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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 6

At Kalkhi and Nineveh Layard uncovered the palaces of some of the most famous Assyrian Emperors, including the Biblical Shalmaneser and Esarhaddon, and obtained the colossi, bas reliefs, and other treasures of antiquity which formed the nucleus of the British Museum's unrivalled Assyrian collection. He also conducted diggings at Babylon and Niffer (Nippur). His work was continued by his assistant, Hormuzd Rassam, a native Christian of Mosul, near Nineveh. Rassam studied for a time at Oxford.

The discoveries made by Layard and Botta stimulated others to follow their example. In the "fifties" Mr. W.K. Loftus engaged in excavations at Larsa and Erech, where important discoveries were made of ancient buildings, ornaments, tablets, sarcophagus graves, and pot burials, while Mr. J.E. Taylor operated at Ur, the seat of the moon cult and the birthplace of Abraham, and at Eridu, which is generally regarded as the cradle of early Babylonian (Sumerian) civilization.

In 1854 Sir Henry Rawlinson superintended diggings at Birs Nimrud (Borsippa, near Babylon), and excavated relics of the Biblical Nebuchadrezzar. This notable archaeologist began his career in the East as an officer in the Bombay army. He distinguished himself as a political agent and diplomatist. While resident at Baghdad, he devoted his leisure time to cuneiform studies. One of his remarkable feats was the copying of the famous trilingual rock inscription of Darius the Great on a mountain cliff at Behistun, in Persian Kurdistan. This work was carried out at great personal risk, for the cliff is 1700 feet high and the sculptures and inscriptions are situated about 300 feet from the ground.

Darius was the first monarch of his line to make use of the Persian cuneiform script, which in this case he utilized in conjunction with the older and more complicated Assyro-Babylonian alphabetic and syllabic characters to record a portion of the history of his reign. Rawlinson's translation of the famous inscription was an important contribution towards the decipherment of the cuneiform writings of Assyria and Babylonia.

Twelve years of brilliant Mesopotamian discovery concluded in 1854, and further excavations had to be suspended until the "seventies" on account of the unsettled political conditions of the ancient land and the difficulties experienced in dealing with Turkish officials. During the interval, however, archaeologists and philologists were kept fully engaged studying the large amount of material which had been accumulated. Sir Henry Rawlinson began the issue of his monumental work The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia on behalf of the British Museum.

Goodspeed refers to the early archaeological work as the "Heroic Period" of research, and says that the "Modern Scientific Period" began with Mr. George Smith's expedition to Nineveh in 1873.

George Smith, like Henry Schliemann, the pioneer investigator of pre-Hellenic culture, was a self-educated man of humble origin. He was born at Chelsea in 1840. At fourteen he was apprenticed to an engraver. He was a youth of studious habits and great originality, and interested himself intensely in the discoveries which had been made by Layard and other explorers. At the British Museum, which he visited regularly to pore over the Assyrian inscriptions, he attracted the attention of Sir Henry Rawlinson. So greatly impressed was Sir Henry by the young man's enthusiasm and remarkable intelligence that he allowed him the use of his private room and provided casts and squeezes of inscriptions to assist him in his studies. Smith made rapid progress. His earliest discovery was the date of the payment of tribute by Jehu, King of Israel, to the Assyrian Emperor Shalmaneser. Sir Henry availed himself of the young investigator's assistance in producing the third volume of The Cuneiform Inscriptions.


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