Kim Benzel joined The Met in 1990 and since then has worked on numerous exhibitions—such as The Royal City of Susa, Assyrian Origins, Art and Empire, Beyond Babylon, Hidden Treasures from Afghanistan, Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age, Jewelry: The Body Transformed, and most recently, Rayyane Tabet/Alien Property. She has co-edited and contributed to multiple exhibition catalogues, and co-authored a Met resource guide on the ancient Near East for K–12 teachers. Kim holds a Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University in New York and previous to that studied at the Kulicke-Stark Academy in New York. For many years Kim participated in archaeological excavations at sites in Syria, and regularly taught the ancient Near East sections of the Barnard College Introduction to Art History survey course, as well as the ancient Near East portion of the Curatorial Studies course offered by the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Currently, Kim and her colleagues in the Department are working on a full reimagining and renovation of the permanent galleries of ancient Near Eastern art at The Met.
Sites of Enchantment:
Early Dynastic Jewelry from the “Royal Cemetery” at Ur, Mesopotamia
Kim Benzel, Ph. D., Curator in charge, Ancient near eastern art the metropolitan museum of art, New York
This lecture will investigate one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century—the jewelry belonging to a female named Pu-abi buried in the so-called Royal Cemetery at the site of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq. The mid-third millennium B.C. assemblage represents one of the earliest and richest extant collections of gold and precious stones from antiquity and figures as one of the most renowned and often illustrated aspects of Sumerian culture. With a few notable exceptions most scholars have interpreted these jewels primarily as a reflection in burial of a significant level of power and prestige among the ruling kings and queens of Ur at the time. While the jewelry certainly could, and undoubtedly did, reflect the identity and status of the deceased, he lecturer believes that it might have acted as much more than a mere marker and that the identity and status thus signaled might have been a considerably more nuanced one, or even different one, than that of royalty or royalty alone. Based on a thorough examination of the materials and methods used to manufacture these ornaments, Benzel will argue that the jewelry was not simply a rich but passive collection of prestige goods but jewelry that can be read in terms of active ritual, and perhaps cultic, production. In doing so, the particular materials and techniques chosen for the making of Pu-abi’s jewelry entailed what Alfred Gell called the “technology of enchantment and enchantment of technology”—resulting in ornaments that materialized from their creation as a group of magically and ritually charged objects.