Household religion at Ur Pinnock, Frances
Ur, modern Tell el-Muqayyar, in southern Iraq, is one of the most ancient cities of Mesopotamia; it hosted a very important cult complex dedicated to the Moon-God – Nanna in Sumerian, Suen in Akkadian – including a temple, a ziqqurat and residences for the king and the high priestess. Two extended quarters of private houses, dating from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE were brought to light; they are quite well preserved and many of them featured burials under their floors. Of particular interest are some built underground tombs: according to L. Woolley, their excavator, these tombs were related to large rooms, with special features interpreted as cult installations, and with the largest room of the house, interpreted as a reception room. The final interpretation was that at Ur they practiced funerary cults for the ancestors in private chapels, accessible to the members of the household and to their guests. Upon a new analysis of the evidence, it was observed that the connection between built tombs and chapels was not a constant element: in 15 houses there were chapels only; in 15 houses the chapel was related with a tomb; in 17 houses there were the tombs but no chapel. Chapels for private cults are also attested in the same period at Nippur, Tell Asmar and Tell Brak, but they are not associated with tombs. The chapels feature altars ca. 50 cm high and structures looking like miniature temples, up to 1.40 m high; a hearth with a long chimney reaching to the roof was interpreted as an incense-burner. The main interpretations for these chapels are: 1) places for funerary cults (to be dismissed for the lack of a constant correlation with tombs); 2) cult for "family gods" (doubtful because minor gods had their small temples within the domestic quarters); 3) places for private ceremonies connecting the extended family and other social groups to enhance social bonds, for instance for marriages and/or economic contracts.
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Attribution 4.0 International