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The Golden Lyre of Ur

During the initial phase of the war in Iraq, the Baghdad museum was looted, and many ancient and vitally important objects from the world’s earliest civilisations were either stolen or badly damaged - including the Golden Lyre of Ur, which was found smashed to pieces and stripped of its gold inlays in the museum car-park.

The 4,700 year-old Lyre, which pre-dates the Great Pyramid at Giza, was a very important cultural icon for all the people of Iraq; and harpist and engineer Andy Lowings, organiser of the Stamford Harp Festival, who had worked for many years in the Middle East, decided to build a playable and fully decorated reproduction - the first ever mad - both as a gesture of friendship for th people of Iraq, and as a reminder that almost every civilisation in the world, including our own, stems from one common root, in Mesopotamia.

All the labour and materials used in the reconstruction, including over half a kilogramme of plate gold, were donated free of charge - the magnificent bull’s head, sculpted in wood, and covered in gold and lapis lazuli, was made by students at West Dean College; the gold banding on the arms was applied by the Royal Goldsmith in London, and I made the lyre itself - helped by Andy Lowings - partly from Cedar of Lebanon donated by Arab Aid in Baghdad, and flown to Britain by the RAF.

It took two years for Andy and his team to complete all the inlaid decoration, as 5,000 separate pieces of polished shell, lapis lazuli and pink limestone had to be shaped on a diamond wheel and glued into recesses in the arms and body of the lyre, using bitumen -
as in the original - donated by Baghdad museum (part of this work was done by Dr.Jalili, chairman of the Association of British Arabs, who was a keen supporter of the project).

The Lyre reproduction has been featured on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, and in the French edition of National Geographic; and was played by traditional lyre-player Ayub Ogada from Kenya to open the Africa Calling Live 8 concert at the Eden project in Cornwall. This is an on-going project (I am now working on a reproduction of the Silver Lyre, found at the same site in Iraq); and details of the latest developments, of some of the musicians who have played on the Lyre so far, and the places it has travelled to - including Aqaba in Jordan, and the Library of Congress in Washington - can be found on the group’s website.

Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust
Silver Spear Instruments
Jonathan Letcher
Ridge Farm
Bishop’s Castle
+44 (0)1588 650 416