Archaeological discoveries of dead individuals, usually in the form of burials, have frequently captured the imaginations of public and professional audiences alike. In addition to the allure of exotic artefacts and seemingly bizarre funeral rites, burials offer rich possibilities for investigating myriad aspects of past social, cultural and even individual life. This discussion focuses on one of the more renowned archaeological excavations of an ancient cemetery, the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Consideration of who was and who was not buried in the cemetery suggests that cemetery burial was the prerogative of those people who were closely attached to ‘public’ institutions. This leads to a number of observations on Sumerian treatment of the dead and attitudes toward death, as these can be approached from archaeological and textual sources.