Lawrence of Arabia, an insatiable need for knowledge

Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS

Karkemish, Aqaba, Damascus, Aleppo, Cairo, Jeddah, Yanbu, and Jbail: are some of the cities that were the center of the life and of the battles against the Ottoman Empire for the British crown and the personal dream of creating an Arab nation of  T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia.

But there are other little-known episodes relating to other places that have raised  Lawrence’s interest as an archaeologist.


T.E. Lawrence and L. Woolley at Karkemish (1913)

Karkemish was the eastern capital of the Hittite empire. The Hittites ruled much of the Middle East from about the 13th through the 9th century B.C.E. This powerful people was, however, defeated by the Assyrian king Sargon II at Karkemish in 717 B.C.E.

At this dig, Lawrence worked with David George Hogarth and Charles Leonard Woolley, who later discovered Ur of the Chaldees.
During the digs, Lawrence copied inscriptions, photographed finds, cataloged discoveries, bought antiquities, and used his mechanical ingenuity to solve small problems that would arise.

This dig and the publication of its results, titled “Carchemish: Report on the Excavations at Djerabis on behalf of the British Museum“, containing contributions by Lawrence, set the course for future British study of the Hittites.


Balıklıgöl, Urfa

Urfa, known in ancient times as Edessa, was the former capital of ancient Osrhoene, in Upper Mesopotamia,  founded by King Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Empire.

Lawrence visited the ancient city in 1911: his interest was in taking pictures of the ruins of the Castle  as well as visiting  the two main attractions of the city, its souks  and the Balıklıgöl, the sacred pool which, according to Islamic tradition, was the place where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrud.

In those days in Urfa, Lawrence was beaten and  stolen of its precious camera.



An important encounter in Lawrence’s life was with Sir Flinders Petrie, a famous British archaeologist and Egyptologist.

After working together in Egypt, Petrie asked Lawrence if he would be interested in an excavation in Bahrain, the ancient Dilmun, where he believed he would find interesting discoveries about the travels of early Egyptians through the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Petrie considered that Bahrain could be a staging post on the journey.

Petrie had a high regard for Lawrence as an archaeologist, although he was only 23 years old and had the experience of only one season of excavation.


Ubar, the lost city

Ubar is known as Iram in the Qur’an and is a legendary city located in the Dhofar region, in today’s Oman.

It is said that that Lawrence called the lost city of Ubar “the Atlantis of the desert”.

During the First World War, Lawrence tried to convince the British government to authorize an overflight of the area in order to have a closer look.

SANDS is a weekly newsletter written and curated by Alberto Di Gennaro, hosted by SquareKufic. You can subscribe to the newsletter via LinkedIn, or read the articles here, at SquareKufic.


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