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THE BISMYA TEMPLE. 
By Edgar James Banks, 

The University of Chicago, 

The long, low, extensive gronp of mounds at Bismya is 
divided into two unequal parts by a valley, the bed of which is 
little higher than the surrounding desert. Toward its eastern 
end the valley divides itself, sending branches about a small, 
square, pyramidical hill, and, again uniting, disappears in the 
desert. It marks the bed of the ancient canal, probably the 
Shatt en-Nil, and the square mound, eleven meters in height and 
about ninety meters in the circumference of its base, as its shape 
suggested before excavations in it were opened, conceals the ruin 
of the staged ziggurat. The temple at Bismya was situated upon 
an island in the canal. The level surface of the summit of the 
mound has been employed as a modern cemetery; among its 
graves, and upon the windward or eastern side, changeable sand 
drifts have accumulated. The sides of the hill sloped in its 
steepest places at an angle of forty degrees ; the corners, as usual, 
are turned to the cardinal points. 

The excavations at Bismya began at the temple, and were con- 
tinued most of the time for five consecutive months, with at least 
part of the workmen, or with a force varying from sixty to one 
hundred and twenty. The summit and sides of the hill were 
cleared of the drifting sand; the great trenches at the base of the 
ziggurat were dug out; the platforms of the various temples, the 
chambers whose walls could still be traced, and other construc- 
tions were emptied of the rubbish which had accumulated in 
them; tunnels were dug from the three sides of the ziggurat to 
its center, and five shafts were sunk to the level of the desert, or 
to the virgin sand which showed no traces of occupation. One 
of the shafts, twelve meters in depth, was dug from the center of 
the ziggurat, another from its southeast side, and three followed 
the vertical drains of the temple inclosure. 

On account of the unfortunate robbery of the engineer by 
Arabs, the notes of the survey of the temple were lost. Approxi- 
mate dimensions only can be given until the survey of Mr. Per- 
sons, the present engineer, is at hand. 

29 



30 Hebkaioa 

The summit of the hill was identical with the base of the zig- 
gurat of Dungi, king of Ur, 3750 B. C, as about forty bricks 
inscribed with his name evidenced. A casing of burned bricks, 
about one meter in width, inclosed the tower, while its interior was 
of dirt ; or, if it were libbin or unbaked clay bricks, as the interior 
of the ziggurat at MugheiT, it had so disintegrated as to be indis- 
tinguishable from clay. The bricks of the casing were square, 
measuring 31X31X6.5 centimeters, and of a light-yellow color, 
The inscribed bricks averaged about one to twenty of the 
uninscribed, and were laid, inscription downward, at intervals of 
no regular order. The cement employed was well-mixed clay — 
not the bitumen of the structures beneath it, nor the lime used at 
a later date. The inscription, which was carefully written by 
hand, and not stamped — thus accounting for the scarcity of the 
inscribed bricks — contained nine lines of writing in the style of 
the cuneiform peculiar to the third millenium B. C; and simply 
stated that Dungi, king of Ur and of Kengi, had dedicated the 
platform to his goddess Nin-har-Sag. How many stages the zig- 
gurat originally contained it is impossible to learn; the small 
amount of the rubbish which had accumulated about its sides 
indicated that it never possessed more than two or three stages, 
or that its bricks had been removed to provide material for other 
constructions. At the south corner a heap of bricks, about four 
meters in length, lay as they had fallen outward from the walls. 

A flight of steps, from which the burned bricks had been 
removed, ran half the length of the southwest side, and led from 
a wide, brick-paved platform to the summit of the first stage of 
the ziggurat. A drain of round tiles, each about twenty centi- 
meters in diameter and a meter in length, ran beneath the paving 
of the platform to a vertical drain of an earlier period. Apart 
from the traces of the mud brick walls of the chambers upon the 
northwest side, nothing else of the temple of Dungi remained. 

The brick inscriptions, which presented no clue to the name 
of the temple or city, an inscribed brick of Gimil Sin, a later 
king of the same dynasty of Ur, and a single inscribed tablet 
which was so quickly covered with an incrustation of saltpeter 
that it was illegible, were the only inscribed antiquities found in 
Dungi's temple. We had learned only that we were dealing with 
ruins of the third millennium B. C, and that Nin-bar-Sag, as 
Belit, in the early days, was called, was worshiped there. 



The Bismya Temple 31 

It seems that the Bismya temple has long provided material 
for the builders. Just beneath the stage tower of Dungi were a 
few large, square, burned bricks of Sargon, measuring 46X46X9 
centimeters. Although none of them were inscribed, they were 
recognizable by their peculiar size. An inscription upon gold, of 
his son, Naram Sin, was found among the bricks, and from other 
parts of the ruins, contract tablets and seal impressions, bearing 
the name of Sargon, supported the supposition. However, the 
bricks were so scattered and so few in number that no plan of his 
temple was possible. It appears to have been slightly smaller 
than the one above it. 

Less than a meter below the bricks of Dungi, and below the 
bricks of Sargon, appeared traces of a series of royal builders 
whose names and dates are still unknown. Prom the shapes of 
the bricks and from the markings upon them, it is evident that at 
least fifteen rulers added their repairs to an earlier temple of 
plano-convex bricks. The bricks are long and thin, with the 
average dimensions of 25 X 22 X 5 centimeters ; the upper face is 
slightly convex, and marked with grooves formed by drawing the 
fingers across the clay before it was baked. Some of the grooves 
ran lengthwise, others diagonally or crosswise, and varied in 
number from one to five ; if the grooves were crosswise, the num- 
ber was repeated from the opposite corners. As the examination 
of the various strata of the temple revealed, the grooves were the 
forerunners of the brick inscription, and their number and posi- 
tion were equivalent to the names of the kings. 

This long series of rulers seems to have added but little to the 
temple. Repairs with bricks of four grooves appeared on the 
northeast side, at a level slightly lower than the platform of Dungi. 
The three-grooved bricks appeared most frequently, and were 
employed on the same level as the four-grooved bricks, but in 
different parts of the temple. A platform upon which rested a 
large, uninscribed, marble door-socket on the southeast side, 
later floors of two peculiar constructions at the south corner, 
which I believe to be ancient crematoria, and a drain at the edge 
of the northwest side, represent the chief repairs of the ruler who 
employed these bricks. At a considerably lower level, and chiefly 
northeast of the ziggurat, were repairs in bricks of two grooves. 
One instance which was of service in determining the comparative 
ages of the bricks is worthy of mention. A horizontal drain, 



32 Hebeaica 

about twenty centimeters in diameter, and ten in depth, and con- 
structed of two-grooved bricks, carried the rain water from the 
platform over its edge. Forty centimeters beneath it was a 
similar drain, constructed of plano-convex bricks, which had 
belonged to a previous temple, while at a higher level were 
bricks of three grooves. 

All of the platforms, and the repairs of the ziggurat thus far 
described, belonged to constructions later than the great plano- 
convex temple beneath, which represent a period several centuries 
previous to Sargon's time — the most flourishing period in the his- 
tory of Bismya. The age of the plano-convex brick is generally 
placed at 4500 B. C, and the excavations at Bismya, which have 
revealed traces of a long dynasty of kings previous to Sargon, 
represented by the long, grooved bricks, confirm that date. It 
was not until the ruins of this temple were reached that the valu- 
able finds which the mound yielded, began to appear. 

The plano-convex temple was by far the most imposing con- 
struction at Bismya, and it appears to have been one of the most 
magnificent of the Babylonian temples. ' The greater part of the 
island which it covered was surrounded by a wall of unbaked 
bricks, four meters in thickness, and inclosing the temple quad- 
rangle. As less than fifty centimeters of the wall remained, its 
height could not be determined. Within the center of this large 
inclosure, and upon the ruins of earlier occupations made level by 
the filling in of unmolded clay, was an immense square platform 
a meter above the surrounding ruins. Along the center of its 
four sides were inclined plains leading to it. Upon the platform 
was the temple proper, consisting of two parts of nearly equal 
size. The ziggurat, the base of which now rises to the average 
height of a meter and a half above the platform, is con- 
structed with a casing of plano-convex bricks, and filled in with 
unmolded clay. Its original height could not have exceeded a 
few meters, and it is doubtful if it ever consisted of more than a 
single stage, or, at the most, of two stages. This was the proto- 
type of the later ziggurat, which with age increased its height; 
the ziggurat at Ur, erected in 2800 B. C, possessed three stages; 
the Borsippa ziggurat was reconstructed by Nebuchadnezzar to 
the height of seven stages. 

The other part of the temple, somewhat larger in size and of a 
similar construction, stood at the west corner of the ziggurat. 



The Bismya Temple 33 

Its surface was entirely covered with a layer of bitumen ; along 
the edges of its walls, and at each corner, were a number of 
round niches lined with bitumen; it appears that records, or 
objects of special value, may have been deposited in them, as were 
the cylinders in later Babylonian times. As the sand was cleared 
from the niches, nothing but a small, uninscribed fragment of 
a marble vase appeared in one of them. It is possible that 
originally chambers stood upon the platform, but, if so, their 
walls have entirely disappeared. 

Within the temple inclosure there are still traces of the habi- 
tations and of the occupations of the people who were connected 
with the temple. Perhaps the most interesting, because unique, 
are two large chambers at the south corner of the ziggurat, one 
of which is oval in shape, the other square. Both are provided 
with pits which contained ashes to the depth of half a meter; 
above the pits, and projecting halfway over them, were platforms 
charred with the fire from a furnace from without. The oval- 
shaped room was originally covered with a dome ; its lower bricks 
are still in place. These rooms undoubtedly were the crematoria 
of the city, and they may account for the entire absence of early 
Babylonian graves. 

A considerable amount of pottery was employed in the temple 
service, and to provide it was a furnace of the usual Babylonian 
type, and constructed of plano-convex bricks, which was discovered 
at a short distance from the southwest side of the temple. 
Examples of the Babylonian furnace are found at all ruins; it 
consisted of a number of ridges constructed of bricks ; the tire in 
the hollows between them burned the pottery which rested upon 
them. A number of vertical drains, consisting of large, short, 
circular tiles, set one upon another, and extending to the sand 
below, marked the site of the houses of the attendants of the 
temple. Upon the northwest side of the inclosure were three such 
drains; at the southeast side were two, and search would probably 
have revealed others. 

It was among the ruins of this temple that inscriptions in con- 
siderable quantities were recovered. Upon the shoulder of a 
large white-marble statue of a king was a Sumerian inscription of 
three lines, revealing the name of the ancient city as UD-NUN- 
KI, and the name of the temple as E-shar, or possibly E-mab; 
both names are mentioned in the 5ammurabi Code. The name of 



34 Hbbeaica 

the king, Da-udu, is undoubtedly the same as David; it not only 
explains the name of the biblical king as of Sumerian origin, but 
presents history with a new, and one of its oldest characters. 
Fragments of eight other marble statues, all uninscribed, forty-two 
inscribed fragments of marble vases, marble lamps, a bas-relief in 
white marble, a marble and three bronze tablets, several hundreds 
of marble, alabaster, onyx, porphyry, and sandstone vases, frag- 
mentary or entire, some of which were richly carved and inlaid 
with stones and ivory, hundreds of terra-cotta vases, fishes and 
cats of ivory, marble and terra-cotta statuettes, and a number of 
bronze objects, are among the finds which the ruins of the 
plano-convex temple contained, and from which its history may 
be reconstructed. 

A shaft sunk from almost the center of the temple hill to the 
undisturbed sand of the desert revealed a remarkable accumula- 
tion of debris of an occupation previous to the plano-convex brick 
temple. Below is a list of the various strata which appeared as 
the shaft was dug. 

Drifting sand. 

Platform of bricks of Dungi, 2750 B. C. 

Top of platform of plano-convex bricks, 4500 B. C. 

Bottom of the platform resting upon a clay foundation. 

Layer of white ashes, 17 cm. thick, resting upon an 

adobe wall 1.72 m. high. 

Stratum in which limestone blocks appeared. 

Layer of ashes resting upon a mud wall. 

At this level were two large terra-cotta urns. 

Layer of potsherds resting upon a layer of dirt 1,10 

m. in thickness. 

Small intact terra-cotta vase. 

Layer of potsherds beneath an adobe wall 1.10 m. 

in height. 

Fragments of black pottery — the earliest traces of 

civilization found at Bismya. 



Surface. 




Depth of 


1 m. 


Depth of 


2.50 m. 


Depth of 


3.85 m. 


Depth of 


4.65 m. 


Depth of 


6.37 m. 


Depth of 


6.57 m. 


Depth of 


8.57 m. 


Depth of 


9.17 m. 


Depth of 


10.87 m. 


Depth of 11.97 m. 


Depth of 


13.20 m.