Smith, George

(1840-1876)
   An English scholar and leading Assyriolo-gist who produced the first English translation of the ancient "great flood" story contained in the famous Epic of Gilgamesh. As a young man studying to be a bank engraver, Smith took a keen interest in the archaeological finds of Austen Henry La-yard and Henry C. Rawlinson in Mesopotamia. Smith diligently studied the cuneiform texts these early Assyriologists had found and put on display in London's British Museum. Eventually Rawlinson himself noticed Smith, got to know him, and allowed him to use his private museum office, where many other ancient tablets were waiting to be translated. In 1867 Smith was appointed to the position of assistant
   Assyriologist; four years later he published his own translation of the known historical records of one of Assyria's most famous kings, The Annals of Ashurbanipal.
   Smith's greatest achievement came in 1872, when he translated the flood account in the Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh epic. At the time, about fifteen of the lines in the account were missing. Because the discovery of any ancient texts relating to the Bible was big news, a London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, offered to back an expedition to Iraq in hopes of finding a tablet containing the missing lines. Incredibly, after only a few weeks of digging, Smith himself found just such a tablet and was able to insert the missing fragments into his translation of the flood story. He later described the great discovery:
   On the 14th of May ... I sat down to examine the store of fragments of cuneiform inscriptions from the day's digging, taking out and brushing off the earth from the fragments to read their contents. On cleaning one of them I found to my surprise and gratification that it contained the greater portion of seventeen lines of inscription belonging to the first column of the Chaldean [Babylonian] account of the Deluge [great flood], and fitting into the only place where there was a serious blank in the story. When I had first published the account of this tablet I had conjectured that there were about fifteen lines wanting [lacking] in this part of the story, and now with this portion I was enabled to make it nearly complete.
   In 1875 Smith published Assyrian Discoveries, an account of his work and exploits up to that time, which became a seminal work in Middle Eastern archaeology. He died the following year in Mesopotamia in the midst of another expedition to dig up the lost secrets of the past.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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