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Status & Dedication
Discovery & excavation at Ur
Gold Lyre Introduction
Sumerian music & references
Lyre reconstruction & anatomy
Audio clips

The Sumerian Gold Lyre, 2650 BC (BCE)

Creating the replica, by Douglas Irvine

In 1996, I crafted this playable replica of the Sumerian Gold Lyre, circa 2650 BC (BCE) for a museum exhibit in Chicago. The instrument is a tunable replica of the Baghdad original and bears close resemblance in size, shape and decoration to its ancient counterpart. Prior to constructing the Gold Lyre, I gathered and studied numerous photographs, sketches and archeological field notes about the instrument.

Here is a brief summary of the reconstruction process:

• First, I projected profile photographs of the instrument on to a wall and used published measurements to obtain the correct size and accurate shape of the instrument.

• I then traced the outline of the image to prepare the various parts of the lyre based on the full-sized wall drawings.

• Next, the two side pieces of the sound box were cut to shape as were the arms and cross bar.

• All the parts were then assembled and the strings were attached and tuned.

The sides of the sound box or “sound boards” of my replica were made of 1/4" thick (.6 cm) cedar wood. Cedar was chosen based upon published lab tests that analyzed small wood fragment samples discovered on the silver stag lyre that rested with the Gold Lyre at the Royal Grave site. The research determined that a conifer wood was used in making of the Sumerian instruments.

The arms of the instrument were made of pine wood. The cross bar (or “yolk”) was made from a thick stock of oak, as a strong, hard wood was needed to bear the great tension of the strings over time.

CLICK on the blue buttons below to learn more about the anatomy of the lyre. (coming soon).
The CD, Ambient Egypt, features sounds from the Gold Lyre

The Gold Lyre is more than 1 meter (3 feet) in height. This is the tallest of the stringed instruments from the Royal Graves at Ur, from which more than a dozen instruments were discovered. Smaller, more portable versions of the lyre thrived throughout Mesopotamian history. Lyres and harps have been documented in the hand of musicians from many ancient Near Eastern civilizations from Egypt, to ancient Israel (Syria/Palestine), Cycladic cultures of the Mediterranean and the Greco-Roman world.
Bull Head and Mosaic Border Details

The most distinctive element of the Gold Lyre is the bull head on the front of the instrument. The bull was a common symbolic element in Sumerian art religion, symbolizing strength, fertility and divine power.

Beautiful inlay patterns of lapis lazuli and red limestone also border the instrument, and on the original, these adornments were the only materials to survive from antiquity. I created the replica's mosaic borders by studying color photographs of original Sumerian patterns and replicating the designs with computer software. The borders were then laser printed, and “aged” by crumpling the printed paper and rubbing graphite on the designs. The patterns for the lyre's arms were hand painted on to thick paper and cut to shape. Finally the paper mosaic pieces were applied to the edges of the sound box and arms using an acrylic urethane. The urethane created a protective seal and adhesive over the border designs while protecting them from the thousands of hands that would play the instrument over time.
Bull head replica by sculptor,
Joe Seigenthaller
Status & Dedication / Gold Lyre Introduction / Lyre Reconstruction & Anatomy
Discovery & Excavation at Ur / Music in Mesopotamia / Audio Clips