History Files


Ancient Mesopotamia

The Discovery of Gilgamesh's Tomb

BBC News, 29 April 2003



Archaeologists in Iraq believe they may have found the lost tomb of King Gilgamesh - the subject of the oldest "book" in history.

The Epic Of Gilgamesh - written by a Middle Eastern scholar 2,500 years before the birth of Jesus - commemorated the life of the ruler of the city of Uruk, from which Iraq gets its name [although this is disputed].

Now, a German-led expedition has discovered what is thought to be the entire city of Uruk - including, where the Euphrates once flowed, the last resting place of its famous King.

"I don't want to say definitely it was the grave of Gilgamesh, but it looks very similar to that described in the epic," Jorg Fassbinder, of the Bavarian department of Historical Monuments in Munich, said.


In the book - actually a set of inscribed clay tablets - Gilgamesh was described as having been buried under the Euphrates, in a tomb apparently constructed when the waters of the ancient river parted following his death.

"We found just outside the city an area in the middle of the former Euphrates river the remains of such a building which could be interpreted as a burial," Mr Fassbinder said.

He said the amazing discovery of the ancient city under the Iraqi desert had been made possible by modern technology.

"By differences in magnetisation in the soil, you can look into the ground," Mr Fassbinder added.

"The difference between mud bricks and sediments in the Euphrates river gives a very detailed structure."

This creates a magnetogram, which is then digitally mapped, effectively giving a town plan of Uruk.

In Depth

'Venice in the desert'

"The most surprising thing was that we found structures already described by Gilgamesh," Mr Fassbinder stated.

"We covered more than a hundred hectares. We have found garden structures and field structures as described in the epic, and we found Babylonian houses."

But he said the most astonishing find was an incredibly sophisticated system of canals.

"Very clearly, we can see in the canals some structures showing that flooding destroyed some houses, which means it was a highly developed system.

"[It was] like Venice in the desert."



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