Leonard Woolley

Sir Leonard Woolley

Sir Leonard Woolley holding the noted excavated Sumerian Queen's Lyre, 1922
Born Charles Leonard Woolley
(1880-04-17)17 April 1880
Upper Clapton, London
Died 20 February 1960(1960-02-20) (aged 79)
Fields archaeology
Known for excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia
Spouse Katharine Elizabeth Keeling Menke

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley (17 April 1880 – 20 February 1960) was a British archaeologist best known for his excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia. He is considered to have been one of the first "modern" archaeologists, and was knighted in 1935 for his contributions to the discipline of archaeology.

Early life

Woolley was the son of a clergyman, and was brother to Geoffrey Harold Woolley, VC and George Cathcart Woolley. He was born at 13 Southwold Road, Upper Clapton, in the modern London Borough of Hackney[1] and educated at St John's School, Leatherhead and New College, Oxford. He was interested in excavations from a young age.


In 1905, Woolley became assistant of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Volunteered by Arthur Evans to run the excavations on the Roman site at Corbridge for Francis Haverfield, Woolley began his excavation career there in 1906, later admitting in Spadework that "I had never studied archaeological methods even from books ... and I had not any idea how to make a survey or a ground-plan" (Woolley 1953:15). He was one of the first ‘modern’ archaeologists, who excavated in a methodical way, keeping careful records, and using them to reconstruct ancient life and history.[2] T. E. Lawrence worked with Woolley on the excavation of the Hittite city of Carchemish from 1912–14.

His work at Ur (in charge of the joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania) began in 1922, and he made important discoveries in the course of excavating the royal cemeteries there, including the Copper Bull[3] and the pair of Ram in a Thicket figurines, one of which is in the British Museum and the other in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Agatha Christie's novel, Murder in Mesopotamia, was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs. Christie later married Woolley's young assistant, Max Mallowan.

Ur, found in present-day Iraq, was the burial site of what may have been many Sumerian royals. Woolley discovered tombs of great material wealth. Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Sumerian culture at its zenith, along with gold and silver jewellery, cups and other furnishings. The most extravagant tomb was that of "Queen" Pu-Abi. Amazingly enough, Queen Pu-Abi's tomb was untouched by looters. Inside the tomb, many well-preserved items were found, including a cylindrical seal bearing her name in Sumerian. Her body was found buried along with those of two attendants, who had presumably been poisoned to continue to serve her after death. Woolley was able to reconstruct Pu-Abi's funeral ceremony from objects found in her tomb. Her headdress, cylinder seal and body were formerly on display at the University of Pennsylvania; however, they are currently being displayed in the British Museum in London.

In 1936, after his discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilisations. This led him to the Syrian city of Al Mina. From 1937–39, he was in Tell Atchana.

Local Genesis Flood Theory

Woolley was one of the first archaeologists to propose that the flood described in the Book of Genesis was local after identifying a flood-stratum at Ur: "...400 miles long and 100 miles wide; but for the occupants of the valley that was the whole world".[4]

World War II

His archaeological career was interrupted by the United Kingdom's entry into World War II, and he became part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section of the Allied armies.[5] After the war, he returned to Alalakh, where he continued to work from 1946 until 1949.[6]

Personal life

Woolley married Katharine Elizabeth Keeling (née Menke; born June 1888 – died 8 November 1945), who was born in England to German parents and had previously been married to Lieut. Col. Bertram Francis Eardley Keeling (OBE, MC). He died on 20 February 1960 at age 79.

See also


Ur of Chaldees (InExile Publications, 2012)

Further reading


  1. Sir Leonard Woolley (Historic plaque – 13 Southwold Road, E5) (LB Hackney) accessed 19 August 2008
  2. UR Region Archaeology Project
  3. Copper figure of a bull, British Museum, accessed July 2010
  4. Ur of the Chaldees, Leonard Woolley, Ernest Benn Limited, 1929, p. 31.
  5. Neil Brodie; Kathryn Walker Tubb (13 July 2003). Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology. Taylor & Francis. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-203-16546-1. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  6. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/l/leonard_woolley_1880-1960.aspx

External links

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