Picture the Sixth.
How do you follow the man who rediscovered Sumeria?
It was Ernest De Sarzac, a French diplomat, who listened to local antiquities sellers during his sojourn in Iraq. They told him of treasure, of an old city which lay undiscovered, and Sarzac – an amateur archaeologist – dug at Tello, and found evidence of a lost civilisation: that of Ancient Sumer.
He died in 1901 and they cast around for someone to take his place, settling at length on Gaston Cros, a French army officer.
Cros was a natural. He was astute in pursuit of his goals, moving the archaeologist’s camp much closer to Tello, despite the fact it stretched their supply lines and made them further from water in hostile territory. He had negotiated protection from the local Karagul Arabs, and dug a reservoir to improve water supply.
And then he cast around and found a doorway. It was close to where De Sarzac had found a number of tablets covered in angular cuneiform writing. It transpired this was a door which proved the existence of a state archive.
It wasn’t all filing cabinets. In 1904 he found what is classed as a Votive Dog. It reminds me of the Victorian dogs, looking up obediently with all the questionable intellect of a bull mastiff. One has to pinch oneself to realise this dog hails from the second millennium BC.
Cros died in battle, 11 years after he found the dog, a soldier to the core, decorated extensively, an archaeologist at heart. Another of his astounding little finds resonates with his story: in 1904, the same year he found the dog, he found a soldier’s badge.
It is inscribed in cuneiform: “[assigned to the] bastion by the walls”.