Archaeology in the Area of Ancient Assyria

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser

"In the nineteenth century, the area was a province at the far eastern edge of the Ottoman Empire, a region of semi autonomous pashaliks each governed primarily by a local pasha, though officially under the control of the Ottoman ruler in Istanbul. Seen by Western travelers as a remote and unwelcoming locale of largely unrelieved desert."

Archaeology in the Area of Ancient Assyria

Travelers for many centuries noticed many strange mounds scattered along the Tigris and Euphrates Valley all the way to the Persian Gulf. Some of the mounds were shaped like a box and many stories were told.

In 1811 Claude James Rich, A British businessman was living in Baghdad, 50 miles NE of ancient Babylon. He became aware of some interesting bricks that were found and visited the site of Babylon. He located and documented several mounds in the area of ancient Babylon. He also dug into some of them and found several bricks, tablets and other things with strange inscriptions on them.

In 1820 he visited Mosul in the north and found several mounds which he thought to be the site of ancient Nineveh. He did some digging and found some cuneiform tablets which he could not get deciphered. He donated his discoveries to the British Museum, and word began to circulate in Europe that the remains of Babylon and Nineveh had been located.

Mounds often contained ruins of ancient cities, built on top of another. In the Near East these sites are called "tells", the Arabic word for "mounds". Some of these mounds reached 100 feet or more in height. Cities were often rebuilt on the same site.

In 1842 Paul Emile Botta, a man sent from France to be consul at Mosul, a city on the upper Tigris River, began excavating some peculiar looking mounds across the Tigris River about 10 miles SE of Mosul. He believed them to be the ruins of ancient Nineveh. Botta's excavations were considered illegal according to Ottoman laws. His excavations led to an astounding discovery, one of the mounds turned out to be ancient Khorsabad, one of the capitals of the great Assyrian Empire. Within 10 years he had unearthed the greatest palace ever discovered, the palace of Sargon (722-705 BC) with all its monuments and winged bulls covering an area of nearly 1 square mile.

France finally received permission from the Ottoman government and his discoveries were brought to the Louvre Museum in France, which are still there today. The Louvre's Assyrian display opened to the public in the presence of King Louis-Philippe on May 1, 1847.

"What can all this mean? Who built this structure? In what century did he live? To what nation did he belong? Are these walls telling me their tales of joy and woe? Is this beautiful cuneiformed character a language? I know not. I can read their glory and their victories in their figures, but their story, their age, their blood, is to me a mystery. Their remains mark the fall of a glorious and a brilliant past, but of a past known not to a living man."

"I had the first revelation of a new world of antiquities.- P.E. Botta

In 1845 Austen Henry Layard, a young English scholar visited some of the mounds and also began digging without formal permission from the Ottoman government. He ended up discovering the ruins of Calah and Nineveh, two more mighty cities of the ancient Assyrian empire.

Mounds seen by A. H. Layard from his sketch in "The Monuments of Nineveh".

Layard first discovered ancient Calah or Nimrud, a mound located around 20 miles SE of Mosul and nearly 2 miles east of the Tigris River. He first discovered the palace of Assurnasirpal (884-860 BC), who reigned the same time as king Omri of Israel. He began transporting large colossal items to the British Museum.

Two years later he uncovered the ruins of the famous and evil Nineveh, to which the Bible spoke so much about. The long lost civilization had been buried under the dust for over 25 centuries. He discovered the grand palace of king Sennacherib (705-681 BC).

"As the sun went down, I saw for the first time the great conical mound of Nimrud rising against the clear evening sky. It was on the opposite side of the river and not very distant, and the impression that it made upon me was one never to he forgotten. After my visit to K�y�njik and Nebi Yunus, opposite Mosul, and the distant view of Nimrud, my thought ran constantly upon the possibility of thoroughly exploring with the spade those great ruins." - Austen Henry Layard

Description of the Area of Assyria in the 1800's

A missionary named James Fletcher visited Mesopotamia in the 1800's, and this is how he described the area:

"Yet what a moral might be derived from the present condition of the capital of Assur. In lieu of lofty palaces and gorgeous temples, the eye surveys only the mounds composed of their dust, or the miserable huts which have arisen on their site. The gardens where Sardanapalus revelled are wasted and desolate, the sounds of soft and luxurious music that once floated on the soft Assyrian breezes have yielded to the silence of devastation or decay"

- James Phillips Fletcher, Notes from Nineveh, and Travels in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Syria, 9 vols. (London: Colburn, 1850), vol. 1, 206

The British Museum and Shalmaneser III Artifacts

The British Museum in London contains much of the world's artifacts from ancient Assyria. The museum was originally founded in 1753 to provide a resting place for the great collection of Sir Hans Sloane, which was left to the care of the British nation. Over time it became one of the most famous museums in the world. The Biblical and ancient world artifacts are in great quantity. The main Biblical artifacts related to Shalmaneser III are:

The Black Obelisk, which reveals King Jehu of Israel bowing.

The Monolith from Kurkh, which mentions Ahab the Israelite.

The Bronze Gate from Balawat, which reveals Assyrian assaults and captives.

The Statue of Shalmaneser III, revealing an image of the monarch seated.

There are many other Assyrian items in the British Museum, including numerous artifacts from each of the Assyrian kings who lived and reigned during the period of the kings of Israel and Judah in the Bible. There are also numerous items from Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Judah, Israel, Moab, the ancient Levant, Sumer, Rome, Greece, and many more areas of the ancient world bringing a wealth of knowledge of the antiquities of the ancient world as well as scientific evidence of people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible.