Museum of Ancient Inventions: Sumerian Harp

Sumerian Harp, Iraq, 2500 BCE

This is a recreation of Queen Shub-Ad’s harp, an artifact unearthed early this century from the Sumerian Royal Cemetery at Ur. It is the oldest known example of the true triangular harp, which evolved directly from the hunting bow.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Beverly Jones ’97

Although the dimensions of the harp are taken directly from the archaeological record, this reconstruction differs in several ways from the original. Unlike the one shown here, the original harp has a calf’s head of gold and lapis lazuli attached to the end, which archaeologists speculate was added as an afterthought, rather than being an integral part of the harp. In addition, the colorful border of the sound box, originally inset with stone, shell and lapis, has here been reworked in paint. Although archaeologists have stated that the base of the harp was carved from a single piece of wood, such a method would cause the neck of the harp to be quite weak because the shape of the harp would have run across the grain. As a result, this reconstruction consists of several separate pieces of wood, attached to one another in order to make the grain of the wood work with, rather than against, the shape of the harp. In other respects, this harp reflects the one fashioned nearly five thousand years ago: it is made of wood, the placement of the essential parts is fairly true to the original dimensions, and the strings are tuned to the notes archaeologists believe may have been the Sumerian equivalent of our modern scale.

Sources, Resources and Links

Galpin, Canon F. W. “The Sumerian Harp of Ur.” Music and Letters, vol. x, no. 2. April 1929.

Woolley, Sir Leonard. Excavations at Ur: A Record of Twelve Years’ Work. London: E. Benn, 1955.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum (URL:

The British Museum (URL:

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