Ur Digitization Project: November 2013

November 27, 2013

Father Legrain’s Records
Spotlight on travel sketches
Trip back from Ur, 1925

In both the 1924-25 and the 1925-26 seasons, Father León Legrain was the epigrapher at Ur–the person whose expertise was in cuneiform script and whose duty it was to investigate the clay tablets as they were found. Father Legrain was curator of the Babylonian section at the Penn Museum throughout the Ur excavations, and even when he was not in the field with Woolley he was often working on artifacts from Ur at Penn, assisting with the division of finds between London and Philadelphia, and assisting with publication of Ur material.

Father Legrain working on cuneiform tablets at the Ur Dighouse
Father Legrain working on cuneiform tablets at the Ur Dighouse

Many of Legrain’s records are stored in the Penn Museum archives and we at the Ur project have been scanning them. Not only have we found his notes on figurines, sealings and other inscribed pieces, but we have also come across his personal photos and drawings he made in his trips to the site of Ur itself.

Around 40% of Legrain’s photos cover his travels to and from the site. Many are difficult to identify precisely, but he also sketched many places he visited and labeled them. Several of these drawings have place name and date, providing us with a tangible look at a particular trip. They were all done in March or April of 1925 as Legrain was coming back from Ur at the end of that season (dig seasons tended to run from Oct or Nov through Feb or Mar, so as to avoid the severe heat).

Google map showing places sketched by Father Legrain in 1925. Click for link to interactive Google map.
Google map showing places sketched by Father Legrain in 1925. Click for link to interactive Google map.

The link on the above image takes you to a Google maps page that shows the places named and the order in which Legrain traveled to them according to the dates on the drawings. The exact dates are (click on any of the links to see the drawing of that place; use the browser back key to return to this text):

March 1, 1925 — Ur Ziggurat — Iraq

March 18, 1925 — Samawa — Iraq

undated — Baghdad (unlabeled but identifiable as Katah bridge)

March 23, 1925 — Sabkha — Syria

April 3, 1925 — Sausset les Pins — France

April 6, 1925 — Marseille — France

April 8, 1925 — Bouzaria — Algeria

April 13, 1925 — Biskra — Algeria

April 20, 1925 — Tunis — Tunisia

It appears he was traveling mostly in French controlled or at least partly French speaking areas and visiting archaeological sites before returning to the States. Some of the 5s in his writing of the year 1925 look like 6s, but all of the drawings are made on similar paper and were likely done in succession in the same trip. The fact that they make a clear line of travel also supports this hypothesis. Legrain would have traveled to Samawa, thence to Baghdad, perhaps by car (though there was a train depot at Ur Junction by 1925) and on to Syria, likely by train. From the coast of Syria he probably caught a boat to Marseille, spent some time in France and then to French North Africa.

Discovering the places Father Legrain visited is an interesting aside to the excavation, showing the amount of time needed to travel between places (though he was likely visiting at least in the latter half of the trip, and so the dates don’t always represent travel times). Though the trip itself has little to do with the archaeology of Ur, the Ur project is not solely documenting the specific artifacts, buildings, and excavation progress of the site; we are also recording as much as we can about the people who were on the dig, gaining insight into their lives and work and the modern history surrounding Ur.