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Necklace pendants and beads, Old Babylonian, ca. 18th–17th century B.C., Mesopotamia, said to be from Dilbat. Gold. L. 42 in. (3.6 cm); D. of largest medallion 1 3/8 in. (3.6 cm), Fletcher Fund, 1947, 47.1a-h. © 2000–2018 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

These gold pendants and beads exemplify the finest craftsmanship in gold from the ancient Near East, and each represents a deity or the symbol of a deity. The two female figures, wearing horned headdresses and long flounced dresses, probably represent Lama, a protective goddess; the disk with rays emanating from a central boss represents Shamash, the sun god; and the forked lightning is the symbol for Adad, the storm god. The two disks with granulated rosettes may be symbols of Ishtar, goddess of love and war represented by the planet Venus. Necklaces with similar symbols can be found on the figures of royal personages in later Assyrian wall reliefs and probably served as both jewelry and talismans.

It is difficult to date the group because the technique and imagery employed were known throughout the first half of the second millennium B.C. Similar gold disks with extensive granulation have been found in a tomb at Ebla in western Syria and in a private house at Larsa in southern Mesopotamia. Other objects in the hoard seem to have been made earlier and kept for centuries. It is possible that such a hoard would have been gathered and kept by a jeweler, who would have use for such materials.

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Earrings, Sumerian, Early Dynastic IIIa, ca. 2600–2500 B.C., Mesopotamia, Ur (modern Tell al-Muqayyar). Gold, 2 3/4 in. (7 cm). Dodge Fund, 1933, 33.35.45. © 2000–2018 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Necklace beads, Sumerian, Early Dynastic IIIa, ca. 2600–2500 B.C., Mesopotamia, Ur (modern Tell al-Muqayyar). Gold, lapis lazuli. L. 54 cmDodge Fund, 1933, 33.35.48. © 2000–2018 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

These four strands of beads come from the so-called Great Death Pit, one of the royal graves at Ur. The sixty-eight female bodies discovered in the pit were all adorned with the most splendid jewelry made of gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian.

When excavated at Ur, beads were rarely discovered in an undisturbed state, since they had been originally strung together using organic material that has long since disintegrated. Thus, it is not certain in which order the beads were originally strung. These strands consist of biconical shaped beads. They are strung in groups of three gold sheets and six lapis lazuli beads, ending with one of gold and three of lapis. Their repetition gives a sense of rich contrasting color within the highly uniform Sumerian artistic system. It is possible that the different materials held particular meanings, since later texts describe their amuletic and magical properties. They certainly evoked distant lands because none of them are native to southern Mesopotamia and indicate the importance of long-distance connections in the acquisition of precious materials. The lapis lazuli would have originated in the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan and the gold reached Mesopotamia from a number of possible directions since there were ancient sources in Iran, Anatolia, and even as far away as Egypt.

'The Body Transformed' At The Met Fifth Avenue, november 12, 2018–february 24, 2019