Leonard Woolley… Ur… archeologist

When I started school, back in the stone age, we were taught history almost from our earliest years. History started in the stone age for us and progressed, more or less chronologically, starting with the more general (people lived in caves, wore skins, and ate raw meat before drawing and painting on the walls of their caves – although I always wondered where the caves were in Cambridgeshire) before centring on the city of Cambridge in the middle ages. Meanwhile, in Sunday School, which I went to every week, we were taught the stories of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments and it was the sort of Sunday school where we were given maps and learned where the places mentioned really were. Now I can’t quite remember whether we learned about the civilizations of the Tigris and Euphrates in school or Sunday School, but I certainly grew up know about Ur of the Chaldees and that it had been excavated to show relics and remains of tombs and buildings.

As you may know I’m doing an archaeology course on-line, and my latest assignment was to think of an archaeologist pre-1940, think of an excavation, s/he conducted and think about the reconnaissance techniques and technology open to them at the time. I couldn’t help but think about my early history/Sunday school lessons and Ur of the Chaldees; who had excavated it? Well, among many others was Charles Leonard Woolley. He was born in London in 1880 and pursued a career in archaeology, which took him to Nubia in the early 1900’s and later saw him working with Thomas Edward Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia. His experience was put into use in his war service; in World war 1 he was an intelligence officer in Palestine until he was captured by the Germans. After the war he continued his career and led twelve expeditions to investigate the site of the ancient Ur of the Chaldees. On an early expedition, a young archaeologist working with him was Max Mallowan, later Sir Max, who became the husband of Agatha Christie. What I didn’t realise about Max and Agatha was that he was twenty-six. and she was forty when they married.

Leonard Wolley  continued to write, lecture, and work on the history and culture of ancient Mesopotamia until he died at the age of 80.

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