There Were Giants Upon The Earth (cont.)
By Zecharia Sitchen
In the 1880s a site called Abu Habbah drew the attention of L. W. King of the British Museum when “interesting tablets”—dug up at the site by local plunderers—were offered for sale. A colleague, Theophilus Pinches, correctly identified the city as ancient Sippar—the very city of the god Shamash, mentioned by Berossus in the story of the Flood!
The site was briefly excavated by Layard’s assistant Hormuzd Rassam; one of the best known finds there has been a large stone tablet depicting none other than the god Shamash, sitting on his canopied throne (Fig. 36). The accompanying inscriptions identified the king being presented to the god as King Nabu-apla-iddin, who in the 9th century B.C. refurbished the Shamash temple in Sippar.
The city’s twin mounds were more thoroughly excavated in the 1890s by a joint expedition of the Deutsche Orient Gesellschaft and the Ottoman Antiquities Service. They not only discovered undisturbed hoards of textual tablets—shared between Berlin and Constantinople—but also some of the tablets’ oldest and oddest libraries: The tablets were kept in ‘pigeonhole’ compartments cut into the mud-brick walls, rather than (as in later periods) on shelves. The library’s texts included tablets whose colophons explicitly stated that those were copies of texts from earlier tablets coming from Nippur, from a city called Agade, and from Babylon—or found in Sippar itself; among them were tablets belonging to the Sumerian Atra-Hasis text!
Did that indicate that Sippar had been an early repository of “writings,” as the statements by Berossus have suggested? No certain answers can be given, except to quote Berossus again: First, ‘Cronos’ ordered Xisithros “to dig a hole and to bury all the writings about the Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, in Sippar, the city of the Sun god [Shamash].” Then, the Flood’s survivors “came back to Babylon, they dug up the writings from Sippar, founded many cities, set up shrines, and once again established Babylon.” Was the unique storage in cutout compartments a reminder of the “digging of holes” to preserve the most ancient tablets? We can only wonder.
At Sippar, the tale of the Deluge began to assume physical reality; but it was only the beginning.
In the decade preceding World War I, German archaeologists, under the auspices of the Deutsche Orient Gesellschaft, began excavating at a site locally named Fara. It was an important Sumerian city called Shuruppak, which had been settled well before 3000 B.C. Among its interesting features were buildings that were, without doubt, public facilities, some serving as schools with built-in mud-brick benches. There were plenty of inscribed tablets whose contents threw light on daily life, the administration of laws, and the private ownership of houses and fields—tablets that mirrored urban life five thousand years ago. Inscribed tablets asserted that this Sumerian city had a pre-Diluvial predecessor—a place that played a key role in the events of the Deluge.
The discoveries there stood out by their unusual hoard of cylinder seals or their impressions—a unique Sumerian invention that, as the cuneiform script, was in time adopted throughout the ancient lands. These were cylinders (mostly an inch or two in length) that were cut from a stone (often semiprecious), into which the artisan engraved a drawing, with or without accompanying writing (Fig. 37). The trick was to engrave it all in reverse, as a negative, so that when it was rolled on wet clay the image was impressed as a positive—an early ‘rotary press’ invention. These cylindrical works of art are called ‘seals’ because that was their purpose: The seal’s owner impressed it on a lump of wet clay that sealed a container of oil or wine, or on a clay envelope to seal a clay letter inside. Some seal impressions had already been found in Lagash, bearing the name of their owner; but the ones in Fara/Shuruppak exceeded 1,300 in number, and in some cases were from the earliest times.
But no less an amazing aspect of uncovering Shuruppak was its very finding—for, according to Tablet XI of the Akkadian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Shuruppak was the hometown of Utnapishtim, the ‘Noah’ of the Deluge! It was there that the god Enki revealed to Utnapishtim the secret of the coming Deluge and instructed him to build the salvage boat:
Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu:
Tear down the house, build a ship!
Give up possessions, seek thou life!
Forswear belongings, keep soul alive!
Aboard ship take thou the seed of all living things.
That ship thou shalt build—
Its dimensions shall be to measure.
(Enki, it will be recalled, was reported to have been the revealer of the gods’ secret decision also in the Sumerian text mentioned earlier.)
The discoveries of and at Shuruppak, together with those at Sippar, transformed the Deluge tale from legend and ‘myth’ to a physical reality. In Divine Encounters I have concluded, based on ancient data and modern scientific discoveries, that the Deluge was a colossal tidal wave caused by the slippage of the eastern Antarctic ice sheet off that continent.
World War I (1914–1918) interrupted those and other archaeological explorations in the Near East, which was part of the Ottoman empire until its dismemberment after the war. Mesopotamia was left in the hands of local excavators—both official, and (mostly) private site-robbers. Some of the finds did reach the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Constantinople/Istanbul, revealing that during the war years excavations in Iraq had taken place at Abu Habbah, ancient Sippar; but there was so much to uncover there, that varied excavations have continued into the 1970s—almost a full century after excavations there began.