ANNOUNCING THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY of the Ernst Herzfeld Samarra Excavation! It has been 100 years since German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld began his groundbreaking excavation work on Samarra. In honor of the famous archaeologist's work, the Freer|Sackler Archives will chronicle specific sites and discoveries he made in his first campaign, right here on the Smithsonian Collections Blog.
To get this exciting year-long celebration started, I would like to unveil to you the *NEW* Samarra Resource page: http://www.asia.si.edu/research/archivesSamarra.asp. This page contains quick links to all of our collection items from the 19 archaeological sites of Samarra, and provides an eight minute tutorial on how you can use the Collections Search Center to search Herzfeld Samarra records. While you're browsing the images, make sure you look at the newly added Samarra Photographs!
To transport you back to Herzfeld's Samarra 100 years ago I rely heavily on excerpts from Thomas Leisten's book, "Excavation of Samarra, Volume 1" and letters housed in Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz.
Pre-1911, Great Britain, France, and Russia had a head start in many of the prestigious sites in the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Emperor Wilhelm II endeavors to establish Germany's place among the European global powers. Through the initial interest and work of Friedrich Sarre and the Kiser Wilhelm Society, Sarre and Herzfeld conducted a survey of sites that could be considered for German exploration. Herzfeld had been to Samarra several times before the excavation 1903-1906 with the Walter Andrae's excavation at Assur.
"Up to this point, archaeological activities in the Levant and in Mesopotamia had focused on sites associated with classical antiquity or the ancient Near East. There was little public interest or governmental support for the study of Islamic antiquities and sites at this time largely given the failure of European Christians to identify with what they perceived as a heathen culture (Leisten, 3)."
January 3rd, 1911: Herzfeld arrived in Samarra, and is concerned about how much ground his French predecessor Henri Viollet may have covered. In a letter to Friedrich Sarre on January 5th he says, "They just threw the debris into the ruin itself - the whole project has been done without any system or plan. After this, it is impossible, I think, to give an idea of the true layout of the palace that is different from Viollet's earlier and fantastic reconstruction of the palace. That he boasted himself in Babylon and Assur, that he had not left anything for us to do, is childish. In regard to our plans we can, I think, pretend that he never excavated here (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz)."
January 9th, 1911: Invigorated after proving how little Viollet had discovered, Herzfeld begins to excavate at the Great Mosque with 132 workman.
"The life of an excavator at the turn of the century in such rough circumstances was inherently an adventure, as Herzfeld's diaries and letters to Sarre testify, in a tone that ranges from dry to emotional, and even humorous. Some of the situations Herzfeld describes are well known to anyone who has ever excavated while some others sound like cautionary tales from the dawn of archaeology (Leisten, X)."
Look forward to more next month.