Mythos 10 – Early Assyriology

 

Early Mesopotamian archeology is an ongoing field of research, 500 years ago almost nothing was known of Mesopotamia that wasn’t found in classical Jewish or Greek manuscripts. During the crusades around 800 years ago, a rabbi named Benjamin of Tudela from the Spanish kingdom of Navarre had identified the ruins of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital mentioned in the Torah. Benjamin’s diary The Travels of Benjamin was originally written in Hebrew, however after being translated into Latin in the early Renaissance became a major source of information on the geography and ethnology of the Middle East and North Africa. Around 400 years ago Sir Walter Raleigh devoted several pages in his History of the World to reiterating scholarly debates as to who had built the cities of Assyria: the Biblical Nimrod or Historic Ashur.(1)Walter Raleigh (1614) History of the World, Pages 358–365 As a result of Assyria being the oldest Mesopotamian ruins known to the early European historians, the field of study became known as Assyriology, a name that continues to be used today, even for historians that specialize in the civilizations that were in the region thousands of years before the Assyrian Empire.

Artist's Impression of Ancient Ur

Artist’s Impression of Ancient Ur

About the same time that Sir Walter Raleigh was writing History of the World the Italian scholar Pietro della Valle was traveling through the Middle East, and visited the ruins of Babylon, Nineveh, and an unknown ruin that turned out to be Ur, thereby providing European historians of their first glimpse of the Babylonian and Sumerian civilizations. Around 150 years ago the city of Ur was crudely excavated in a quest to find artifacts to ship back to European museums by John George Taylor the British Vice-Consul at Basra.(2)E. Sollberger (1972) “Mr. Taylor in Chaldaea” Anatolian Studies, Volume 22, Pages 129-139 At the time the Sumerian civilization had still not been discovered, and the oldest known civilization in the region was the Akkadian civilization. Around a century ago modern archaeological methods began to be used in Iraq by the British Museum,(3)H. R. Hall (1925) “The Excavations of 1919 at Ur, el-‘Obeid, and Eridu, and the History of Early Babylonia” Man, Volume 25, Pages 1-7 the University of Pennsylvania,(4)Leonard Woolley (1946) Ur: The First Phases and the German Oriental Society.(5)Julius Jordan (1928) “Uruk-Warka nach dem ausgrabungen durch die Deutsche Orient-gesellschaft” Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft, Number 51 These digs discovered the Sumerian civilization, records, and myths, many of which the Akkadian and later Babylonian, and then Jewish mytho-histories were based on, including the creation of humanity in the garden of Eden,(6)Dexter E. Callender (2000) Adam in myth and history: ancient Israelite perspectives on the primal human, Page 42 and the great flood. The great flood turned out to be one of many pre-historic floods in the regions, several of which had left sterile deposit of soil across the region, although these deposits were originally interpreted as evidence of the Biblical global flood.(7)Georges Roux (1993) Ancient Iraq

Early in the last century the first excavations of Tell-Ubaid were done, at the same time as the work that established the Sumerian civilization, however the significance of the Ubaid period was not established until a few decades ago, when it was realized that these ruins predate the Sumerian civilization by millennia.(8)Amélie Kuhrt (1997) The Ancient Near East, c. 3000-330 BC Significant political issues and multiple wars in Iraq have delayed work in the region for decades, and so if there are older towns under the alluvium they have yet to be found, nevertheless the Ubaid period is itself quite interesting. In addition to an overland trade network stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, they had boats(9)Robert Carter (2006) “Boat remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC” Antiquity, Volume 80, Number 307, Page 52 and therefore could have been trading as far east as modern Pakistan, where the Indus civilization appears to have been in existence since at least 8,500 years ago.(10)A. Coppa et al. (2006) “Early Neolithic tradition of dentistry: Flint tips were surprisingly effective for drilling tooth enamel in a prehistoric population” Nature, Volume 440, Number 6 The Ubaid people also used a written pictographic script that we have yet to translate. It appears to have been a predecessor of cuneiform, a script that would eventually dominate Southwest Asia until it was ultimately supplanted by a combination of Aramaic and Greek scripts between 3,000 and 2,000 years ago.

References   [ + ]

1. Walter Raleigh (1614) History of the World, Pages 358–365
2. E. Sollberger (1972) “Mr. Taylor in Chaldaea” Anatolian Studies, Volume 22, Pages 129-139
3. H. R. Hall (1925) “The Excavations of 1919 at Ur, el-‘Obeid, and Eridu, and the History of Early Babylonia” Man, Volume 25, Pages 1-7
4. Leonard Woolley (1946) Ur: The First Phases
5. Julius Jordan (1928) “Uruk-Warka nach dem ausgrabungen durch die Deutsche Orient-gesellschaft” Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft, Number 51
6. Dexter E. Callender (2000) Adam in myth and history: ancient Israelite perspectives on the primal human, Page 42
7. Georges Roux (1993) Ancient Iraq
8. Amélie Kuhrt (1997) The Ancient Near East, c. 3000-330 BC
9. Robert Carter (2006) “Boat remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC” Antiquity, Volume 80, Number 307, Page 52
10. A. Coppa et al. (2006) “Early Neolithic tradition of dentistry: Flint tips were surprisingly effective for drilling tooth enamel in a prehistoric population” Nature, Volume 440, Number 6