Who were the Assyriologists and what did they find?

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In the field of Assyriology, three names tower above all others: Austen Henry Layard, Paul Emile Botta, and George Smith. These three men were responsible for some of the most important discoveries in the history of Mesopotamia.


Each one had his own unique approach to archaeology, and each one made a significant contribution to our understanding of ancient Assyria. In this article, we will take a brief look at their methods and their greatest discoveries.

What is Assyriology?

Assyriology is the study of ancient Assyria, an area that includes parts of present-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. It is a relatively young field, only coming into its own in the 19th century. Since then, however, it has made great strides in our understanding of one of the most important civilizations of the ancient world.


This region of the world has an incredibly long history. The first civilizations in the area date back to the late fourth millennium BCE. These early cultures were followed by the Sumerians, who established the first cities in Mesopotamia around 3000 BCE. The Sumerians were eventually replaced by the Babylonians, who ruled from about 1800 BCE until they were conquered by the Assyrians in the early first millennium BCE. The Assyrians, in turn, were conquered by the Persians in about 600 BCE.

Austen Henry Layard: The Father of Assyriology

Austen Henry Layard was an English archaeologist who made some of the first significant discoveries in Mesopotamia. He began his career as a diplomat in the Middle East, but he became interested in archaeology after seeing the ruins of Nineveh and Nimrud during a trip to Baghdad. In 1845, he resigned from his diplomatic post and began excavating at Nimrud.


Layard was not the first archaeologist to work in Mesopotamia, but he was the first to really make significant discoveries. He uncovered a wealth of material, including sculptures, reliefs, and inscriptions. He worked on the sites of Nineveh and Babylon.


He also found the palace of Ashurnasirpal II II, one of the most important Assyrian kings. Layard's discoveries caused a sensation in the archaeological world, and they sparked a renewed interest in ancient Assyria.


His excavations relied upon local workers, many of whom were unskilled. This led to some problems, as Layard was not always able to control the excavations properly. In addition, he was often forced to work in difficult conditions, with little money and few resources. Despite these difficulties, however, Layard's excavations were highly successful.

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Paul Emile Botta: The First Scientific Archaeologist

Paul Emile Botta was a French archaeologist who worked in Mesopotamia in the 1840s and 1850s. He was the first archaeologist to really use scientific methods in his work. Botta was also the first to realize that Mesopotamian civilization was much older than had been previously thought.


Botta began his career as Layard's assistant, but he soon struck out on his own. His greatest discovery came at the site of Khorsabad, where he uncovered the palace of Sargon II, another important Assyrian king. Botta's discoveries helped to fill in many gaps in our understanding of Assyrian history and culture.


He was the first to properly excavate Nineveh and, though he had paused his excavation to focus on the neighboring town of Khorsabad, it remained within the French sphere of influence.


Botta's work was very different from Layard's. He used local workers, but he also employed a team of French experts. This allowed him to carry out his excavations in a much more controlled and scientific manner. Botta's work laid the foundation for modern archaeological methods.


Some of his most famous methods of scientific excavation include the use of stratigraphy and the recording of finds by context.

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George Smith: The Discoverer of the Epic of Gilgamesh

George Smith was an English archaeologist who worked in Mesopotamia in the 1860s and 1870s. He is best known for his discovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the most important ancient texts.


The Epic of Gilgamesh is a long poem that tells the story of the titular hero, who was a real king who ruled over the city of Uruk in the early second millennium BCE. The poem tells the story of Gilgamesh's search for immortality, and it is full of adventure and mystery. Smith's discovery caused a sensation in the academic world, and it helped to shed light on a previously unknown aspect of Mesopotamian culture.


In order to undertake his archaeological work, he used the same methods as Botta. However, his work was not without its problems. He often had to deal with difficult working conditions and a lack of funding. Nevertheless, his discoveries were very important and helped to further our understanding of ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

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These three men were responsible for some of the most important discoveries in Assyriology. Austen Henry Layard was the first to really make significant discoveries, Paul Emile Botta was the first to use scientific methods, and George Smith was the first to discover the Epic of Gilgamesh. Each of these men made a lasting contribution to our understanding of ancient Assyria.