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Ram in a Thicket

Ram in a Thicket

Ram in a Thicket

This statue of a “Ram in a Thicket” is one of pair of figures excavated at the site of Ancient Ur, in southern Iraq, and which date back to about 2600 BC. This one is exhibited at the British Museum in London, and the other is in the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. The figures represent a large goat standing upright with its front hooves resting on the branches of a small tree. It is thought that the two figures were created to face each other and that the tubes going up from their shoulders were used to support a bowl or similar object.

The sculpture had a wooden core that had been finely carved for the face and legs, The ram’s head and legs are layered in gold leaf which had been hammered against the wood and stuck to it with a thin layer of bitumen, while its ears are copper which are now green due to the natural tarnish. The horns and the fleece on its shoulders are of lapis lazuli, and the body’s fleece is made of shell, attached to a thicker coat of bitumen. The figure’s genitals are gold, while its belly was silver plate, now oxidised beyond restoration.

The tree is also covered in gold leaf with gold flowers. The figure stands on a small rectangular base decorated with a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. The figure was initially attached to the flowering shrub by silver chains around its fetlocks, but these chains have entirely corroded away.

Discovery of the Rams in a Thicket

The pair of rams or goats, and were discovered lying close together in the ‘Great Death Pit’, one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, by archaeologist Leonard Woolley during the 1928–9 excavation. Woolley was in charge of the joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania, and which began in 1922.

As the workmen were digging in one corner of the ‘Great death pit’, they uncovered an object made of gold and lapis lazuli. What they had discovered had been crushed flat by the collapse of the tomb. The ravages of four thousand years caused the decay of the wooden frame. The excavators looked for hollows in the ground created by decayed objects and then filled them with plaster or wax to record the shape of the objects that had once filled them. Woolley used this wax process to keep the pieces together as it was excavated, and the figure was gently pressed back into its original shape.

Woolley named the figure the ‘Ram in a Thicket’ after the passage in Genesis, where God orders the Biblical Patriarch Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but, at the last moment Jehovah’s Angel stopped Abraham saying to him

“Do not harm the boy and do not do anything at all to him, for now, I do know that you are God-fearing because you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me. At that Abraham looked up and saw just beyond him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son”.

Leonard Woolley

Charles Leonard Woolley (1880 – 1960) was a British archaeologist best known for his excavations at Ur. He is recognised as one of the first “modern” archaeologists, who excavated systematically, keeping careful records. Woolley was knighted for his contributions to the discipline of archaeology.

Ram in a Thicket

One of a pair – “Ram in a Thicket” at University of Pennsylvania

Woolley led a joint expedition to Ur, beginning in 1922 to explore the burial site of many Sumerian royals. His archaeological team made essential discoveries of significant historical importance.

In 1936, after the discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilisations. This interest led him to the Syrian city of Al Mina. Unfortunately, his archaeological career was interrupted by World War II, and he became part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section of the Allied Armies. After the war, he returned, and he continued his work in the Middle-East.

Agatha Christie’s novel, “Murder in Mesopotamia”, was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs in Ur. Christie later married Woolley’s young assistant, Max Mallowan.

Ram in a Thicket

  • Title:              Ram in a Thicket
  • Date:             2600 BC
  • Findspot:       Ur (located in modern-day Iraq west of Nasiriyah), 1928–9
  • Materials:      Gold, copper, shell, limestone & lapis lazuli
  • Culture:         Sumerian
  • Dimensions:  H: 45.7 cm W: 30.48 cm
  • Museum:      The British Museum

Tour the Middle East Collection at the British Museum

Tour of Mesopotamian Art


  • What would you call this sculpture if you discovered it?


“Wearing a long beard like a goat.”
– Sumerian Proverb


Photo Credit: 1) Jack1956 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)] 2) Benjamin82877 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]