Saturday, April 20, 2024
23.4 C
Damascus
Saturday, April 20, 2024

Bedouins burying their dead unearthed the story of a civilization

It happened in Syria, one morning in 1932, when a group of Bedouin clans arrived at Tell al-Hariri, near the city of Al Bukamal, to bury their dead in a hole in the dirt. Suddenly they were confronted with the terrifying eyes of an old statue that had been buried for many centuries. Frightened by what they had seen, the Bedouins rushed to inform the French authorities who were colonizing Syria at the time. A French officer named Copan quickly informed the Louvre of the significance of their discovery.

The French government immediately sent an archeological expedition, led by the scientist André Parrot, whose excavations eventually uncovered an ancient city buried under the soil.

Footage when the statue was found as a group of Bedouins digging a grave for their dead in 1932 (published in many locations)

In ancient Mesopotamian texts, Mari’s name appears in the list of Sumerian kings as the seat of the tenth dynasty after the flood. Researchers had estimated its existence to be somewhere between the banks of the Syrian and Iraqi Euphrates until the city was discovered by chance in 1933.

The ancient city of Mari, today’s Tell al-Hariri, is located on the right bank of the Syrian Middle Euphrates basin, approximately 10 km north of the town of Al Bukamal, at a strategic and geographical meeting point between Mesopotamia in the east, the Levant in the west, Anatolia in the north, and the Arabian Gulf in the south. The main body of the site forms a circular hill with a diameter of 1900 m and a height of 15 m.

Illustration showing the borders of the Kingdom of Mari embraced by the Euphrates River 4000 years ago / Photo courtesy of Damascus Museum

In ancient Mesopotamian texts, Mari’s name appears in the list of Sumerian kings as the seat of the tenth dynasty after the flood. Researchers had estimated its existence to be somewhere between the banks of the Syrian and Iraqi Euphrates until the city was discovered by chance in 1933. At that time a group of Bedouins were burying one of their dead in the hill and found a statue bearing cuneiform writing which prompted the excavation of the site. Informed of the Bedouin’s discovery, a French mission from the Louvre Museum under the management of André A. Parrot was sent to the site with the authorization of the French Mandate authority at the time. During more than twenty excavation seasons that began in 1933, important architectural monuments were discovered such as the Grand Royal Palace dating back to the second millennium BC which contains huge royal archives, the temple of Nini-Zaza, and the temple of Ishtar as well as many other artifacts and buildings. 

Further excavation of the site was carried out between 1979 and 2004 by Jean-Claude Margueron. Margueron had first worked with Parrot in 1954 and succeeded him as director of the Mari project in 1979. Under his direction, new discoveries were made including the city’s workshops, the small northern palace, and the oldest levels.

Since 2005 the exploration has been managed by Pascal Butterland.

Archeologists were able to determine that the city of Mari went through several stages throughout its history, from the beginning of the third millennium BC until the middle of the 18th century BC.

Construction of the oldest phase of the city (Ville I) began around 2900 BC, during the Mesopotamian Early Dynastic period. Most of the oldest parts of the city could not be revealed as they were buried deep under the rubble but excavations showed that it was a strong and fortified city surrounded by a six-meter-thick inner wall that protected it from enemies and a circular moat that protected it from floods. One of the city gates led to a street leading to the upper part of the city where some facilities dedicated to crafts such as plumbing, weaving, pottery, and shell making were found in addition to some residential houses. No temples or palaces were found at this stage and pieces of art appeared to be rare. The city of Mari itself appears to have been abandoned around 2650 BC and remained uninhabited for a century for reasons unknown.

Multiple temples were built in the heart of the city during the second phase according to a distinctive architectural style. A statue of Lamgi Mari, King of Mari, was found in the sanctuary of the Temple of Ishtar

The second phase of Mari (Ville II) dates back to the early third dynasty and the Akkadian era, between 2550 BC and 2200 BC when the city rose again on the ruins of the first city according to modern organizational engineering that took advantage of the defense system of the original city, something which was not found in any other contemporary site. The buildings were evenly distributed, connected by an integrated network of main and secondary streets along with a precise system to deal with water and rain, whether for drainage or storage. The first city trench was backfilled and a defensive wall was erected on it, sufficient to provide the necessary protection for the city. Major roads emerged that began at the city center and met in the form of a spider web. The city consisted of residential neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods designed for various other activities

Multiple temples were built in the heart of the city during the second phase according to a distinctive architectural style. A statue of Lamgi Mari, King of Mari, was found in the sanctuary of the Temple of Ishtar and thanks to the writing carried on the statue’s shoulders, this kingdom was defined.

The background of the statue of King Lamgi Mari, the writing on his shoulders led to the knowledge of this kingdom / Published on the Internet a lot

Remains of the royal palace were found in the heart of the high city, carrying unique qualities in oriental architecture that made it a palace and a temple at the same time. There is no doubt that the palace/temple is the most important archeological discovery of its kind to date, and the most creative in terms of art and architecture.

A statue of the ruler Ebih-Il (now housed in the Louvre Museum) that dates back to 2400 BC was also found in the temple of Ishtar.

Governor “Ebih – Il” at the Temple of Ishtar (2400 BC) / Credit: 总督 Ebih-il 雕像

Many unique scenes were created by inlaying with rare stones as well as rectangular paintings that were divided into three fields and executed with mother-of-pearl, ivory, lapis lazuli, and gold, depicting scenes of worshippers and goddesses participating in “holy marriage” ceremonies

The sculptures that were found are indicative of a significant development in art and sculpture at the time. Statues were made of limestone and were either general or specific to certain individuals. The men were carved with long beards but no mustaches, standing barefoot, hands clasped on the chest in a devotional position, the upper half naked, and the lower half covered by a sheepskin apron (Kaunakes). The women wore dresses that covered the right shoulder, a hat on the head (Polos), and had eyes made out of mother-of-pearl or other materials such as lapis lazuli imported from India. There were busts, faces, and marital statues which were the first of their kind in Syria.

Some votive paintings executed as bas-relief sculptures with mythological themes such as banquets, wrestling, war scenes, and mythical animals were also found. Many unique scenes were created by inlaying with rare stones as well as rectangular paintings that were divided into three fields and executed with mother-of-pearl, ivory, lapis lazuli, and gold, depicting scenes of worshippers and goddesses participating in “holy marriage” ceremonies, which was one of the most important religious traditions in Mari. 

The “Holy Marriage” ceremonies that were one of the most important religious traditions in Mari / from different locations

A statue of a nun wearing a hat on the head (Paulus) was also found in the temple of Ninni Zaza in Mari and dates back to the third millennium BC. Written documents from this period were rare in this era.

Statue of a nun found in the temple of Nnini Zaza dating back to 3000 BC.

The third and final stage of the city (Ville III) dates back to the Shakkanakku and Amorian eras between the years 2200-1760 BC when a local family that the Sumerians called the Shakkanakku, which means military ruler, rose to power. Among the most important discoveries of this period are some statues, including the statue of Ishtup-Ilum and some wall scenes of the royal palace from which a few hundred inscriptions have been found.

At the beginning of the second millennium BC, at the end of the Shakkanakku era, the Amorite dynasty came to power in Mari, the most important ruler of which was Yahdun-Lim,   who extended Mari’s authority over the neighboring kingdoms before he was killed in a palace conspiracy.

The strong Assyrian ruler Shamshi-Haddu Samsi-Addu

After his death, Yahdun Lim’s son could not preserve Mari and Shamshi-Adad, who had conquered the city of Mari, appointed his son Yasmah-Adad as the new king.  Much to the disappointment of his father, Yasmah-Adad proved to be an incompetent leader and was succeeded by Zimri-Lim, the heir of the Lim dynasty in 1776 BC.

During the reign of Zimri Lim, Mari reached the height of its prosperity. His greatest achievement was the renovation of the Royal Palace which was expanded greatly to contain more than 275 rooms and courtyards built of adobe and brick on stone foundations. The Palace was filled with exquisite artifacts and housed a royal archive containing thousands of tablets. The Zimri Lim Palace was surrounded by a three-meter-thick defensive wall, and the administrative section where the king and his family lived, was fifteen meters thick. The archaeologist Jean-Claude Margueron described this great palace/temple as “the jewel of oriental architecture.”

The installation of King Zimri Lim, standing before the god Ishtar, surrounded by religious and mundane scenes, (1700 BC), from the exhibits of the Louvre, in Paris. / from a page on the values

The Zimri-Lim Palace is also famous for its frescoes. These drawings were executed in several colors against a background of limestone, and belong to different stages of the palace’s life, the most important of which is the scene depicting the coronation of Zimri-Lim as king. The best statues were found in the third city, including the “Goddess of the Fountain”, a unique life-size piece of a woman (goddess) dressed in a fringed garment and watching descending and ascending fish swimming in the overflowing water from a vessel held by the goddess with both hands.

There are bronze statues, including lions found on the doors of the Dagan temple as well as cylinder seals, pottery, and more.

Texts indicate that after he allied with Mari against the Mesopotamian kingdoms, he turned against her; attacking her with 20,000 soldiers, occupying her, then destroying the city and burning the palace after looting it in 1759 BC.

The most important discovery in this palace is the Royal Archive, which was uncovered between 1935 and 1939 and included about twenty thousand inscriptional tablets, and a library that competes with the largest libraries of the ancient East. It helped to correct the entire history of the second millennium, adding political, military, religious, and economic information of great scientific and historical value.

In her third era, Mari remained a strong and independent kingdom until the power of the great Babylonian ruler Hammurabi began to shine in the East. Texts indicate that after he allied with Mari against the Mesopotamian kingdoms, he turned against her; attacking her with 20,000 soldiers, occupying her, then destroying the city and burning the palace after looting it in 1759 BC.

The ancient city of Tarqa – the Syrian Kingdom of Anah / from the archives of the Ministry of Tourism

After its fall, the city was inhabited by an Assyrian military garrison. It is believed that the Babylonians and Chaldeans succeeded the Assyrians followed by the Seleucids, who left Mari to fall into ruins after their decline in the middle of the third century BC. That is until the incident of digging the tomb brought it to light once more.

The time of the Kingdom of Mari has passed after adding a bright page to the Syrian identity during an era when the nations of the world were trying to compete in the arenas of human knowledge. Mari’s treasures continue to be revealed as excavations progress. Four thousand years of knowledge and creativity were preserved in Mari and are present today in the conscience of Syrians and enlightened people of the world. Indeed, the Kingdom of Mari was able to shed light on the history of all of Syria in the third and second millennia BC.

George Tuma
George Tuma
George Tuma is the publisher and chief editor of Medical & Cosmetic Arts Magazine; specialist in Spirituality, Health, and Healing; an Instructor of Electro Cosmetic, Therapy and a Practioner of Holistic Medicine, (Complementary and Alternative). He has published several articles in scientific journals.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest articles