Lost Collections of the Ancient World

How Did the Ur Collection Come to Ontario?

The most difficult part of this mystery was how the Ur collection came to be in the Museum of Ontario Archaeology’s collection. We tried various avenues of inquiry and met many dead ends before we finally found the answer in the Western University Archives.

The archivists found us a series of three letters between the former President  of Western University, Sherwood Fox, and the British Museum. It seems the British Museum sent the collection as a gift to the university in 1933 after a request from Sherwood Fox in 1931. The British Museum had classified the artefacts as ‘duplicates,’ a term no longer used in modern archaeology for surplus examples of the same types of artefacts.

The excavations at Ur were popular news in their time and are rivaled only by the likes of Howard Carter’s excavations of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb in   Egypt, and excavations at Pompeii, in Italy. When the Ur collection arrived in London, Ontario it was welcomed with a front page article in the  London Free Press.  Another article followed two days later, reporting on the contents of the British Museum’s gift.

However, a week after the initial excitement, another article appeared which gives the impression that no one quite knew what to do with the exciting new collection. There were reports that the artefacts were to be repackaged until further notice.

As our research stands now, we are not aware of any exhibition of these artefacts following their repackaging in 1933. It is also unclear when the collection was shifted from the University to the Museum’s collection. However, until 1981 the Museum of Ontario Archaeology was located in the same building on Western University’s campus in the university Archives. We suspect the move occurred unceremoniously without documentation.

After visiting the Western Archives, their archivist, contacted us regarding another small collection of cuneiform tablets held in their collection. These tablets were soon passed on to the Museum to be part of the overall Old World collection.

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