The Warka Vase is a carved alabaster stone vessel found in the temple complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna in the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, located in the modern Al Muthanna Governorate, in southern Iraq. Like the Narmer Palette from Egypt, it is one of the earliest surviving works of narrative relief sculpture, dated to c. 3200–3000 BC.
The vase was discovered as a collection of fragments by German Assyriologists in their sixth excavation season at Uruk in 1933/1934. The find was recorded as find number W14873 in the expedition's field book under an entry dated 2 January 1929, which read "Großes Gefäß aus Alabaster, ca. 96 cm hoch mit Flachrelief" ("large container of alabaster, circa 96 cm high with flat-reliefs"). The vase, which showed signs of being repaired in antiquity, stood 3 feet, ¼ inches (1 m) tall. Other sources cite it as having been a slightly taller 106 cm, with an upper diameter of 36 cm. It is named after the modern village of Warka – known as Uruk to the ancient Sumerians. A plaster cast was made of the original and this reproduction stood for many decades in room 5 of the Near-Eastern Museum in Berlin (Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin), Germany.
The vase has ten registers – or tiers – of carving. The bottom register depicts the vegetation in the Tigris and Euphrates delta, such as the natural reeds and cultivated grain. Above this vegetation is a procession of animals, such as oxen and sheep presented in a strict profile view. The procession continues in the second register with nude males carrying bowls and jars of sacrificial elements, such as fruit and grain. The top register is a full scene, rather than a continuous pattern. In this register, the procession ends at the temple area. Inanna, one of the chief goddesses of Mesopotamia and later known as Ishtar in the Akkadian pantheon, stands, signified by two bundles of reeds behind her. She is being offered a bowl of fruit and grain by a nude figure. A figure in ceremonial clothing – presumably a chieftain/priest – stands nearby with the procession approaching him from behind.
Theft and restoration
The Warka Vase was one of the thousands of artifacts which were looted from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In April 2003 it was forcibly wrenched from the case where it was mounted, snapping at the base (the foot of the vase remaining attached to the base of the smashed display case.
The vase was later returned during an amnesty to the Iraq Museum on 12 June 2003 by three unidentified men in their early twenties, driving a red Toyota vehicle. As reported by a correspondent for The Times newspaper,
|“||As they struggled to lift a large object wrapped in a blanket out of the boot, the American guards on the gate raised their weapons. For a moment, a priceless 5,000-year-old vase thought to have been lost in looting after the fall of Baghdad seemed about to meet its end. But one of the men peeled back the blanket to reveal carved alabaster pieces that were clearly something extraordinary. Three feet high and weighing 600lb intact, this was the Sacred Vase of Warka, regarded by experts as one of the most precious of all the treasures taken during looting that shocked the world in the chaos following the fall of Baghdad. Broken in antiquity and stuck together, it was once again in pieces.||”|
Soon after the vase's return, broken into 20 pieces, it was announced that the vase would be restored. A pair of comparison photographs, released by the Oriental Institute, Chicago, showed significant damage (as of the day of return, 12 June 2003) to the top and bottom of the vessel.
The current condition of the Warka Vase (museum number IM19606) is not known. In June 2007, The Guardian newspaper reported that widespread looting of antiquities is ongoing in Iraq and that the director of the Iraq Museum, Donny George, fled in August 2006 after receiving death threats. The museum's entrances have been bricked up, the building surrounded by concrete walls, and the museum's staff do not have access.
- Archaeological looting in Iraq
- Narmer Palette (a comparable contemporary work of narrative relief sculpture from the Ancient Egyptian civilisation).
- Lady of Uruk
- Kleiner, Fred S.; Mamiya, Christin J. (2006). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective – Volume 1 (12th Edition ed.). Belmont, California, USA: Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0-495-00479-0.
- Ralf B. Wartke, "Eine Vermißtenliste (2): Die "Warka-Vase" aus Bagdad", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26 April 2003, Nbr 97, page 39.. English translation here. (The author is a deputy director of the Berliner Vorderasiatischen Museums).
- Ralf B. Wartke, "Eine Vermißtenliste (2): Die "Warka-Vase" aus Bagdad", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26 April 2003, Nbr 97, page 39.. English translatio here.
- Oriental Institute, Chicago, Lost Treasures from Iraq-Warka Vase, website accessed 8 June 2007.
- Oriental Institute, Chicago, Museum Photos: Iraq Museum (Baghdad, 2003), website accessed 8 June 2007.
- Ch. Lamb, "Just 32 Prize Items Still Missing as Iraq’s Treasures Flood Back", The Times, 15 June 2003. Archive website accessed 8 June 2007. The original URL for this article is now dead.
- Jenkins, Simon (8 June 2007). "In Iraq's four-year looting frenzy, the allies have become the vandals". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 8 June 2007.
- Memmott, Mark (18 June 2003). "Iraqi museum to repair broken 5,000-year-old vase". USA TODAY. Retrieved 29 January 2007.
- Clemens D. Reichel, "Iraq Museum Project", in The Oriental Institute 2002–2003 Annual Report.
- Lost Treasures from Iraq—Objects (Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago) (pre-2003 b&w photo compared with colour photograph from 12 June 2003)
- The Warka Vase (ancientworlds.net)
- Fiona Curruthers, "Iraq Museum resembled 'emergency ward'", University of Sydney News, 19 September 2003. (Colour image of pre-war Warka Vase, as well as missing "Lady of Uruk (Warka)" stone head).
- The Iraq Museum Database (hosted by the Oriental Institute, Chicago)