Woolley at Carchemish

Mar 21, 2017 | Bible Archeology | 0 comments

No one can say that Sir Leonard Woolley had a one track mind. After digging at Tel el-Amarna, next he was off to Italy. Fortunately for him he had a gift of languages and within a month he was speaking fluent Italian. It was not without much effort on his part. He lived with his language tutor, talked Italian with him at meal times and far into the night, but at the end of the month he was even naturally thinking in Italian!

The Italian venture was really only an experience in between jobs, leaving Egypt and later taking up a position in the Philadelphia University Museum. He did not really have an official permit to dig in Italy, but he found a loophole. An Italian landowner could excavate on his own land, providing he handed over half his finds to the government.

Woolley was willing to settle for half his finds and son found a landowner who would accept a little commission to allow him to do some digging. ?The only digging the landowner knew about was tilling his farm land he could not fathom why the mad Englishman wanted to dig holes, but a long as the commission came, why should he worry? He simply appointed Woolley as his “scientific adviser” and the deal was on.

Moreover, anyone was permitted to make a survey and for that they were able to make soundings. Woolley soon found that it was virtually impossible for anyone to discriminate between a “sounding” and a “dig” and much that went by the name of a sounding ended up as a dig!

Pompeii and Herculaneum had been buried under lava and volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, so Woolley thought he would try his hand in Herculaneum. However while digging in Pompeii was comparatively easy, because itw as simply smothered in soft ash, Herculaneum was a different proposition. Streams of lava had poured down the mountainside and much of the city was locked under rock-hard lava.

There were no jack-hammers then and cracking through the hard lava was almost impossible. How to determine which, under the surface soil, was lava and which was ash could have been time consuming. Woolley neatly solved the problem. Each landowner had a well on his property., Woolley and his companion whispered to the landowners that there were rumours of an increase in land tax and the information they were gathering might be of value to the landowners and might even reduce the threat.

After that no one refused their permission and Woolley was able to descend the wells and study the walls to determine whether there was a lava flow or a deposit of ash. He was able to draw up a comprehensive map for the lava flows in the region. The map was never used because war soon broke out and after the war the government took over excavations and did it their own way, but Woolley was happy. He wrote, “the making of the map was great fun and an excellent piece of training for me”. (Spadework, p. 52)

Next it was back to the Middle East, this time to Carchemish on the Euphrates River in Syria. It had been a Hittite stronghold and there was still much to learn about this great, once-forgotten empire. The Bible makes 42 references to the Hittites, but secular history knew nothing about them. They were written off as a Bible legend until in 1880 Archibald Henry Sayce identified the monuments and inscriptions coming to light in Turkey as the monuments of the Hittites. Subsequently the Hittite language had been deciphered but not the Hittite hieroglyphs. Carchemish, on the southern Hittite border, could hold some vital clues.

Woolley had a profound respect for ancient man. To Wooley, the ancients were not a race of ignorant cave-men achieving civilisation. He had been overawed by the massive pyramids of Egypt. He had seen the huge monolith at Baalbek, the largest single man-made stone known. He wrote, “No machinery that we have today could lift that stone and lay it at that height in the wall;’ ancient man could do it because h had no machines.” (ibid., p. 55) Rather an interesting conclusion!

He even admired the primitive tools the locals used. He said, “Soon after I began my work at Carchemish I was walking back on evening across the site, which was used as the village grazing ground and saw the boy shepherd sitting with a sheep between his knees shearing it with a flint knife! . . . I asked the boy if he hadn’t got any other tool but he said, ‘No, we used to have iron scissors, but the flint is much better’.” (ibid., p. 55)

Woolley cited a number of instances in which locals, using primitive methods, were able to shift weights which had baffled the Western archae9ologists. He concluded by saying, “If we archaeologists want to understand primitive man from the odds and ends of things which he has left to us, we have got to approach them from the human side – and we may learn to do that from the men who work for and with us.” (ibid., p. 59)

One of the men on Woolley’s team was later to achieve fame as “Lawrence of Arabia”. Lawrence started out as an archaeologist and he had a sense of humour. The archaeologists built themselves a rough stone house, but furnished it quite comfortably. They even had a soft limestone slab for the lintel over the doorway and Lawrence amused himself by carving into it a winged sun-disk which was the emblem of the Hittite god-head.

Apparently some visitor took a photo of the interior of their house and this photo fell into the hands of a distinguished Hittitologist. He wrote an urgent letter to Woolley wanting to know to which museum this unpublished Hittite monument had been sent. He was anxious to study it at close quarters!

There was great excitement among the men at Carchemish when they found some fragments of a black stone lion. It had been the impressive corner stone flanking a gateway of the royal palace. What made it more important was the writing on the fragments. They were in both cuneiform and hieroglyphs – a bilingual – and by comparing the two they would have the key to deciphering the Hittite hieroglyphs, just as the Rosetta Stone had done for the Egyptian hieroglyphs. All they had to do was find the missing pieces, put them all together and read the translations.

Alas, it was not to be. It seems that this lion had been found sixty years earlier and taken down to the riverbank to be shipped to the British Museum, but some careless supervisor had overlooked it and the local miller had smashed it to pieces to make millstones out of it. The few remaining pieces that Wooley’s men found gave only a few tantalising texts that could not contribute to a better understanding of the hieroglyphs. It was not until 1953, when the vital bilingual was found at Karatepe, that the picture writing yielded its secrets.

The team found many hieroglyphic inscriptions, more than doubling the number of previously known Hittite texts, but many were badly worn and hardly distinguishable. As they were on vertical blocks of stone it was not possible to make plaster casts of them, so Woolley made paper mache impressions of them, “sizing it with white of egg and painting in the background and the detail with Indian ink, so that the hieroglyphs stood out in white against a black ground.” (ibid., p. 66)

Woolley had also been asked by the British Museum to make plaster casts of some of the monuments and relief. He had neither the equipment nor the expertise to do this, so he devised his own method of making a cast from many layers of paper and varnished inside. At least they were much lighter to transport back to London, but the museum staff were rather contemptuous of these primitive methods. However, the museum workers set to and reproduced the monuments and it is just as well they did, because since then most of the reliefs have been badly damaged but the original casts are still on display at the British Museum.

Woolley had an agreement with the Turkish Government to send everything he found at Carchemish to Constantinople and, being an honourable British gentleman, he conscientiously fulfilled his commitment, but he figured that as the British Museum was spending a lot of money on the excavations, they deserved something out of it. By this time the locals had caught on to the value of these objects out of the earth and were plundering a large cemetery near Carchemish. They loaded them onto their donkeys and brought them to Woolley by night. He gave them a fair price for their spoil, smuggled them out of the country and then let the authorities know what he was doing. It developed into a game of cat and mouse which everyone seemed to enjoy!

Actually the officer appointed to see that the finds from Carchemish were all consigned to Constantinople was amazed that Woolley was so honest in surrendering his finds. That was not the Turkish way of doing things. He reported to the authorities that he was wasting his time there.

Unfortunately the most spectacular monument to come out of Carchemish no longer exists. It was a huge statue of the god Atarluhas seated triumphantly on two savage stone lions with a griffin in between. It was broken in places and had a few pieces missing. These defects were replaced by some good cement. One night the two Englishmen decided to photograph it with illumination from magnesium flares. The villagers were terrified. They saw these flashes coming from the direction of the deity and though the storm god had come to life with bolts of lightning from a clear night sky.

No one is quite sure what happened to this monument. It was left at the site and was subsequently broken into fragments, only a few of which were ever found. Woolley wrote, “I fancy that the destruction was deliberate.” (ibid., p. 76) Whether this was from sheer vandalism or from Islamic abhorrence of idols, we will probably never know.

The excavations at Carchemish finally came to an anti-climactic end. In World War I Turkey was on the German side and France was on the British side. All three nations were involved in archaeological work in the area. As the war heated up Woolley had his own way of dealing with the political tensions. He wrote, “I had to make a rule that there should be no fighting with four miles of Carchemish.” (ibid., p. 80) Only Woolley could legislate like that and get away with it, but it was an uneasy truce.

Wooley called a council of war in the neutral desert. He wrote, “Most of the assembled chiefs were friends of mine and did not want to give trouble, but they protested that they were under orders to fight the French and did not see why they shouldn’t. (Why miss a perfectly good opportunity for a fight?) There was, of course, no valid reason other than my convenience, so at last I said, ‘Right, you have come here to fight, but what are you fighting for?’ To which they replied with the glib catchwords, ‘For the Turkish Government and for liberty.’ ‘Exactly,’ I answered, ‘and I have come here to dig for the British Museum and for archaeology. Tell me, which is greater, the British Museum or the Turkish Government?’ Ordinary politeness obliged them to say, ‘the British Museum.’ ‘And which is the greater thing,’ I continued, ‘liberty or archaeology?’ They had not the least idea of the meaning of either word, both strange to their vocabulary, but they did know their manners; ‘Archaeology, by God!’ they said in chorus, and so we were able to dig in comparative peace. When our season ended and we left Jerablus the truce ended, the French were driven back and the ruins of Carchemish passed into Turkish hands.” (ibid., p., 81)

The logic of all this may be lost on Western readers , but Woolley understood the local cultures and did not hesitate to play them out.

But the highlight of Woolley’s career was about to being – twelve years of arduous work with his loyal wife in Ur of the Chaldees.

(Part 3, which tells the story of Woolley at Ur, will appear in the August/September issue of Archaeological Diggings.)

Article used with permission of Diggins Online. You can find more useful material at Apologtetics Courses, Free Courses and Brethren Assembly. Secular materials can be found at Coins Encyclopedia and Guide For Income

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