1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Babylonia and Assyria/Modern Discovery
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III. Modern Discovery.—The excavations of P. E. Botta and A. H. Layard at Nineveh opened up a new world, coinciding as they did with the successful decipherment of the cuneiform system of writing. Layard's discovery of the library of Assur-bani-pal put the materials for reconstructing the ancient life and history of Assyria and Babylonia into the hands of scholars. He also was the first to excavate in Babylonia, where C. J. Rich had already done useful topographical work. Layard's excavations in this latter country were continued by W. K. Loftus, who also opened trenches at Susa, as well as by J. Oppert on behalf of the French government. But it was only in the last quarter of the 19th century that anything like systematic exploration was attempted. After the death of George Smith at Aleppo in 1876, an expedition was sent by the British Museum (1877-1879), under the conduct of Hormuzd Rassam, to continue his work at Nineveh and its neighbourhood. Excavations in the mounds of Balawāt, called Imgur-Bel by the Assyrians, 15 m. east of Mosul, resulted in the discovery of a small temple dedicated to the god of dreams by Assur-nazir-pal III. (883 B.C.), containing a stone coffer or ark in which were two inscribed tables of alabaster of rectangular shape, as well as of a palace which had been destroyed by the Babylonians but restored by Shalmaneser II. (858 B.C.). From the latter came the bronze gates with hammered reliefs, which are now in the British Museum. The remains of a palace of Assur-nazir-pal III. at Nimrūd (Calah) were also excavated, and hundreds of enamelled tiles were disinterred. Two years later (1880-1881) Rassam was sent to Babylonia, where he discovered the site of the temple of the sun-god of Sippara at Abu-Habba, and so fixed the position of the two Sipparas or Sepharvaim. Abu-Habba lies south-west of Bagdad, midway between the Euphrates and Tigris, on the south side of a canal, which may once have represented the main stream of the Euphrates, Sippara of the goddess Anunit, now Dēr, being on its opposite bank.
Meanwhile (1877-1881) the French consul, de Sarzec, had been excavating at Tello, the ancient Lagash, and bringing to light monuments of the pre-Semitic age, which included the diorite statues of Gudea now in the Louvre, the stone of which, according to the inscriptions upon them, had been brought from Magan, the Sinaitic peninsula. The subsequent excavations of de Sarzec in Tello and its neighbourhood carried the history of the city back to at least 4000 B.C., and a collection of more than 30,000 tablets has been found, which were arranged on shelves in the time of Gudea (c. 2700 B.C.). In 1886-1887 a German expedition under Dr Koldewey explored the cemetery of El Hibba (immediately to the south of Tello), and for the first time made us acquainted with the burial customs of ancient Babylonia. Another German expedition, on a large scale, was despatched by the Orientgesellschaft in 1899 with the object of exploring the ruins of Babylon; the palace of Nebuchadrezzar and the great processional road were laid bare, and Dr W. Andrae subsequently conducted excavations at Qal`at Sherqat, the site of Assur. Even the Turkish government has not held aloof from the work of exploration, and the Museum at Constantinople is filled with the tablets discovered by Dr V. Scheil in 1897 on the site of Sippara. J. de Morgan's exceptionally important work at Susa lies outside the limits of Babylonia; not so, however, the American excavations (1903-1904) under E. J. Banks at Bismya (Udab), and those of the university of Pennsylvania at Niffer (see Nippur) first begun in 1889, where Mr J. H. Haynes has systematically and patiently uncovered the remains of the great temple of El-lil, removing layer after layer of débris and cutting sections in the ruins down to the virgin soil. Midway in the mound is a platform of large bricks stamped with the names of Sargon of Akkad and his son Naram-Sin (3800 B.C.); as the débris above them is 34 ft. thick, the topmost stratum being not later than the Parthian era (H. V. Hilprecht, The Babylonian Expedition, i. 2, p. 23), it is calculated that the débris underneath the pavement, 30 ft. thick, must represent a period of about 3000 years, more especially as older constructions had to be levelled before the pavement was laid. In the deepest part of the excavations, however, inscribed clay tablets and fragments of stone vases are still found, though the cuneiform characters upon them are of a very archaic type, and sometimes even retain their primitive pictorial forms.