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Ancient Mesopotamia

Rediscovering the Tower of Babel

Edited from BBC News, 2 October 1998. Updated 29 December 2019

A team of Austrian scientists in 1998 stated that it had discovered in general terms what the Tower of Babel would have looked like.

Their research was based on another ancient tower which was situated in the Sumerian town of Borsippa, 120 kilometres to the south of modern Baghdad, much of which still exists despite looting during Iraq's recent disturbances.

The Old Testament states that the descendants of Noah tried to build the equivalent of a skyscraper to reach heaven. According to the Book of Genesis, their plans were frustrated by God who was angered by their arrogance.

What the Tower of Babel actually looked like is something which has puzzled archaeologists for years.

Clues from writings

A team from Austria finally came to believe that it had found the answer through excavations which were carried out on the tower at Borsippa, Babylon's lesser sister city, which now occupies a position in the Iraqi desert.

'The conclusion may be that, from the details which have been studied here, we can lay out the dimensions of the Tower of Babel.

'We know the height of every stage and we are able to conclude the size of the whole tower,' said archaeologist Wilfred Alliger-Csollich.

The main clues came from writings which had been found on the side of the building which quoted King Nebuchadnezzar, who ordered its construction some 2,500 years ago, in the 570s BC.

He declared that the tower should reach the skies and be similar to the one he had already erected in Babylon. In fact, he restored an existing ziggurat, and wrote describing its ruinous state:

A former king built [the Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth], but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time, people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time earthquakes and lightning had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps. Merodach, the great lord, excited my mind to repair this building. I did not change the site, nor did I take away the [foundation stone?] as it had been in former times. So I founded it, I made it; as it had been in ancient days, I so exalted the summit.

No refurbishment plans

Research has shown that the tower had three main staircases, while the Austrian team behind the research also believed that the upper stages were decorated with blue glazed bricks and, possibly, with some mythical animals, such as dragons.

But while their work will have pleased Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which was keen to use the attraction of the Tower of Babel as a means of establishing international links, the archaeologists made it clear that there were no plans to start a full refurbishment of the ruins, and the events of 2003 would make such a project impossible for many years ahead.



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