum helped support these other endeavors.  She was known to spend much of her time worshipping in a sacred room called the giparu that was rebuilt by her father for her use at the top of the Great Ziggurat of Ur.  Some sources attest that she was a writer and she certainly was the central administrator of worship in Ur.

 

Arthur Woolley

Notably one of the world’s first modern archaeologists and friend of Lawrence of Arabia, Woolley gained world recognition for his famed excavations at Ur, particularly the palace complex where Ennigaldi once lived out her life.  In his excavation of the singular room and its artifacts, he was able to determine that the oldest of the items dated 1,600 years older than Ennigaldi’s time.  He wrote that the cylinders contained the language spoken by Neo-Babylonians like Ennigaldi, but also ancient Sumerian.  Woolley charmed the public by asserting that he wasn’t the first to excavate the region at all; archaeologists had been on the site more than 2,000 years before him.

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