The Mask of Warka, also known as the ‘Lady of Uruk’ or the Sumerian Mona Lisa, dating from 3100 BC, is one of the earliest representations of the human face. The carved marble female face is probably a depiction of Inanna. It is approximately 20 cm (8 inches) tall, and was probably incorporated in a larger wood cult image, though it is only a presumption that a deity is represented. It is without parallels in the period.
According to Dr. Bahnam Abu Al-Soof, the Mask of Warka was originally attached to a larger statue made of various materials. The mask was excavated in modern-day Warka in Iraq by German archaeologists who began their excavations in 1912. Uruk-Warka, is one of the earliest cities, once ruled by the legendary King Gilgamesh, and mentioned in the Genesis as the biblical city of Erech.
It is in the National Museum of Iraq, having been recovered undamaged after being looted when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.
Mask of Warka: Description
The Mask of Warka is unique in that it is the first accurate depiction of the human face. Previous attempts, like the Tell Brak Head
were not anatomically accurate, and featured exaggerated noses and ears.
At 21.2 centimetres (8.3 in) tall, the mask was most likely originally part of a whole, life sized statue, probably made of wood, with the exposed areas of “skin” (arms, hands, feet, and most obviously the head) being the only ones made of the much rarer white marble. The back of the head would have been enhanced with bitumen and then colored metal – most likely either gold leaf or copper. This combination would have then extended over the forehead in waves. This hairpiece would have been attached to the Mask with metal studs, which could possibly have been engraved. The hollowed out eyes and eyebrows bear traces of an ancient inlay, perhaps shell and lapis lazuli. Perforations at the ears indicate that the image once wore jewelry. Parts of the eyebrows and hair were also emphasized with colored inlays.
The back of the head is flat, with drill holes for attachment.
Mask of Warka: Discovery
The Mask of Warka was discovered on 22 February 1939 by the expedition of the German Archaeological Institute, led by Dr A. Nöldeke, in the city of Uruk south of modern Baghdad. The Mask was found in the Eanna (or Ianna) district of the city – so named for the goddess Inanna to whom the temples are dedicated.
Mask of Warka: Theft and recovery
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the National Museum of Iraq (where the Mask of Warka was stored) was looted. The Mask is thought to have been taken between April 10 and 12 of that year, along with forty other pieces, including the Warka Vase and Bassetki Statue.
The effort to recover these artifacts was spearheaded by Marine Reserve Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, who started an investigation with his team on April 21. However, it was The 812th Military Police Company (Combat Support) USAR, out of Orangeburg, New York, that recovered the Mask just before October. According to Bogdanos “An informant, an individual, an Iraqi, walked into the museum with a tip that he knew where antiquities were being held or hidden, without identifying the mask. MPs Acting on that information, members of the investigation who are still in Baghdad then went to that location, conducted a reconnaissance of the location, and then conducted a raid. The results of the raid were ultimately good, but Bogdanos explains that hopes were not initially high. “Initially they didn’t find the Mask, but they found the owner of the farm– it’s a farm in northern Baghdad– and after interviewing the farmer, he admitted that he did in fact have an antiquity, in this case the Mask, buried in the back of his farm. The investigators went behind the farm and uncovered the Mask exactly where he had placed it, and it is intact and undamaged.” It is now in the National Museum of Iraq – Baghdad.