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The Mask of Warka

Mask of Warka

The Mask of Warka, also known as the 'Lady of Uruk' and 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 tall, and may have been incorporated into a larger cult image.


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 centimeters 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. [1]


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 that its temples are dedicated to. [2]

Theft and recovery

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the National Museum of Iraq (where the Mask of Warka was stored) was thoroughly 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. Bogdanos and his team started their investigation 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 the start of 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."[3]


  1. ^ Collon, Dominique. Ancient Near Eastern Art. Illustrated ed. University of California Press, 1995. Print.
  2. ^ Matthews, Roger. "Uruk-Warqa, Iraq." Current World Archaeology 23 (2007) Print.
  3. ^ Brown, Jeffery. "Recovering History." PBS Newshour (2003) Print.