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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to his family


March 31, 1911

Excuse this paper, and general appearance of letter. It is being written on the mound, in a dull day of digging, with an empty pen. The pen, by the way, is a very distinct comfort out here. Today we are moving great stones: the remains of walls and houses are buried about 2/3 of their height in fairly clean earth, but the upper few feet are filled up with rubble, and small rocks, with the ashlar masonry and concrete of the later Roman town. Whenever we break fresh ground dozens of these huge blocks have to be moved. Some of them weigh tons, and we have no blasting powder or stone-hammers with us. As a result they have to be hauled, prehistoric fashion, by brute force of men on ropes, helped to a small extent by crowbars. At this moment something over 60 men are tugging away above, each man yelling Yallah as he pulls: the row is tremendous, but the stones usually come away. Two men out of three presume to direct operations, and no one listens to any of them, they just obey Gregori's orders, and their shouting is only to employ their spare breath. Now they are raising the 'talul', the curiously vibrant, resonant wail of the Bedawi. It is a very penetrating, and very distinct cry; you feel in it some kinship with desert-life, with ghrazzus and camel-stampedes. (Meanwhile the stone has slipped and fallen back into the trench, and Gregori's Turkish is deserting him. Whenever he is excited he slips back into Greek in a high falsetto voice, that convulses our hoarse-throated men). To-day is a lovely day, in the shade of the diggings as I am at present: outside it is a little warm, with the usual streaming sunshine everywhere. We have had no rain since we came to Carchemish, but generally sun, with often after midday a gale from the North that drives the workmen off the top of the mound, and tosses up the dust of our diggings and dump-heaps in thick blinding and choking clouds all across the site. If one can struggle up to the top of the mound and hold on one can look over all the plain of the river valley (a very narrow one to the N. wide to the S.) up to Biredjik and down to Tell Ahmar, and over it all the only things to show out of the dust clouds are the hills and the tops of the tells. There might be no river except when a side-shift of the wind splits the clouds, and shows it running brown underneath. It still is not in flood, but is very swift, and cold with the melting snows of the Taurus. We look out for the hill tops above Andiamar every morning and see them each time with more and more lines and black spaces on their white. Before very long I expect the ¾ of a mile of river-bed will be one unbroken race of water. That will be the time when our mound looks best, but at all times it is very impressive, rising about 100 ft. direct out of the river, very steeply as all those North Syrian mounds are. I have taken a photograph or two, and will try a drawing, when I have leisure enough, if ever that will be. It is not that there is much to do, of course: for most of the day we are not in the least necessary, and in those times I play with the pottery, which Mr. Hogarth has handed over to me as my particular preserve. Our house is half a mile away, and so we cannot all go back there and amuse ourselves, or work as the case may be, during digging hours. Somebody must be within call of the diggers and so I am usually down here, with just sufficient interruptions to make writing or sketching not worth while. As soon as these Northern hurricanes stop, however, we intend to give up our house, and camp out on the mound. Then we will have time to do things. At present our evenings are filled up with the odd jobs that might have been done in the day, squeezing and copying inscriptions, writing up pottery and object lists, journals etc. Also it gets cold after sunset, and we go to bed early (about 10 or 11 as a rule), to avoid it. In the matter of food all goes quite easily, except for the Haj's quite inadvertently emptying a curry tin into a pilaff! It was like eating peppered flames, and the other two are now crying aloud about their livers! That has so far been our only little hardship: I learnt a little about Syrian foods from Miss Holmes' servants, and this has come in usefully, for the Haj is not original, except in the matter of cakes that are half custard and half rubber sponge. Of course he has no oven of any sort, which makes matters a little complicated. I am now building him one, out of a water jar. My power of sleeping through anything, which I acquired in my little house by aid of late hours and a telephone bell, is standing me in excellent stead. I am the only one of the three who gets any sleep at all at night. Mr. Hogarth is always getting up, to chase cats or rats or birds or mice or dogs. Everything comes in and out of the window holes, and the light sleepers suffer. The only time I woke up was when a cat scratched my face, entirely without provocation so far as I am aware. We are tired of the village bread (the thin cloth-like galettes) and still more of the bread so made out of English flour. The villagers all live on barley-bread, but the Haj tried to use our home flour, and the result was a sheet, not of paper or cloth, but of wash leather or thin indiarubber sheeting. It is very tough and holds water, and most elastic. Mr. Hogarth's teeth refuse to eat it, and so he is brought very low. Thompson can just get through it: I flourish, but the others got tired of seeing that, and have made arrangements with the Commandant of Biredjik to supply us with mule-loads of the soldiers' bread. This is thick, brown, whole-meal stuff, rather like the ideal bread of the Limousin, but darker in colour, and without the very slight sourness of the French stuff. By the way 'whole-meal' does not mean that it is like Veda bread, or the English 'whole-meal'. Sometimes we have Euphrates fish: the small ones taste of mud, and are more bony than herrings: and thick bones that choke a cat. The larger ones are much better. Another year we will have a sailing canoe, or something of the sort: it will be splendid to go down the river to Bassorah. This much is being written on the great mound, with the main branch of the river some 200 yards wide at my feet. The men behind, digging in the top of the tell have got down about 10 feet, through an Arab stratum, into a Roman one. This means cement and big stones, and slow work: but they have found a very nice little cup of early Arab ware, probably XIth century. At present they are pulling up stones from the bottom of their pit, in a mist of 'Yallah's' and 'Issa's'. The last is curious for they are all nominally Mohammedans. They can do nothing without noise. A man has just put off from the island across the near branch of the river, to swim across to us. Their antics on the inflated skins are more curious than beautiful. The skin itself is goat or sheep: (though a man came across the other day between two wild-boar hides): very perfect vellum in appearance. I hope to buy enough to bind a Xenophon and another book or two, if I can find a new skin, for they have the bad habit of rolling them up tightly when dry, which lines them with cracks. The method of preparation must be most interesting. I cannot pretend to understand it yet, but in some way the skin is taken off whole, but for the head and lower legs, and the hair is stripped from it, and it is cured, without lime, or vegetable stupes and fermentations. I hope to get to know about it: and to get a few of the skins, at 6d. each! Worth 5/- in England, you know, if such natural-coloured vellum could be got out of Italy. The legs are tied up with sinew, and the man inflates the skin through the neck, until it is as tight as he can blow it (42 blows, to be very precise, in a biggish skin): then they lie down on it, face down, in the water, and paddle across with hands and feet. Being light, the current catches them little. They take their clothes across as well, on their backs. My faculty of making and repairing things has recently demonstrated how to make paint (black and red) for marking antiques, how to render light-tight a dark slide, how to make a camera-obscura, how to re-worm a screw (difficult this without a die), how to refit a plane table, and replace winding mechanism on a paraffin lamp. Also I have devised a derrick, and a complicated system of human-power-jacks (out of poplar poles, and rope, and Arabs) which have succeeded in setting an Ishtar on her legs again. The Romans or Assyrians had broken her off at the knees, and the men could not shift the slabs back again, with any delicacy: so Mr. Hogarth and myself set to, and with our brains, and the aid of 90 men, put all right again. Before this there had been 120 men playing about with ropes quite ineffectually.

Digging results will appear in The Times as soon as Mr. Hogarth gets back. They have been meagre, and not very satisfactory to date: but it is like Pandora's box with Hope always at the bottom: and we are not nearly at that yet. I will send drawings when I have a quiet Sunday. The women here weave very beautiful cloth: and sell it at about 1½d a yard: it is thick and coarse, like grey sacking: the probabilities are that I will bring home a bale: also enough camel-hide to bind my Doughty, when I get him. The book will be necessary, for I must know it by more than library use, if ever I am to do something of the sort. Mr. Hogarth thinks my idea of patronising the Soleyb, instead of the Arab, promising, both in security, and novelty. They are interesting people: however no hurry about that, with Carchemish and military architecture and above all the necessary Arabic first. There is one thing I think I will get you to do: this piece of country is all rock, and very hard on one's boots. Will you get town to Gillman, and order another pair of boots, as before, only with slightly thicker soles: nails as before; leather boot laces. When these are made will you send them to Miss Holmes, and a letter asking her to be good enough to pay the customs charges, and forward them to Aleppo? They cannot be sent direct: as the adventures of my films, stil lheld up somewhere in the country, go to prove. There is no hurry about them: it is only in case I am able to do some walking out here, if we knock off here before the rains. It would be appreciated if Will asked Blackwell's to write to Jean Gillequin, publisher Bould. St. Michel Paris, ordering the 3 volumes of the Rabelais in his 1f.25 collection (La Renaissance du Livre) to be sent to me c/o Consul. Aleppo. But not if you think books unnecessary! This letter is only an interim scrawl, to be strengthened by a heavy letter in a week: I hope by then to have heard of Mods. We get weekly post from Biredjik. All very well.



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Source: DG 98-102
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 28 January 2006


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