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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to his family


Carchemish

May 16, 1911

Two very rough tracings of 'Museum' drawings enclosed. Was hurried, and had not time to make better copies.

I am writing on our roof, about 7.30 in the evening: we knocked off work at 5, as usual, and gave the workmen a dinner (of meat, and parched corn) before the house. Then came up here. There have been no great incidents: today the sheikh of the village, a black-bearded, rather quiet and picturesque young man, rode up to a group of women, washing by the spring, on his horse, and picked up one young girl, his first cousin, whom her parents had refused to him. He set her before him on his horse, and galloped out of the village, offering to shoot anyone who stood in his way. All the men were digging with us, so escape was easy. Thompson brought the news down to our digs, and there was great excitement: the relations of the girl caught horses at once, and rode off to try and find the sheikh. They have not come back, but matters will probably be settled by money payment. Then Sunday we had a double marriage between the two villages of Jerablus, upper and lower: the whole people turned out, the men afoot, or on horse in such as had them, the women perched in three or fours on the humps of Camels: everybody in the most brilliant colours, new or clean, with the sunlight soothing down all too violent contrasts. The two bodies met in the middle of the cornfields, after about a mile: then there was a violent dispute over the precedence, to see which bride should advance first: finally one came out (not ours) on her horse, and was at once ridden down and captured by the horsemen of our village: and then ours was taken similarly, with a mighty firing of guns and pistols, and the hu-hu-hu violent tahleel of the women. The grooms sit at home, in their houses, waiting for the women to come to them, and come they did in a great triumphal procession, everyone galloping or singing or shooting: the dowry carried before them on an ass in a great painted chest: and till late at night there was dancing to the music of hand-clapping, and shots being fired, and chanting to the pipes of such as were goat-herds or shepherds. We sent a present to the man who was our workman, and all our salaams. On Saturday an old Mullah came to the trenches in the afternoon, beating a parchment drum, with a little boy to carry a head-veil on a stick as a banner before him. The men all threw down their tools and baskets, to lie on their faces in his way. Then he walked on their backs, muttering various phrases. They said that their sinews would be made strong at his touch. Later he married the couple from Lower Jerablus. The weather tonight is curious: all day there have been heavy clouds and occasional gusts of wind, with once a dash of rain: now there is a smell of thunder in the air, and a grey mist is creeping up the river valley towards us: we have a very lovely view from our roof, across the flat plain that was the battle-ground of Carchemish to a huge 'tell' over the river, and others at long intervals to Tell Ahmar a day's journey off. This last mound Mr. Hogarth is going to try to dig - or get permission to dig -. Further down are sharp limestone hills, 'one like the blade of a knife' said Shalmaneser, with Kala'at en Nedjur, a great Arab castle of the xiii Century, on one of the first peaks. The Euphrates turns a great bend, six or seven miles down, so we have a wide stretch of water, two or three miles of it, to look at, with the little mound that was the outpost of Carchemish to the South, thrown up against it. Just below we have a poplar grove, and over it is a wild crowd of bee-eaters, sweeping about in the wind and the dust clouds, with their shrill cries. The little village spring is led into this grove, (and causes it): if the village was a little older (it in only 4 years since its foundations) we would have plums and apricots and other fruits, for quite a large orchard is planted down below. There is bush grass all the year round: and there will be mosquitoes, or there are, since we heard one tonight for the first time.

We are now beginning to clear up our small objects, with a view to closing the digs in three weeks. The Museum has asked that everything be photographed, to spare the expense of sending a man to Constantinople later on. So I am glueing up pottery (we have no proper cements) and trying to fit pieces of terracotta, and inscriptions. There are about 150 photographs to be taken, and mine is the only real camera we have. Mr. Hogarth is sending me films from Beyrout. I have some very fine pots, one in particular, pebble-polished, which is unique (and a nuisance, in 147 pieces, and only about half of it remaining). Thompson is not a photographer. Of large things (we have not yet found any small Hittite) we have got a very interesting basalt relief, about 5 feet high, semi-mythological, a doorway prophylactic slab, of two lion-headed human figures with bull's legs: a scrap of this is still missing, with the lower half of one of the lion-headed ones: we hope to find it in a new trench we are opening out.

Then we have a small relief, again in black basalt (which is much the best material we have, being sharp in texture, and not friable in damp or heat, though brittle) of a lion, winged, but with a most curious human head, with the horned cap and two long plaits of hair that distinguish the Hittites of this place, apparently growing out of the back of the lion-neck. I have seen something like it somewhere: Thompson never has, so the motive of it is not Assyrian at any rate. I hope to send a tracing of my sketch of it before long.

Then from the top of the great mound, at the end shown in a letter to you sent off a week ago, we found 18 feet deep, a sort of pedestal in basalt, that may have carried a statue or a copper bowl. It was composed of a round base of stone, rising from the backs of two very stylistic lions: curious work, but powerful. Near it was a basalt votive altar, of a style rather common here, with four lines of close-packed Hittite linear inscription on it. Of course we can make nothing of it, though Thompson hopes that he has a clue or two in the very large inscription in relief, with the heads and hands upon it; that we found a month back. I hope you may have seen a print of this, from the photograph of mine that Mr. Hogarth took back to Oxford with him.

I am borrowing money of Thompson, to buy things in Aleppo with, and for my trip to Urfa: the money I have was hardly enough, and one cannot send Cook's cheques by post. So can you send him £4 to 13 Cheyne Gardens Chelsea S.W. (R. Campbell Thompson) in an envelope to await his arrival (in mid or early July)? His father lives there. Thompson is a fortunate man: he is getting his expenses, and a pound a day, so he will clear £150 this season. I hope we have a second! but it is highly doubtful. Tell Ahmar cannot be till the season after next.

The country out here is very quiet: there have been no religious troubles, or suspicions of them for a year and a half: and Ibrahim Pasha the Kurd chief of Kiranshehir, was poisoned a 9 months back by the Vali of Aleppo: so there is complete peace. We finish here perhaps in 3 weeks or so, and will then go down to Tell Ahmar for a week: to look for pieces of a big inscription there, and to squeeze others: also there is a piece of cuneiform for Thompson. After that I must look at Kala'at en Nedjur, for nobody has dated it yet, or planned it, and from there I hope to go over the Mesopotamia plain to Harran, and back to Biredjik and Tell Bashar by way of Urfa. Please go on writing therefore to Aleppo (Consul) till early July, and probably longer, if as I fancy I explore principally this north part of the Latin Kingdom this year. I expect to reach Jebail in late September, and will probably be passing through Aleppo in August.

Euphrates is still high: and there is a plague of locusts: all the grass of the mound is full of them. We have got our Imperial Commissaire dismissed, for a general nuisance: so are happy, and great in the repute of all the country-side.

Salaams.

N.

 

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Source: HL 154-8
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 8 April 2006

 



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