lostcontext.com is Birger Ekornåsvåg Helgestad’s website

Birger Ekornåsvåg Helgestad

I have since 2011 been employed as the Project Curator for the Ur Project in the British Museum’s Middle East Department. This project is digitally reunifying the remarkable finds from the ancient city of Ur.

I received my graduate eduction (PhD and MA) at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, and my undergraduate degrees at University of Oslo (Cand. Mag.), and University of Copenhagen (BA). I completed my doctoral thesis in 2010; this was titled Power Negotiations and Distributions of Knowledge: Glyptic Iconographies and Visual Media Strategies in Late Fourth Millennium BC. I have worked as a field archaeologist and registrar on several excavations in Syria and Turkey, and I have also been involved in projects where I developed databases and web sites.

My principal academic interests are social power and institutionalisation in protoliterate and early literate societies; particularly as negotiated by iconography.

The Ur Project

The Ur Project is a dynamic new collaboration between the British Museum, the Penn Museum, and later hopefully also the Iraq Museum. It is digitally reunifying the remarkable finds from the city of Ur in a state-of-the-art online facility. All artefacts are being photographed and described, the cuneiform tablets are being translated, whilst the original excavation photographs, the archives, plans, and other documents, are being scanned and indexed. The unification of this diverse information in a single resource, from pictures of Agatha Christie, to excavation diaries and the find spots of individual artefacts, will enable research that has hitherto been impossible. Also, all this data will be made freely available in an open neoteric database.

Our desired outcomes are to stimulate a new level of interest, and open new avenues of research by scholars and students from a range of fields such as archaeology, history, assyriology, anthropology, art and architectural history, as well as to engage non-expert audiences in the astonishing remains of this wonderful city.

The second phase of the project started in July 2013, it is titled Ur of the Chaldees: A Virtual Vision of Woolley’s excavations. It receives its lead support from the Leon Levy Foundation.

The Ancient City of Ur

Ur, located near modern Nasiriyah, was one of ancient Mesopotamia’s largest and most important cities, occupied from ca. 5,500 to 300 BCE. Having been an important city state during the third millennium, it rose to the rank of imperial capital around 2,100. After the fall of the Ur III empire just a century later, it functioned as a major city within the long series of empires that followed.

Ur is unique. It offers an unparalleled opportunity to relate archaeology and ancient texts. Between 1922––1934 Sir Leonard Woolley led the excavations, jointly sponsored by the British Museum and Penn Museum, which uncovered Ur’s famous ziggurat complex, areas of densely packed private houses, and the spectacular Royal Graves with rich inventories of gold and macabre evidence of human sacrifice.

Woolley’s excavations encapsulate the moment when early large-scale explorations gave way to the advent of modern scientific excavation techniques. Thus, the vast scale of the finds he recovered—numbering into the tens of thousands—are contextualised by an abundance of documentation. As the first excavation in the modern nation state of Iraq, under the terms of the new Antiquities Law (1924), the finds were divided between Iraq and the excavators. Today, half is housed in the Iraq Museum; with the other half shared equally between the British Museum and Penn Museum.