Jacques de Morgan; An Archaeologist Who Found Oil

5/4/2005 7:44:00 AM

The history of archaeological research in Iran may be divided into two periods: before and after the Second World War. The early period can in turn be subdivided into a first phase of mainly French activity (ca. 1884-1931), and a second phase in which archaeology in Iran became a multinational affair (1931-40). The modern period can be subdivided into what might best be called the “quiet phase” (1940-57) and the “explosive phase” (1958-78).

Of course an interest in the antiquities of Iran predates 1884 and the beginnings of systematic archaeological exploration. As early as the 17th century, a number of European travelers reported with surprise on the remarkable ancient monuments to be seen throughout the countryside. The first scientific and scholarly attempt to deal with one such monument, however, was Rawlinson’s recording of the Bisotoun inscription (1836-41). While hardly a prehistoric project, that effort, which resulted in the decipherment of Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian cuneiform, led to a quickening of interest in ancient western Asia and in the history and prehistory of Iran. The next effort of note is the work of Flandin and Coste, who, between 1843 and 1854, recorded numerous standing monuments and sites in both words and drawings. At the same time, the first actual excavations were undertaken by Loftus, who recovered remains on the Apadana mound at Susa (1851-53). (Iranica, p. 281)

With the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1978, the foreign archaeology teams working around Iran went back home, leaving their projects unfinished. In the year 2000, after a 25-year gap, Iran, eager to revive its ancient sites and archaeological activities, once again opened its doors to foreign experts.

The arrival of foreign experts reached its peak in the last Iranian year (2004-2005), during which more than 50 teams from the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Australia, Japan, England, Poland, etc. took part in excavations and studies of the Iranian historical sites.

Cultural Heritage and Tourism New Agency intends to gradually introduce the foreign archaeologists who have worked in Iran and their achievements to help boost the Iranian archaeology.

The first of these articles is devoted to Jacques de Morgan, the French archeologist and prehistorian, who had a major role in excavations of Susa as the director of the Delegation en Perse at the time of Naser-ed-Din Shah and Mozaffar-ed-din Shah of Qajar. Previous to that, he had also succeeded to discover oil in Qasr-e Shirin in the western mountains of Zagros.

Here is his biography with a focus on his activities in Iran quoted from Iranica Encyclopedia:

Jacques Jean-Marie de Morgan [1857-1924]

De Morgan came from an exceptionally gifted family, in which cultivation of humane learning was combined with scientific rigor. His father, Eugeàne, sometimes called "Baron" de Morgan, an engineer specializing in mineral prospecting, was interested in entomology and prehistory. He initiated his two sons, Henry, the elder, and Jacques, into fieldwork, excavating with them the Campigny fault near Rouen, which had lent its name to the first phase of the European neolithic. Through his father Jacques became acquainted with Gabriel de Mortillet, who was connected with the museum of national antiquities in Saint-Germain and who, during investigations of Merovingian cemeteries, taught him how to catalogue excavated objects. De Morgan wanted to be a professional geologist like his father, and his personal fortune had permitted him to travel and study abroad since his early youth. In 1879 he began to publish the results of his research, illustrated with drawings that were remarkable for their finesse and documentary precision. He received his final training at the École des Mines, from which he was graduated in 1882. He was then appointed to head a survey expedition to Scandinavia and subsequently conducted surveys in Germany, Austria, Turkey, India, and as far away as the kingdom of Perak in what is now West Malaysia. In this last area he took up geography and ethnology, mastering the physical anthropology and language of the Sakai blacks (de Morgan, 1886).

He went next to Russian Armenia, as manager of a copper mine at Akhtala. At that time he believed that "the Caucasus is of special interest in the study of the origins of metals; it is the easternmost point from which prehistoric remains are known; older than Europe and Greece, it still retains the traces of those civilizations that were the cradle of our own". His interest in the eastern origins of civilization eventually led to neighboring Persia. The scientific reports that he wrote upon his return from the Caucasus were published in Paris in 1889-90. Immediately thereafter the French ministry of public education entrusted him with his first official mission to Persia. En route he paused to explore the necropolis at Telovan near Tbilisi, then went on to Tehran, whence he paid visits to Mazandaran, to Gilan, and farther west to Talesh in order to study dialects. From Talesh he traveled south across Kurdistan and Luristan, combining both geological and archeological investigations. He was the first to recognize, at Qasr-e Shirin, the presence of oil in the vast fold system of the Zagros. Although he had undertaken his mission on behalf of the French government, he conducted this survey out of friendship for the Persian government. At first, however, neither France nor Persia was interested, and it was only in 1902 that exploitation began, under the leadership of the Englishman William Knox D'Arcy.

De Morgan's journey ended in Susiana, where he attempted to retrace the routes of the Assyrian campaigns in Elam. He remained for a long time at Susa, from which the expedition led by Marcel Dieulafoy had departed six years earlier. In the vast field of ruins his curiosity was aroused particularly by the high mound known as the "citadel," at the foot of which he recovered some flints and some very early potsherds. This discovery must have been decisive in leading him to reopen excavations at the site. Upon his return to Tehran he confided in the French minister, Rene de Balloy, who was eager to obtain for France a monopoly of archeological research in Persia. It took a little time, however, before these efforts, under de Morgan's guidance, were successful. In the meantime he published his Mission scientifique en Perse (5 parts comprising 10 vols., Paris, 1894-1905), including four volumes of geological studies; two volumes of archeological studies on tombs and other monuments that were still visible; one volume devoted to Kurdish dialects and the languages of northern Persia; one volume of Mandaean texts; and two volumes of geographical studies.

After his return to France, in November 1891, he planned, once he had put his notes in order, to go back to Persia and to pursue his studies in the southern and eastern provinces. Before he could do so, however, he was invited to take over as acting director of the Egyptian antiquities service; he remained in this interim appointment until 1897. De Morgan's talents as an administrator and diplomat ensured his favorable reception by foreign, especially English, Egyptologists. He took up his post in 1892, and during the next five years he founded, with Giuseppe Botti, the museum of Greco-Roman antiquities at Alexandria; saved the temple of Kom Ombo from destruction; undertook publication of a general catalogue of the monuments and inscriptions of ancient Egypt; and, just before his departure, laid the cornerstone for the Cairo museum of ancient Egyptian antiquities (de Morgan, 1895; idem, 1896). His exploration of the pyramids of Dashur) brought to light the royal treasures of the Middle Kingdom. But, as always, his primary personal interest was in prehistory, and he can be considered the father of prehistoric archeology in Egypt. He began excavation of the extremely important Proto-Dynastic site of Nagada; unfortunately, however, he entrusted the continuation of the work to Émile Ame‚lineau, who proceeded with disastrous clumsiness.

In the meantime, in 1895 Naser-ed-Din Shah (1848-96) had signed a treaty granting to France a monopoly of archeological exploration in Persia. The Delegation en Perse was then established under the French ministry of public education and fine arts, and its direction was entrusted to de Morgan; he was chosen over Dieulafoy, who never forgave him. De Morgan left Egypt in 1897 with the intention of creating a "French archeological service" in Persia, in order "to investigate these little-known regions from every scientific vantage point." He decided, however, to concentrate most of his own efforts at the site of Susa, in order to further knowledge of Elamite civilization, as opposed to that of the Achaemenid Persians, whom he considered lacking in originality—a debatable judgment, to say the least—and to that of the Medes, who had "never written their history," a conclusion that still stands.

In fact, from de Morgan's own writings it seems clear that he was less interested in Elamite history than in the overall prehistory of the East. In 1902 he declared: "In the Nile valley I developed the conviction that the first civilizations, from which the Egyptian empire arose, came from Chaldea and that the Mesopotamian plains had therefore been the cradle of human progress. Susa, because of its very early date, provided the possibility of solving the greatest and most important problem, that of our origins. This city, in my view, belonged to that primordial world that had witnessed the discovery of writing, the use of metals, the beginnings of art. If the great problem of origins was to be solved one day, it was in Chaldea, and especially at Susa, that it was necessary to seek the basic elements" (1902, p. 16).

It was probably this primary interest in "origins," rather than in historical periods, that led de Morgan to decide, before he had even begun to excavate, that he did not "have to deal with well-preserved monuments that require careful delineation; the ruins were amorphous, and the remains of superimposed walls showed traces of a series of total destructions of the city. . . . It was thus necessary to undertake a general exploration of the site, without taking into account the natural strata, which cannot be recovered" (1900, pp. 50-51). He thus divided the enormous mound of the acropolis, which was at that time 30-35 m high, into sections, each 5 m wide and 5 m deep, which constituted the first "level"; below them similar trenches were excavated, constituting the earliest "levels." From the beginning of his work, then, de Morgan, despite his exceptional cultivation and dedication, condemned the architectural remains at Susa to total destruction for all time; the excavation consisted simply of removing an estimated 2,450,000 m3 of dirt, as in any public-works project. De Morgan imposed his method, backed by considerable means, on a small team, the most competent members of which were two former colleagues from Egypt, Gustave Je‚quier, in particular, and J. E. Gautier. For work on texts he had called upon the Dominican father Vincent Scheil, a renowned Assyriologist.

The team began work in December 1897, but it had to contend with attacks by plunderers, who carried out their depredations without restraint in a province that was mostly out of the control of the central government. To ensure the safety of the expedition and its finds, de Morgan built an enormous castle of medieval aspect on the northernmost point of the acropolis. Wanting to obtain as soon as possible an idea of the sequence of periods, he had dug at the southern tip a series of five successive soundings, which revealed at the bottom traces of an archaic civilization with fine ceramics and above it an apparently derivative civilization with "crude" painted ceramics, both from before the historical periods of Elam. His far too brief summary report on this sounding was to be repeated almost without change in the final excavation report published ten years later (1912).

Meanwhile work in the trenches was yielding impressive results, as masterpieces of Babylonian civilization, captured by the Elamites as spoils of war, began to appear. The victory stele of Naram-Sin and a series of Kassite kudurrus ("boundary stones") were intermingled with masterpieces of Elamite metalwork and sculpture. In 1900 Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah (1896-1907) signed a supplementary treaty granting to France all the antiquities discovered at Susa. And the discoveries continued, crowned by the appearance of the stele bearing the law code of Hammurabi. They were published, starting in 1900, in Memoires de la Delegation en Perse (M.D.P.).

As work at Susa was carried on in the winter, Henry and Jacques de Morgan used the summers to resume excavation of the late Bronze and Iron Age cemeteries in Talesh. The publication ("Recherches au Talyche persan," in M.D.P. VIII, 1905, pp. 251-341) shows that, in the field of prehistory, de Morgan was a good archeologist. At Susa, on the other hand, the "investigations" had become tedious, and he often abandoned direction of the work to his colleagues. In1903-04 the temples of Inshushinak and Ninhursag of Susa were badly excavated; then, in 1906, virgin soil was reached in the necropolis, revealing clearly both the beauty of the archaic ceramics and the presence of copper, which indicated a date later than had been expected. Disappointed, de Morgan had, in addition, to face the hostility of certain colleagues and in France the very unjust accusation of laxity in the financial management of the mission. He thus decided not to return to Susa after 1907. His health shattered, he resigned from the mission in 1912.

He had previously entrusted to the Hellenist Edmond Pottier the task of publishing the pottery from Susa, though the information on periodization that he provided for Pottier was as false as it was sketchy, basically limited to the succession of two "styles" of pottery ("Étude historique et chronologiqe sur les vases peints de l'acropole de Suse," in M.D.P. XIII, Paris, 1912, pp. 27-103). On the other hand, he devoted himself to synthetic publications, primarily on prehistory but also on oriental numismatics. His major works remain L'humanite prehistorique (Paris, 1921) and especially the three-volume La prehistoire orientale (Paris, 1925-27), which appeared posthumously. Salomon Reinach was charged with providing, in Revue archeologique (1924), a detailed assessment of the career and personality of Jacques de Morgan, who was a great archeologist but made the mistake, characteristic of his time, of undertaking as a prehistorian work on a historical site like Susa.