Author of the Month

There Were Giants Upon The Earth (cont.)
By Zecharia Sitchen

A continuous and most determined series of excavations, lasting from the end of World War I until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 (and resumed in 1954) took place at a southern Sumerian site locally called Warka—the very Uruk of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Erech of the Bible!

Adopting an excavating technique that cut a vertical shaft through all the strata, the German archaeologists of the Deutsche Orient Gesellschaft were able to see at a glance the site’s settlement and cultural history—from the latest settlement at the top to a beginning in the 4th millennium B.C. at the bottom. At all times since at least 3800 B.C., it appeared, every power from Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian to Persian, Greek, and Seleucid wanted to leave a footprint at Uruk. Uruk, it was apparent, was a special place.

At Uruk the German archaeologists found several ‘firsts’—the first items of colored pottery baked in a kiln, the first use of a potter’s wheel, the first objects of metal alloys, the first cylinder seals, and the first inscriptions in the pictorial predecessor of cuneiform. Another first was a pavement made of limestone blocks, part of an unusual use of stones rather than mud bricks for construction—unusual because the stones had to be brought from mountains situated more than fifty miles to the east. The archaeologists described some of the city’s stone buildings as of “monumental proportions.”

A massive wall surrounded the city—the archaeologists found its remains over a length of more than 10 kilometers (more than six miles). It embraced the city’s two sections—a residential one, and a sacred precinct where they discovered the earliest ‘ziggurat’—a platform, raised in stages serving as a base for a temple. By the time of its excavation it was more like an artificial mound of no less than seven strata of rebuilding. On top, upon an artificially made platform, there stood a temple. Called E.Anna (= ‘House/Abode of Anu’) it is also known to archaeologists as the White Temple because—another unusual feature, a first—it was painted white (Fig. 38, a reconstruction). Next to the E.Anna were remains of two other temples. One, painted red, was dedicated to the goddess In.anna, ‘Anu’s Beloved’ (better known by her later Akkadian name Ishtar). The other standing was a temple dedicated to the goddess Ninharsag.

Without doubt, the archaeologists’ spade brought to light the city of Gilgamesh, who had reigned there circa 2750 B.C. (or even earlier by another chronology). The archaeologists’ finds echoed literally the very words of the Epic of Gilgamesh—

About all his toil he [Gilgamesh]
engraved on a stone column:
Of ramparted Uruk, of the wall he built,
Of hallowed E.Anna, the pure sanctuary.
Behold its outer wall, which is like a copper band,
Peer at its inner wall, which none can equal!
Gaze upon the stone platform, which is of old;
Go up and walk around on the walls of Uruk,
Approach the E.Anna and the dwelling of Ishtar!

Among the “small finds” in the 3200–2900 B.C. stratum were sculpted objects that were designated ‘The Most Prized’ in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad—a life-size marble sculpture of a woman’s head (Fig. 39)—nicknamed “The Lady from Uruk”—that had once been fitted with a golden headdress and eyes made of precious stones, and a large (more than 3 ft. high) sculpted alabaster vase that depicted a procession of adorants bearing gifts to a goddess. All at once, Sumer’s art of more than 5,000 years ago matched the beauty of Greek sculpture of 2,500 years later!

At the southernmost part of Sumer, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers come together in marshlands bordering the Persian Gulf, a site locally called Abu Shahrain had attracted the attention of the British Museum as early as 1854. One of its experts, J. E. Taylor, reported after preliminary diggings that the effort was “unproductive of any very important results.” He did bring back with him some of the “unimportant” finds—some mud bricks with writing on them. Fifty years later, two French Assyriologists determined from those bricks that the site was ancient Eridu; its name meant ‘House in the Faraway Built’, and it was Sumer’s first city.

It took two world wars and the time in-between for the first methodical and continuous archaeological excavations to take place at the site, under the auspices of the Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities. As the archaeologists dug away occupation stratum after occupation stratum from the latest on top to the earliest at the bottom, they uncovered no less than seventeen levels above the first one; they could count time backward as they kept excavating: 2500 B.C., 2800 B.C., 3000 B.C., 3500 B.C. When the spades reached the foundations of Eridu’s first temple, the date was circa 4000 B.C. Below that, the archaeologists struck virgin mud-soil.

The city’s original temple, which had been rebuilt time and time again, was constructed of fired mud bricks and rose upon an artificial level platform. Its central hall was rectangular in shape, flanked on its two longer sides by a series of smaller rooms—a model of other temples in millennia to come. At one end there was a pedestal, perhaps for a statue. At the other end a podium created an elevated area; the astounded excavators discovered there, at levels VI and VII, large quantities of fish bones mixed with ashes—leading to the suggestion that fish were offered there to the god.

The excavators should not have been puzzled: The temple was dedicated to the Sumerian god E.A, whose name meant “He Whose Home Is Waters.” It was he, as his autobiography and many other texts make clear, who had waded ashore from the Persian Gulf at the head of fifty Anunnaki spacemen who had come to Earth from their planet. Customarily depicted with outpouring streams of water (Fig. 40), it was he who was the legendary Oannes. In time—as explained in the preamble of the Atra-Hasis epic—Ea was granted the epithet—‘Lord [of] Earth’. And it was he who had alerted Utnapishtim/Ziusudra of the coming Deluge, instructing him to build the waterproof boat and be saved.

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