Spreading the Words

By Susan Frith

The letter to Provost William Pepper C1862 M1864 came from Baghdad and bore a warning: “Entirely confidentially!

“I suffer immensely,” wrote its author, Dr. Hermann V. Hilprecht. “For what did I come then on this expedition, for what did I sacrifice all that was mine?”

The source of Hilprecht’s anguish during that winter of 1889 was a great trove of antiquities, including cuneiform tablets, recently purchased by two members of the Babylonian Exploration Fund. As an Assyriologist with a high opinion of his own abilities, he was appalled that his colleagues on the expedition hadn’t even offered him a peek.

Seven months after setting out, the explorers were still waiting for official permission to excavate at Nippur, and the Wali had just denied them an audience because of a toothache. Even if they did get a permit to dig, he added, there was no hope of unearthing artifacts from such a vast area that season. “All my hope is buried.”

It wouldn’t remain buried for long, however. From the mounds of Nippur, 60,000 Sumerian cuneiform tablets and fragments would be unearthed over the next decade by the expedition team, which had agreed to give everything to a new museum being established by Provost Pepper. And now, more than a century later, the enormous mound of information gleaned from the ancient texts has made its way into an online Sumerian dictionary.




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Copyright 2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 01/05/03



Left: Top, Nippur excavations, 1895 (Photograph by John Henry Haynes, University Museum Archives). Bottom, One of the 30,000 cuneiform tablets in the University Museum’s collection (Photo by Kyle Cassidy).


S I D E B A R :
The Rise and Fall
of Hermann Hilprecht