National Geographic : 1930 Jan
NEW LIGHT ON ANCIENT UR Excavations at the Site of the City of Abraham Reveal Geographical Evidence of the Biblical Story of the Flood BY M. E. L. MALLOWAN With Illustrations from Photographs through the Courtesy of the British Museum and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania IN SPITE of all speed records, imagi nation is still swifter than wings. Let us, therefore, outstrip space and time, and fancy that we are already standing on the site of ancient Ur, an early fore runner of modern Baghdad and once the capital of the greatest empire in the middle East. We shall imagine, too, that we have at last made our painful way across the sandy mounds that bury the ancient ruins and are standing on the topmost point of the city's most imposing monument, the Ziggurat, the skyscraper of the ancient East. From the top of this tower that has withstood the shocks of time for 5,000 years, the traveler, whether he be from London, Paris, or New York, may best scan the bleak horizon. Primed as he is with stories of the ancient greatness of Ur, he will, perhaps, realize with a shock that the former metropolis of the Ancient World lies now an abandoned dust heap. As far as the eye can see, all is desola tion: no water, no vegetation, no sign of modern habitation; the only living crea tures are a few jackals prowling the ruins in search of food. But if only by some miracle we could project ourselves in the spirit 5,ooo years back, what a transfor mation would there be! THE DUST HEAP THAT WAS UR THE METROPOLIS 5,000 YEARS AGO Let us imagine that the change happens at dusk, at the still hour when the East begins to revive after the exhaustion of a boiling day. Suddenly, instead of the dry sand and the refuse of bricks and pots, the desert transforms itself into a network of canals. We find ourselves at the quay side of the grand trunk canal that con nects the north with the Persian Gulf. In the dimness of evening the black forms of great barges, moored to the quays by stout creaking hawsers, sway rhythmically in the evening breeze. On the banks we perceive the figures of burly bargemen, naked to the waist, clothed in sheepskin skirts. As we strain our ears, we hear oaths uttered in a broad-sounding, uncouth tongue. It is Sumerian, the speech of the dominant people, and their vitality is at tested by the brawn of the bargees, the methodical quickness of the scribes who are making their last entries on the bills of lading, and the careful stacking of the great bales of corn, wool, hides, and pot tery in the warehouses. It is only a glimpse caught through the half light of the open shell-shaded lamps, with their wicks flickering in the sesame oil, but it is enough; for all that we have seen is attested by the remains that issue from the soil year after year. SuchistheUraswemayseeitinthe mind's eye; and it is no fanciful picture, for every detail can be vouched for by the documents and designs, the treasures and tools, that have been unearthed by years of patient spadework. A glance at the map (page Ioi) reveals the strategic importance of the ancient city. Ur lies hard by the banks of the Eu phrates, in the southern half of the great alluvial plain which has been formed by the deposited silt of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Geologically speaking, south Mesopotamia is a comparatively recent formation. It is a land reclaimed from the sea by the fertile mud deposit of these, the two great rivers of antiquity. About 8,ooo years ago, as scientists surmise, the waters of the Persian Gulf had receded sufficiently to allow the neigh boring desert dwellers to enter the coun try and reap the profits of cultivation.