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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to his family


Carchemish

April 29 [1911]


This is intended to give you a rough account of a day on the digs: and it is being written on the top of the mound, with the Euphrates wide in front of me to the North. The river is flooding higher and higher, and all day long we hear the heavy crashing of its banks, as the waters eat under them and they fall; add to this the rushing of the river over the rocks on which Chesney's steamer struck (his Euphrates Expedition might interest you) and the continual rolling and grinding of the small pebbles in its bed before the oncoming water. I do not know what we would do in this place, without the Euphrates, to look at. Now about our work. We get up about 6 at present, of course later on it will be earlier. After breakfast we go down to the site, at which the men have been under their overseers, since about 5.30. The mounds are about ¾ of a mile away from the village, and their shape is like the plan enclosed. The large mound is, as you see, right on the river bank, and is about 90 feet high on that side. I hope to make a drawing tomorrow (Sunday) of the acropolis as it looks from the N.W. But one's Sunday is usually very well taken up with other things. Some of our digs have been at the foot of the mound, in what must have been the Royal Palace. Others have been right at the top. At present we are finishing off these top pits, by carrying them down 30 feet. There is nothing much on top, but huge Roman foundations, carried right down to prehistoric strata, with late Classical column-drums, and scraps of entablature: all very large in scale. The building cannot have been much less than the great temple at Baalbec. So far we have found nothing Hittite but a scrap of steatite cup in all our digs on the top. That and a brick stamped with the name of Sargon are the results of 3 weeks work. Much of the mound is made of unbaked brick: it was once the Hittite fortress, but I fear the Roman barbarians have destroyed everything upon it. The men dig till 8.30, have a half hour's rest, and then go on till 12, when they knock off for an hour and a half: after that they work till 5. We have dinner about 7 or half-past, according to the mercy of Haj Wahid, the cook-cavass.

While the men dig we loaf: which resolves itself into copying inscriptions, measuring depths and levels, and photographing. For the last I have 5 cameras, none much good but my own.... While we are at work on the top of the hill there is very little to do, as at present; so Thompson and I have divided the day, working each a morning or an afternoon at the house on our finds, or at the digs, alternately. I have control over the pottery, and if we had found a Hittite piece I would be quite content with digging: however, we may possibly get on to a Hittite stratum in the lower ground after a fortnight. To the present we have found nothing Hittite but large sculptures, and fragments of such. Never a Hittite stratum, or even a Hittite building. For all this place so far has taught us about them we might as well never have come.

We have about 80 men now, and two overseers. There were 120 when Mr. Hogarth and Gregori were here, (for Gregori see the Accidents of an Antiquary's Life) but these men are not good enough to handle so many. They get about 8 piastres a day each (c. 14 pence) and are very content with it, since the local wage is 6. However it lets us pick and choose, and they all work very well: pick-men, spade-men, and basket-carriers. Of course there are no wheel-barrows. The most pleasing part of the day is when the breakfast-hour gets near: from all the villages below us on the plain there come long lines of red and blue women and children, carrying bread in red-check handkerchiefs, and wooden measures full of leben on their heads. The men are not tired then, and the heat is just pleasant, and they chatter about and jest and sing in very delightful style. A few of them bring shepherd's pipes, and make music of their sort. As a rule, they are not talkative: they will sit for minutes together at the house-door without a word: often coming out in the morning we have found 100 men grouped outside, wanting work, and have not heard a sound through the open window just above! The only time they get talkative is when they are about half-a-mile apart. A little companionable chat across Euphrates is a joy - except to one's ears near by, for sound carries tremendously in this region, and they bawl with their raucous voices. However not even Sheisho and Berkawi, two Kurd brothers, and the last in our employ, can talk over the noise of the flood at present: the other men gave up trying some days ago, and so the valley is at peace.

Will asks after the ethnography of the place. I am afraid I do not know what it is. There are Kurds, a few Tcherkers (of course heaps in Membidj), Turks, and Arabs. Will it do if I take a few typical heads, of our workmen in their varieties? They are mostly quite willing to be photographed. Thompson has been making frantic efforts after local folk-lore, but without result. These people's trilingualism makes them ignorant of all languages, and very limited in expression. They can seldom frame a sentence in Arabic, without Turk and Kurdi words creeping in. Their Arabic accent is vile: almost incomprehensible after Jebail and Mosul, which is to Thompson and myself. Some of the workmen are rather fine-looking fellows: all of course are thin as sticks: and the majority small: there was no one within an inch of Mr. Hogarth's height: indeed the majority are hardly more than mine. Many shave their heads, others let their hair grow in long plaits, like Hittites. Today, Saturday, is pay day, and we knock off at 4, instead of 5, to give us time to get them paid. Each man, or nearly each man, gets an extra every week, according to the value of his finds. This little gamble appeals to them immensely.

This week we have been quiet, after the over-rush of our seven visitors at once the week before. Miss Gertrude Bell is expected, but has not yet seen fit to come. The country is very green now, after several days of rain this week. The harvest they say will be in 5 weeks time: it may interrupt us, for quite probably we will dig for another 6 or 7 weeks. The heat here they say is never excessive, on account of the amount of wind: often after midday there springs up a great gale from the North, and West: very strong usually, and one which makes digging on the top impossible. Then we adjourn to the low country. But for that the weather now is the most perfect you can imagine.

As to your last letter, from Ventnor: we are about 70 miles from Aleppo: and get our post about once a week from Biredjik, 5 hours off, when we send for it. It is irregular, for I was 3 weeks without a letter. Don't expect much from me:- and then you may be satisfied with what you get: remember you are six to one. I suppose Arnie tied in the Sports with someone else? You talk of a six months' arrangement with his cup. I hope the chinless one does not come out. There would be nothing for him to do. We might possibly find work for an architect, but for no one else: and he would be a horrid incubus. I am glad Mr. Barker has got my Thesis over. Now one is in the country one has hopes of improving it.... I will probably want no more clothes this winter: you see if I stay out it will be to go to Egypt, and I can get summer things for that in Beyrout or Cairo. But there is no hurry about it. The customs expenses of getting things out are heavy. 5/- that last parcel. The Morris book is going to be bound in vellum, from one of the skins on which the men swim the river. It is a funny sight just now, to look at a family (2 women 3 boys, and a girl) coming across: quite a little fleet of inflated skins. It is about a ten minute passage: the river runs, crosswise for half the way, at 7 miles an hour: very brown, with creamy foam all over it; but dark blue further off, when the sun is shining. Must go round the trenches now.

 

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Source: HL 150-53
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 8 April 2006

 



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