As reported by the New York Times, this plaque was part of a
cache of looted antiquities that was seized by authorities in Bulgaria. It is now being
held in the Shumen Regional Historical Museum. It is scheduled to be
returned to Iraq.
My last post was titled “Copied from the Standard of Ur?”
(you may want to read that page before proceeding with this one). I included a
question mark in the title because I only had a partial photograph of the
plaque. I assumed that the plaque had other scenes that mirrored those on the Standard
of Ur, but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t be absolutely certain that it was copied
from the standard until I saw a picture of the complete plaque.
The above picture was the only one I had. I knew that most
of the plaque was not included in the photograph. This type of plaque is
always square. Judging by the position of the hole, I suspected that the entire
top and bottom rows of the plaque were missing from the picture.
This kind of plaque typically shows a banquet scene in
the top row (register).
A king and queen enjoy a banquet while being attended by their
servants. Early Dynastic period (ED IIIb, ca. 2500 - 2340
The bottom registers usually show the common people in a
religious procession, bringing food and drink, and animals to be sacrificed for the king and the
For two weeks, I looked everywhere for a complete picture of
the plaque, without success. I wrote to the New York Times and to the Shumen
Museum, but they ignored me. Fortunately, a colleague sent me a copy.
The plaque. Click here the see the original photograph at full
size. I adjusted the color and contrast of the photo to make it easier to read.
See it at 150% magnification and at 200%.
A quick glance is all that is needed. The plaque
is definitely a copy of the Standard of Ur.
Ignoring some of the motifs (the hands folded in prayer, the
gesture of obedience, etc.) that are common to many plaques, let’s take a look at the
scenes that are specific to the Standard of Ur.
The banquet scene on the Standard of Ur. Just as I expected, the top register of the plaque shows a similar banquet, the
same that is seen on many plaques. Click here to see the entire top register of the plaque.
The king (right) sits a banquet while being attended by two
servants. His chair legs are in the shape of ram legs. He wears a kaunakes, a
skirt made of woolen, leaf-like petals. It is a symbol of royalty.
The lords sit with the king. Their chairs also have ram
legs. Two servants bring some wine for the lords.
A musician plays a bull-headed lyre, like the one shown on the Standard of Ur.
An Akkadian herds a ram.
A man leads a bull by the horns. The bull is garlanded for
A fisherman brings the catch of the day.
Akkadians, in their distinctive angled-skirts, bring tribute
to the conquering Sumerian king. They carry the tribute in bags and in backpacks.
Three pairs of Akkadians bearing tribute are shown in the
second row of the Standard of Ur. Two pairs are on the plaque.
Donkeys. The ones on the standard have nose rings.
There's no doubt about it, the plaque is defintely a copy of the Standard of Ur. So now only
one question remains: Is it genuine or is it fake?
The Iraqi Museum obviously thinks the plaque is authentic
(which is why they want it back), but I have my doubts.
The plaque looks too much like the Standard of Ur. It looks like a direct copy. If
an ancient artist had copied the standard, it means he had personally seen the
standard up close (the standard is only
8.5 x 19.6 inches). This scenario seems unlikely because the standard was
always in the presence of the king. It’s difficult to imagine that the artist had a
chance to walk up to the standard and study it closely, while in front of
the entire royal court. It’s much easier to imagine that a modern forger copied the
standard from a picture in a book.
The artwork is cruder than I would expect for a
royal artifact from this period of history.
The smooth bore of the hole in the middle of
the plaque bothers me (a lot). It is too smooth. It looks like it was drilled by a machine.
4) The plaque should probably be classified under the heading of “Too good to be true.”
Last, but certainly not least, the plaque has an
unknown provenance. Without a clear provenance, there’s no telling where the plaque
came from, or when it was created.
I personally would love it if the plaque was an ancient, authentic copy of the Standard of Ur; but sadly, I think it’s just a fake.
But I’m still hoping that the Iraqi Museum will prove me wrong.