Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 151

Plan of Nineveh (Nippur) A. Palace of Sennacherib. B. Palace of Assur-bani-pal. By permission of the Director of the British Museum.

In the second expedition, also undertaken at Nippur, Dr Peters decided to dispense with the services of Messrs Hilprecht and Field, the expert Assyriologists who had been dispatched to advise him professionally. Himself not an Assyriologist, he laboured at a disadvantage without the assistance of these experts. The work of the first expedition had concentrated at three conspicuous points—the temple, the 'tablet' hill which had yielded such good results, and the 'Court of Columns.' The principal objective was now the conical hill of Bint-el-Amir, containing the zikkurat and temple of Bel. Peters regarded the temple as having been built by a king "not far removed from Nebuchadrezzar in time," but many of his inferences have been traversed by Hilprecht. "In his endeavour to reach the older remains before the more recent strata had been investigated in the least adequately, Peters[Pg 359] broke through the outer casing of the zikkurat, built of 'immense blocks of adobe,' in a cavity of which he discovered a well-preserved goose egg, and perceived that there was an older stage-tower of quite a different form and much smaller dimensions enclosed within the other. By means of a diagonal trench cut through its centre, he ascertained its height and characteristic features down to the level of Ur-Gur, and came to the conclusion (which, however, did not prove correct) that the zikkurat of this ancient monarch was the earliest erected at Nippur. 'Wells and similar shafts were sunk at other points of the temple,' especially at the northern and western corners, where he reached original constructions of Ashurbanapal (668-626 B.C.) and Ur-Gur (about 2700 B.C.), and discovered scattered bricks ... 'showing that many kings of many ages had honoured the temple of Bel at Nippur.'"[6]

The Business Quarter of Nippur

The excavators soon concluded that they had hit upon the business quarter of Nippur, basing their belief upon the commercial character of the tablets found, the large number of day labels pierced for attachment to sacks and jars, books of entry in clay, and weights and measures. So much damage had been done to the buildings while excavating, however that the appearance and plan of any of the Babylonian business houses and warehouses could not be arrived at.

In August 1893 Haynes commenced a search for the original bed and embankment of the river Chebar, which he came upon at a depth of twenty[Pg 360] feet from the surface. In the dried-up bed of the river or canal he found a round terra-cotta fountain in three fragments, decorated with birds from whose mouths the water passed.

The Fourth Campaign

The fourth campaign covered the years 1898-1900, and was under the direct control of the University of Pennsylvania. Excavations were commenced at the extreme south-eastern end of the west ridge. Spring and summer were spent by Haynes in a 'nervous search' for tablets, although a strictly scientific examination of Nippur had been asked for. Late tablets and coffins resulted from this search; finds of old Babylonian character were meagre. The director did not see eye to eye with his architects, and one of them, Mr Fisher, resigned, returning, however, in the autumn of 1899. The Committee in America requested Haynes to confine his efforts to the exploration of the eastern half of the temple court, and to this task he addressed himself with zeal if only with partial success. Tablets, according to the director, sufficient to institute "a distinct library by itself," continued to pour out of 'Tablet Hill.' But technical and expert advice was lacking. The architects desired to remove a Parthian round tower, Haynes reluctantly consented, and upon its removal the gate of an ancient temple was unearthed.

Hilprecht Returns

Professor Hilprecht now reappeared, and his coming put a new complexion on affairs. A trained and efficient arch├Žologist, he saw at once that 'Tablet Hill' represented the site of the temple[Pg 361] library, so resolved to leave its excavation to a later expedition, and meantime to settle "the more essential topographical questions." He saw that these once answered, "it would be a comparatively easy task for the Committee to have the single mounds excavated one after another by somebody else, if necessity arose, who was less familiar with the ruins and the history of their exploration. Every trench cut henceforth—and there were a great many—was cut for the sole purpose of excavating structures systematically and of gathering necessary data for the history and topography of ancient Nippur. If these trenches yielded tangible museum results at the same time, so much the better; if they did not," he says, "I was not troubled by their absence." However, "antiquities were found so abundantly in the pursuit of the plan described, that the principle was established anew that a strictly scientific method of excavating is at the same time the most profitable."