© Erich Lessing/British Museum

Ram standing on its hind legs, shackled with silver chains to the branches of a tree or bush. “Undoubtedly, the subject of [this] Sumerian sculpture had some religious significance,” says Woolley, who uncovered the highly naturalistic and anatomically detailed artifact in an enormous death-pit in the ancient city of Ur. He did not speculate, however, as to what its religious significance was. Woolley described this spectacular ram as standing “on a small oblong base decorated with silver plate and mosaic in pink and white. The leaves and flowers of the golden tree stand out high on either side, and the beast’s golden head with its horns and hair of lapis lazuli peers out between them.”

Entombed with the king for whom the pit was dug were other sculptures, four lyres, great quantities of jewelry, and the remains of 74 members of the royal household. These people had entered the tomb to perform a final religious ritual and then took poison, following their dead ruler to the afterlife.