Museum Treasure: The gold helmet

Helmets, chain mail, daggers, guns, arms, ammunition and other macho stuff are not really my kind of thing and it is this section in a museum that I breeze through or prefer to give a miss. So that day at the British Museum in London, should actually have seen me ignoring Meskalamdug’s helmet, but for two things—it was made of gold, and it had the cutest ears I had ever seen. 🙂

The gold helmet of Meskalamdug

This helmet, dates back to about 2600-2400 BC and was found in the tomb of Meskalamdug, a Sumerian prince, in the ancient city of Ur (now in present day Iraq). The top of the helmet has a wavy design (probably to mirror hair) and at the back is a little hollow bump, perhaps to accommodate Meskalamdug’s hair bun. And yes, the helmet also has these really cute and life-like ears and ear holes carved on them. Though the helmet is designed to look like a battle helmet, it was reportedly worn by Meskalamdug for only ceremonial purposes. Gold symbolises strength and power, and Prince Meskalamdug had both.

Meskalamdug’s helmet at the British Museum London is an electrotype of the original which is or rather was at Iraq Museum in Baghdad. In the pillaging and sacking of the city that followed the fall of the Saddam Hussein government, the gold helmet was one of the many artefacts looted from the Iraq Museum.

When I saw this artefact in London, the enormity of the fact that the original had been lost, perhaps for ever, did not sink in. It’s only as I write this post that I realise that the electrotype at the British Museum may be the only piece available for the world to view and admire.

A very sobering thought indeed !

The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.

23 thoughts on “Museum Treasure: The gold helmet

  1. A sobering thought I agree Sudhagee! That reminds me of the theft of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize from our own museum! I dont think they got it back did they? And yes, The ears of this helmet are cute ha ha


    1. The planned theft of Tagore’s Nobel Prize from the museum points to sheer carelessness on the part of the Museum authorities that they could not provide better security to such an important literary heritage; the greed of the thieves is actually secondary. At least the sacking of the Iraq Museum, though unpardonable too, was a spontaneous reaction.


  2. A brilliant helmet. What strikes me is the fact that technology was so advanced even then. Even though, this is an electrotype, the details are astound me. Another brilliant piece of information shared by you Sudha!


    1. The work that you see on the helmet is a result of embossing that is called repousse, in which a metal is shaped and ornamented from the reverse. As you have noticed the detail is amazing, especially that little hollow space at the back for Meskalamdug’s hair bun.

      Glad you liked it, Neena. 🙂


    1. I don’t think the helmet is hidden. Somehow I feel that the helmet has been melted to, in the worst scenario, fund some military operation, and at best to feed a hungry family. I don’t think we are going to see it again; the British Museum piece is what we are left with today.


  3. Lovely… and the ear is a bit scary actually. As for artifacts, although I do not have a photo but I once saw the Iron Maiden aat a museum once and that was impressive. This helmet I just want to take home for its gold value 🙂


  4. Good for us Sudha fans that you lingered in the ‘macho’ section of the museum. I have always felt that I should go with you at least once on one of your travels/visits to museums in order to learn how to appreciate such stuff. Maybe we could go on that Mumbai walk, at least this time around?


    1. Well, the ears were too cute to resist a second look and then I got hooked, as I always do. The next time you are in Mumbai or I am in Delhi, we can explore the museums together 😀


  5. A post cute and small just as the unique subject it has chosen to extol. Those are truly cute ears (I can guess the other one)! It is sad that the humanity may never set its eyes upon the original Meskalamdug’s helmet again.


  6. I love the ears, they’re so cute….I am sure the helmet is in some egomaniac’s private collection and he’s getting his rocks off by showing if off to a select few people. Horrible thing to do, IMHO but when has doing the right thing motivated people enough to execution?


    1. Whether in the possession of an egomaniac or someone who took it for it’s monetary value, I think Meskalamdug’s real gold helmet has been lost for ever. If we do get to see it again, I would consider it to be a great miracle.


  7. Some artifact this. Don’t think the person who made/conceived this had enough grey matter. Would have opted for something more strong and workable….


    1. A warm welcome to “My Favourite Things”, Shovon, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      The gold helmet was not used for battle, as I have said in my post; it was used only used for ceremonial purposes like maybe receiving guests, and burials.


  8. Sobering thought indeed! There’s a huge black market for art like this and I wouldn’t be surprised to find the helmet sitting in a palatial room in someone’s private collection. In fact the owner could be reading this blog! Ha!


    1. Kartikay, I really hope that the original is not lost to the world and one day the private collector will repent and it will find its way back to a museum. Maybe the museum people themselves have hidden it till things stabilise in Iraq. I hope that either of these come true. But deep down I feel that this artefact will never be seen again 😦


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