Early Explorations at Nimrud
|May 8, 2015||Posted by Lanah Koelle under Uncategorized||
From our friends at the Institute for Study of the Ancient World:
Austen Henry Layard and the early exploration of Nimrudby Gabriel McKee — May 05, 2015
Last month, The Islamic State of Syria and the Levant issued a video depicting the vandalizing of the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu, better known as Nimrud. The IS claims to have vandalized sculptures and bulldozed structures prior to the detonation of heavy explosives in the vicinity of the city’s palaces. This is the latest in a series of such events, including the destruction of antiquities in the Mosul Museum, damage tothe Hatra site, and the destruction of numerous Shi’ite shrines in Mosul. The IS has made grandiose claims about the extent of the destruction, but there has been virtually no outside confirmation of how much damage has actually been done at Nimrud. Nevertheless, the possibilities are troubling.
Fortunately, the palace district of Nimrud/Kalhu is one of the better-explored Assyrian sites, largely due to the publications issued following the site’s initial excavation, many of which are held by the ISAW Library. The first excavation at Nimrud was undertaken in 1845 by a French-born Englishman named Austen Henry Layard. Layard, whose uncle had achieved some success in Ceylon, began a lengthy sojourn in the Near East in 1839. He set out from London intending to travel by land to Ceylon to secure a Civil Service appointment, hoping perhaps to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. But he soon fell in love with travel itself, and spent the next several years wandering in Persia, Asia Minor, and the Middle East. He was briefly appointed as a secretary to Sir Stratford Canning in Constantinople before departing for Iraq in 1845 to search for Assyrian antiquities. He was initially invited by French archaeologist Paul-Émile Botta to join his excavation of the Kouyunjik Mound, on the opposite bank of the Tigris from Mosul. But, concerned about the watchful eyes of the people of the city, he instead selected a site some twenty miles south: the city of Nimrud.
The Kalhu site, dominated by a 140-foot conical mound containing the remains of a large ziggurat, was known to Layard from his previous travels in the region. The city was called Calah in Genesis, and its ruins were described by Xenophon, who called it Larisa. The site was named “Nimrud” in later years, owing to local tradition that connected the city to the Biblical figure Nimrod (who is named alongside with the city in Gen 10:8-12). The city fell to the Babylonians in about 612 B.C.E., and was abandoned. The site was described but not excavated by Claudius Rich in 1820, and Layard was the first to explore the ruins systematically.
The local Ottoman rulers posed problems for Layard, particularly Mohamed Pasha, the tyrannical Ottoman governor of Mosul, and the kadı of Mosul, an Ottoman official who believed Layard wished to send the Assyrian sculptures “to the palace of your Queen, who, with the rest of the unbelievers, worships these idols.” There was some concern that any sculptures discovered would be destroyed as blasphemous idols, as had happened to a sculpture uncovered at Koyunjik by Claudius Rich in 1820. Other locals were certain that Layard had information regarding the location of gold inside the mounds, while some believed that European archaeologists were searching for proof that the territory had once been held by the Franks, in order to justify the colonial seizure of the region. Layard needed to repeatedly re-secure his permission to excavate.