Sumer was the earliest known civilisation within the wider region of Mesopotamia, developed between the Tigris and Euphrates from circa 4500 BC until 1900 BC. This area later became Babylonia and is now known as modern southern Iraq, stretching from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. A thriving region in its day, Sumer produced the first written texts and also impressive art, unusual for such an early civilisation. This extremely fine head displays iconographic similarities with known portraits of the priest-prince of the Sumerian city-state Lagash-Girsu, Gudea, who ruled between circa 2144 and 2124 BC. Many round-plastic statues and idols have been recovered from Southern Mesopotamia from this period, portraying Gudea in prayer in an idealised naturalistic manner, which was typical for portraits of royal members across the Ancient World. Such statues and statuettes, usually carved in hard and durable diorite, would have been placed in temples throughout Lagash-Girsu for devotion and worship. The religious centre of Lagash-Girsu was later ravaged during a period of political turmoil under Ur-Namma, and many statuettes representing Gudea were decapitated. During archaeological excavations of the region between 1877 and 1933, all the Gudea statues and statuettes recovered were headless, as one of the earliest examples of damnatio memoriae.
To discover more about the ancient Sumerians, please visit our relevant blog post: Ancient Sumer and its Art.