The pilgrim on an archaeological quest, on his journey to Ur observes that the signs on the face of heaven are changing fast as he approaches the Libyan coast and the gates of the East. There are strange feverish sunsets, full of mirages and dreams. We are approaching an old world full of ancient history and dead bones. The long eyelids are lowered over eastern eyes as if they are tired of the sun and dust and the horror of a cruel past and a fevered present.
Alexandria and Port Said are filled with rumours of war in Syria. Under the shoulder of Mount Carmel, French transports are anchored in Haifa Bay. Is this a new Bonaparte expedition, or the last of the crusaders rescuing the Knights Templars in Acre, besieged by all the forces of Islam? Heavy barges manned by hardy Syrian rowers accost our ship. They use the long oar, standing and pulling with the whole weight of their bodies. Half Moslem, half Christian, the Syrians are a warlike race. But the Druses among them are pagans, worshippers of the moon, the sun, and the stars, survivors of the ancient religions of Canaan and Chaldea. They have blocked the desert road to Bagdad, stopped the automobile transport, killed a chauffeur and plundered the royal Persian treasury sent for security to Beyrouth. One convoy, accompanied by armoured cars and camel corps, could not break their line and had to turn back. The automobiles of the Nairn Company avoid Damascus and follow the southern road over Haifa, Amman and the difficult high ground of Moab sown with basalt rocks. But a convoy of the Eastern Transport will leave for Bagdad Sunday, November 1st, by the northern road, Tripoli, Horns, Palmyra, Kebeisa and the Euphrates, following the line of the wells. Things look quiet enough. A photograph for sale in a bookshop of Beyrouth shows a line of Druse brigands executed and exposed as a salutary example on a public place of Damascus. Order is restored at present at the expense of the old respect and influence. We leave in a seven passenger Packard. There is a British Major of the guard with his two Arab sloughis, a professor of Chicago University with his wife making a study of the legal status in the lands of mandate, one Scotch captain back from leave and bound for Mosul, a Swedish commercial traveller, athletic and polyglot, and one archaeologist on his journey to Ur. The drivers are all Italians.
The road to Tripoli along the shore is like another piece of the corniche. The sea does not divide but unites all the coastal lands round the Mediterranean. The same olive trees, vines, grey limestone rocks and red soil. Desert and Arab land begins after Homs and the range of the Lebanon. “The Flower of Hams,” the small local hotel, supplies an honest lunch of mutton, rice, tea and native bread. The atmosphere in the bazaar is not friendly. Not a salaam, not a word of welcome. We are glad to leave the conical mud houses of the last village and to escape into the desert.
Palmyra sits in the middle of a semicircle of hills opening toward the East and the desert. The palm trees are still growing in the outskirts, drinking the water of the old spring. They gave their name to the city. Gates, towers, colonnades, temples, splendid ruins of the glorious city of Zenobia, are built of a honey coloured limestone, marvellously clear and warm and polished by the desert sand. The Arab village crowds its mud and stone houses behind the strong walls of the Sun temple. A line of barbed wire surrounds the French fortress. A new modern hotel is building with hot and cold water, bathrooms and French windows. The bathtubs are waiting on the sand outside the hotel. The cold water tap alone yields a scanty supply of liquid. The windows keep no light, heat or cold out of the room.
The desert track to Kebeisa follows the lines of the wells. We pass nomad shepherds and their flocks. Wadi Shobah, turned green after the early rains, is a pasture for camels. A frontier post half way marks the line between Syria and Iraq. An industrious official has even swept the track clear of big stones along several miles. We meet the Bagdad convoy going west, every one asking anxiously the same question, “Is the Lebanon pass safe?”
The khan at Kebeisa affords a welcome rest and protection for the night. It is built like a fortress, one big gate in a continuous wall. All glory and comfort are inside. From the top of the terraced roof we enjoy the evening breeze as we look down on the neighbouring town. Arab boys and girls rush, dancing and begging for pennies. When refused, they taunt us and call names, “Druses, Druses.” So they know, the whole desert knows of the Syrian revolt, the bad news travelling fast and boding good to none.
We reach the Euphrates at Hit. The bitumen furnaces are still smoking and boiling the black pitch as used in the days of Noah or at the building of the tower of Babel. Palm trees line the banks of the river and are a pure delight for eyes sorely tired by sand and desert.
At Ramadi one rupee will buy a good lunch of rice and eggs and fried egg plant, with tea or Arab coffee. The Feludja pontoon bridge left behind, the smooth even plain is open toward Bagdad, a splendid racing field which has been a most bloody battlefield for Greek, Roman, Persian and Arab armies, till we reach the high mud banks of ancient canals, the distant brick tower of Aqarquf, the golden domes of the Khadhimin mosque, the Zobeid elevated tomb, the new railway station and the fresh palm tree gardens on the Tigris. We are in Bagdad.
A prosaic comfortable train travelling at low speed the whole night brings you the next day at 8 P. M. to Ur Junction, where you may change for Nasiriyeh, the small city on the Euphrates. Ur and the expedition camp lie half an hour’s walk south of the station. The fourth campaign of the Joint Expedition has opened a week ago. Whitburn, the architect, and Mallowan, the new assistant, come to shake hands at the station. Yahyah, the official photographer, and Atshan, the sergeant of the camp, guide our steps in the pitch dark night. Woolley and Hamudi come to meet us in the most proper oriental shade of courtesy. We meet and our party is complete.
A mass of clay tablets, clay cones, diorite foundation tablets, copper figures representing basket carriers, a white stone girlish head with inlaid eyes of lapislazuli, royal documents, a cone of Libit Ishtar, a diorite tablet of King Dungi have already been recovered. There is no time to spare. Over two hundred men are working, goaded to activity by the taunts and barking voice and restless eyes of Hamudi, the foreman of the gangs.
Searching for the palace of King Dungi, we found among other things a shrine built by him to the Moon Goddess, with a statue of himself placed in it as a memorial. Time and wars have destroyed the upper part of the temple down to the foundations. But in the thickness of the foundation walls, four foundation deposits are still intact. They are contained in brick boxes lined inside with bitumen. The king or the high priest deposited in them at the time of the building over four thousand years ago a little copper statue, a diorite tablet, and some food and drink offerings, with prayers, incense burning and the clanging of musical instruments. The copper statue represents a basket carrier, a corb full of earth on his head. On his body, as on the stone tablet, the same inscription gives the name of the god, of his temple, of the royal builder, building for a long distant posterity.
The statue of the king mentioned at the beginning of the last paragraph is the only statue of King Dungi known. He is represented standing in front of his god, with hands clasped as becomes a servant. The head is broken off. An inscription engraved on the back devotes the statue to the Moon God for the life of the king.
But the great find of the year was still to come. From a part of the broken ground where tombs had replaced the elusive Dungi’s palace, the dig was extended over Dungi’s shrine towards the Ziggurat. Out of the soil below three feet of rubbish in what looked like an empty piece of ground, came to light the most complete Sumerian temple of 2400 B. c., with walls, courts, shrines, storerooms, kitchen, wells, altars, statues, stelae, and over thirty door sockets found at every gate, all bearing the same inscription. From these we learn that we have found a temple built by the great Ur-Nammu, King of Ur, and his grandson, Bur-Sin. This was the private house of the Moon Goddess, Ningal, the Mother of the City. It is complete and so rich in details that we can follow the daily ritual with a vivid sense of life. It should be understood once for all that the great Moon God Temple at Ur was a walled sacred city within the larger city, like the temple of Jerusalem or the great Mosque at Mecca. Past the gates and within the sacred area there were many houses closed in by their own walls, like so many colleges of a university. One was the house of the Moon God, the Hall of Justice, where his statue, throned at the end of the double room on a brick terrace, was raised above the level of the court; another one was the great treasure house, discovered during the first campaign. The great brick tower of the Ziggurat in the northwest corner of the area formed an inner ward within its own wall and resting on its own terrace.
This year’s campaign has established the fact that the Moon Goddess possessed a house, shrine, and palace of her own, grouped with the Hall of Justice of her husband and other important buildings within the great enclosure. It is likely that this house was at the same time the palace of the high priestess, who embodied and played the part of the wife of the Moon God. As the high priestess was generally a daughter of the earthly king of Ur, there was no danger of misalliance.
The house of the Moon Goddess is built on a rectangular plan with strongly fortified gates northwest and southeast of it. A double wall with a passage between for keeping guard surrounds it. A terraced roof covered walls and passage. Staircases within the passage gave access to the roof. The walls were panelled on the outside, probably whitewashed, and crenellated.
Within the area enclosed by the gates and guard rooms, the various shrines, stores and apartments were grouped round three main open air courts. The northern and southern courts were sacred and witnessed the daily ritual of sacrifices in front of the shrines. The southern court is the most perfect sacred place of that early period about three centuries before Abraham. The bronze gates which gave access to the court are gone. The door sockets or hinge stones on which they used to swing are still in position in their boxes right and left below the pavement. They are round boulders of diorite, each with a clear inscription chiselled in the surface, “King Ur-Nammu and King Bur-Sin, kings of Ur, kings of the four corners of the world.” The old sounding title comes out of the ground like the voice of the past. Green oxide has been left by the copper shoe of the door post swinging in the hollow cup at the top of the stone. Clay tablets have been found telling of the pots of oil issued once a month for the greasing of the hinges of these temple doors.
The shrine proper where stood the statue of the goddess was a double room on the side of the court opposite the entrance. Two brick altars three or four feet high were erected in the court on the line of the gates. On them was piled the scented wood of morning and evening sacrifice. On them were burnt the bodies of the yearling lambs and kids. A brick tank was built in the right angle of the court, lined inside with bitumen, affording the water supply for libation and pavement washing. A narrow path in the pavement led from the first altar to the second in front of the shrine. The threshold is the traditional sacred place. Here were the victims exposed, at least the noble portion reserved to the god was solemnly laid on a pile of cake, while incense was thrown on a little charcoal burner and the smoke like a prayer rose to heaven.
Libation, the pouring of water in the presence of the god, on green palms and bunches of dates tucked inside a large alabaster vase, was a most common form of sacrifice. It was most important to remind the gods by this daily ritual that what their people, the black headed Sumerians, needed was chiefly water in that thirsty land.
A brick recessed gate led to the double room of the shrine. On either side of the entrance brick bases still in position were the supports of memorial stelae, votive statues broken and removed long ago. A narrow gutter cut in the middle of the threshold between the two jambs is unexplained unless it were intended for the pouring and washing away of the sacrificial blood.
The only complete statue found this year was discovered inside the first room of the shrine, lying on the pavement close to the brick base on which it had stood. It is the statue of Mother Goose, the goddess Bau, a squat little person with a large back and a short neck, sitting on the waves of the Euphrates instead of a throne, flanked on either side by two geese, while her feet rest on two ducks. She is a well known character, the wife of the god Ningirsu living forty miles north of Ur, in a place named Lagash. The temple of the Moon Goddess had side chapels and pedestals for foreign gods and goddesses.
The inner room is the real shrine where the statue of Ningal stood centuries ago. A brick altar still stands against the wall at the end of this room, well covered with bitumen. A small staircase on the left brought the priest on to the dais on a level with the enthroned statue. The whole was probably covered with precious wood and metal panels which have disappeared. The roof was likely formed of palm tree trunks or perhaps imported cedar trees, laid across and covered with reed matting to support a mud terrace. Bitumen was used freely to prevent rain infiltrations.
The sacred vessels presented to the temple by generations of princes and kings were kept in small side rooms right and left of the shrine. The list of these vessels, which were of precious metals, gold, silver or even copper, has disappeared long ago. But the stone vessels, broken and scattered, remain among the ruins. One by one all the fragments of diorite, porphyry, alabaster, aragonite or oolite are collected, washed and joined so as to restore the lines of a large dish, a bowl, a cup or a vase. Such objects generally bear inscriptions carefully engraved by Sumerian scribes as votive offerings of kings to Ningal, the great Mother of Ur.
Another room close by must have been a treasury. Mixed with clay and débris, many sealings have been recovered bearing the seal impressions of high officials of the temple, the high priest, the libator, the anointer of the deep abyss of the Moon God, the diviner, a judge and several scribes. A lovely stone casket originally decorated with a gold band was used perhaps to store the jewels of the goddess or important seals.
Accounts inscribed on tablets found with the sealings open new perspectives under our eyes. We hear of a sea expedition bringing from the island of Dilmun after a three years’ voyage a cargo of gold, silver, lapislazuli, precious stones, ivory, caskets of rare wood for the temple of Ningal. Another tablet fixes the days of the month when the king has to perform the sacrifice in the temple, or to pour the libation at night in a palm garden for Ninni-Ishtar, the evening star, daughter of the Moon.
But one of the most unexpected and interesting features of this fine temple is the discovery of a great kitchen adjoining the shrine, which irresistibly recalls a familiar scene of the Old Testament.
“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord. And the priest’s custom with the people was that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a flesh hook of three teeth in his hand. And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the flesh hook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites. Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh from thee, but raw.”
So they did also in the Moon Goddess’s kitchen. Here is an ideal kitchen for boiling and roasting, with two brick fire ranges. One is in the open air court of the kitchen for roasting; the second, of more intricate construction in a covered part of the kitchen, was a circular range of massive brick construction under a perforated platform, to which a small staircase gave access. Standing on that platform the priest’s servant might tend the sacrifices and he might strike a three pronged fork into pan or kettle, or caldron, or pot.
A well is sunk in the middle of the kitchen court. A copper ring fast in the pavement served to attach the end of the well rope. A brick tank lined with bitumen contained a ready supply of water. The hand millstones are still on the brick floor, and three earthen jars lean against the wall. A low brick structure might serve as a butcher’s table to chop meat.
The high priestess was the head of the whole house. She personified the Moon Goddess and received the visitation of the Moon God and was his interpreter in signs and dreams and oracles. Herodotus has left a well known account of the priestess of Marduk in Babylon spending the night in the lonely shrine at the top of the tower and receiving the inspiration of the god. In that shrine there was no statue, only a gold bed and a gold table.
In Ur the high priestess was generally a daughter or sister of the king. The fact is established for Belshalti Nannar, the sister of Belshazzar, and daughter of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. When Nabonidus appointed his daughter to be high priestess at Ur he gave her excellent advice on the best way of discharging her duties. He recalled that the institution was not new. He was restoring an old custom. Sixteen hundred years before his time the sister of king Rim Sin of Larsa was in the same manner high priestess of Ur. Two monuments recovered this year in the court of the house of Ningal confirm this tradition and prove that its origin is lost in the past. One is a disk of travertine in the shape of the full moon, with a bas relief on one side and an inscription on the other. The inscription gives the name of a daughter of Sargon, king of Kish, high priestess at Ur and wife of the Moon God. The relief represents the high priestess herself assisting in the ritual libation. The priest, a Sumerian, all shaven and shorn, performs the rite, holding with both hands a slender vase with a spout from which the water flows into one of those hour glass shaped vases of travertine planted in front of a stepped pyramid. More priests and servants follow the priestess and bring offerings. The priestess, tall and slender, with long locks hanging on her shoulders and tied around her head with a fillet, is dressed in the best Sumerian woollen material in flouncy kaunakes.
Sargon of Kish and his daughter lived about B.C. 2700. The second monument found this year, a perforated limestone plaque, is almost five hundred years older, going back to the time when the Sumerians of Ur dressed in flounced garments, perhaps a sheepskin wrapped like a kilt around their loins. Their strong prominent noses and close shaven chins and lips are very characteristic. The plaque is divided into two registers. In the upper we see libation service performed by the king in front of the Moon God. In the lower the high priest performs the same service in front of a gate, probably leading to the shrine of the Moon Goddess.
Details of this relief are of the utmost interest for a deeper understanding of Sumerian religion and worship. The Moon God is represented sitting on a throne, wearing the horned crown, and holding in his hands a small ampulla, a symbol of water and rain. The king libator standing before the deity, pours water into a slender vase resting on the ground. The king, like the priest of the lower register, is entirely naked, according to a very ancient ritual emblematic of legal purity. But the long curls of his hair float on his shoulders while the priest is entirely shaven and shorn. The practice of shaving the head was limited to a special cast. That the king should act as high priest has nothing to surprise us. He is followed by his three sons, dressed in long shawls covering their shoulders, and with long hair tied by a band.
The priest repeated the action of the king. He is followed by a girlish figure, with hanging locks, hands clasped, and a long shawl covering both shoulders. By all indiciations she must be the high priestess, daughter of the king, and wife of the Moon God, playing on earth the part of the Moon Goddess, the great lady of Ur. The scenes on this very ancient tablet, taken together with the condition of the temple where we found it, make it possible for us to reconstruct the libation scene before the very altar and on the same pavement that was made warm by the naked feet of the priestess more than five thousand years ago. it is especially easy to reproduce these temples scenes when the deep blue shadows of a moonlit night add a touch of mystery while hiding the decay of centuries. The crescent moon over the Ziggurat is elongated like a canoe and the evening star is a clear diamond in the sky and the desert is a great retreat of silence and solitude.
We will visit in her house at Warka, Ninni Ishtar, the goddess of the evening star, the daughter of the Moon God of Ur. Warka and Ur in the days of Abraham were great fortresses of the south, no longer capitals, but great cities in the dominion of the kings of Larsa. The total destruction of the walls of Ur and Warka was the sign of the entire submission of the South to the kings of Babylon in the days of Samsuiluna, son of Hammurabi.
Warka, the Erech of the Bible, is the largest ruin next to Ur in South Babylonia, fifty miles distant, on the other or eastern bank of the Euphrates. We are a party of archaeologists under the able guidance of Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell. The night is spent at El-Khidr on the bank of the river.
Early in the morning the long sarifa boat, three boatmen, three armed policemen are waiting for us. A thin mist, like incense, is floating from the earth toward the rising sun. No wind stirs the long lines of violet clouds. The palm trees cut dark shadows against the sapphire and gold of dawn. An irrigation wheel is creaking and whining. A small Arab boy chanting a tune surveys the teams of bulls and cows moving up and down the pit, pulling the leather buckets full of water. The small hamlet, the crumbling mud houses round the open square are deserted and silent. Our boat is off, good mattresses, rugs and pillows line the bottom of the sarifa and invite to a leisurely rest in the long hours of our sailing. The sail has been unfurled. A strong wind catches its poor cotton material. The ropes of palm fibre look weak. Glory to Allah. We shall perhaps arrive. The boards are of teak wood imported from India. Native trees supplied the cross pieces, all crooked and full of knots. “The father of a boat,” our pilot, squatting on the rear deck, is a good Arab, bearded, full of mirth and excitement. His two mates, with bare legs and dirty floating shirts, keep running on the narrow sides, helping with long bamboo poles in dangerous turnings.
Willows extend into the shallow waters and noble palm trees beckon from the shore. Arab villages, mud houses, fighting towers, glide in turn along the rippling water. Under the strong breath of the wind, the Euphrates is all astir and our sarifa cuts across the waves, bumping and creaking. The sail keeps flapping right and left. Our boatmen are running, calling with excitement, shouting orders. We turn off the main river into a canal as large as the Euphrates itself. The water is very high, no straight lines, but all winding and misleading cuts and turns. When the wind leaves off, one of the boatmen jumps into the water and pulls from the shore with a rope, wading deep at times, with no stopping in his work, simply pulling his shirt up below his arms. At a distance, emerging from the water, torso and muscles in full action, he looks like a bronze statue, his dark skin glossy with rippling water.
We sail across a small inner sea. The mud fortresses on the shore look like impregnable castles. Game birds—geese, herons, ducks, pelicans—tempt in vain the rifles of our guards. We land safely two miles away from Warka, and walk across the plain to the ruins.
The wind is stronger, raising clouds of dust. This visit will be a trial. We reach the city wall and the two story Parthian palace. The ground is littered with blue and yellow fragments of enamelled bricks. The illegible stamped bricks of the builders lie on the soil, still keeping their secret. The Wuswas, the old brick tower, has long lost its baked brick facing. The mud core is exposed, showing the reed layers between the adobe. This huge pile once supported a shrine of Ninni Ishtar, goddess of love and the daughter of heaven.
The dust is now intolerable, clogging nose, mouth and eyes. We wander over the immense ruin like so many ghosts. Deep wadis cut between the various mounds. We tumble over glazed Parthian pottery and coffins which cover the ground with their debris. The bricks of Warka are of a poor quality, not to be compared with the fine bricks of Ur.
It is time to sail back after collecting a bag full of relics. The wind is against us. Our boat cuts across the waves like a seagull, with a strong list, till water jumps inboard. It is a marvellous ride up to the Euphrates, where two men leave the boat and the long dull process of pulling from the bank begins. We have all the leisure we want to admire the gold, purple and violet sunset. Birds of prey with spreading wings glide through the air over the river. Pigeons and turtle doves leave the shelter of the palms to swing and soar and turn in graceful squadrons.
It is night again. The water is nearly black and the wind cold. I lie down on the rugs under the side of the boat. Stars are coming out one by one. Our men on the shore are black shadows. Time has no value as I keep listening to Miss Gertrude Bell telling of her long journeys through Greece, Asia Minor, and Konia, of her meeting Sir William Ramsay and providing for his camp welfare in the desert; of her long, entrancing travels and discoveries in Arab lands. What a dream of energy, ambition, curiosity, wild rejoicing in a clear mind, a strong will and a healthy constitution. A dear memory of a queen of archaeologists.
The fourth campaign of the Joint Expedition to Ur has finished its work. It has much to its credit in the way of discoveries: new light on the past, more knowledge of human experience, more contacts with antiquity. It has brought to light statuary, inscriptions, hymns, prayers, sanctuaries and pictured scenes of a very early period. Much more remains to be recovered and the work will be renewed in the autumn of the year, but for the present we must resign the ruins to the desert. As I take leave of Ur once more, all is silent except the call of an owl, the howling of jackals that live in holes in the great tower, and the rattle of loosened earth falling into our empty trenches.
Miss Bell at Abu Sharein
The picture on the opposite page shows the Hon. Gertrude Lowthian Bell with members of the Joint Expedition, at the ruins of Abu Sharein, ancient Eridu, the oldest Sumerian city in the country. The site is about twenty five miles southwest of Ur in the desert. The picture was taken in January, 1926, when the party made an excursion from Ur and were picnicing on the site of the oldest house discovered. The picture has a unique interest.
On the 12th of July last the news was cabled that Miss Bell had died during the previous night at her home at Bagdad. Among the numerous tributes which this sad intelligence called forth in Europe and America, the London Times, in a long obituary, spoke of Miss Bell as “the most distinguished woman of our day in the field of Oriental exploration, archaeology and literature.” This is the unanimous opinion of scholars, travellers, administrators and of all who in any way were brought into relations with the Near and Middle East.
As an author, Miss Bell’s fame rests chiefly on her two books: “Syria, the Desert and the Sown ” and “From Amurath to Amurath,” in both of which the author described some of her travels and explorations in the East. Of her greater journeys, however, no account ever was published. Among these must stand preeminent a journey that Miss Bell made alone, just before the outbreak of the War, across the Arabian desert to Bagdad, a journey that had previously been performed by one European woman only, the Lady Anne Blunt, Byron’s granddaughter, who, however, was not alone on that journey.
During the time that the Joint Expedition of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum has been at work at Ur, Miss Bell has served the Government of Iraq as Oriental Secretary and Director of the Department of Antiquities. It was largely through her interest, energy, enthusiasm and profound knowledge of the country that the way was cleared for the labours of the Joint Expedition and for the advancement of archaeology in Iraq. Miss Bell’s latest work was the organization of the Department of Antiquities and the founding of a Museum in Bagdad.