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Ancient Mesopotamia

Rediscovering the Tower of Babel

Edited from BBC News, 2 October 1998

A team of Austrian scientists says it has discovered exactly what the Tower of Babel would have looked like.

Their research is based on another ancient tower situated at the Sumerian town of Borsippa, 120 kilometres south of Baghdad.

The Bible says 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, angered by their arrogance.

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

Clue from writings

But now a team from Austria believes it has found the answer through excavations of a ruined tower in the Iraqi desert.

"The conclusion may be that from the details studied here we can say what the dimensions of the Tower of Babel were.

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

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

He declared 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:

In Depth

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

Researchers say the tower had three main staircases.

They also believe 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 Iraq, which is keen to use the attraction of the Tower of Babel as a means of establishing international links, the archaeologists say there are no plans to start a full refurbishment of the ruins.



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