Sumerian Measurement "Decoded" With Help Of Whisky


Ephemeral Spectre
Jan 15, 2017
From The Times

Whisky galore solves ancient mystery

David Sanderson, Arts Correspondent
March 21 2019, 12:01am, The Times

For decades the “magical code” on the 4,000-year-old Sumerian statue had baffled archaeologists and philologists.
That was until a few glasses of a good single malt produced a Eureka moment.
A British Museum archaeologist has revealed how a late night with a colleague and a bottle of whisky helped to unravel the mysteries of a temple in modern day Iraq and provide insights into the ancient Sumerian civilisation.
Sebastien Rey, who has been working in Girsu, southern Iraq, for the museum, had long mulled over the meaning of a “measuring ruler” carved on a life-size statue of the city’s ruler, Gudea.

The measuring rod on a statue of Gudea, ruler of the Sumerian city of Girsu
The sculpture, which was discovered in the 19th century and is on display in the Louvre in Paris, features a tablet containing an architectural plan of a temple dedicated to the Sumerian god Ningirsu, and a measuring rod.
However, the measuring rod and its relation to the temple drawing had never given up its secrets. This was despite a lengthy inscription on the statue about how the Sumerian gods had sent the architectural blueprint along with a code. “It was written in the text that it was a divine blueprint,” Dr Rey, 37, said.
In 2016 he was excavating in Girsu, which has the modern name Tello, as part of the museum’s scheme to train locals in archaeological techniques.

They began to find remains of the temple, the plans of which are on the statue of Gudea. Then came two years of mulling over the “measuring ruler” and its significance.
In the spring of last year Dr Rey was in Beirut, Lebanon, with Julien Chanteau, a fellow archaeologist, working on a separate project, which they decided to take a break from.
“Since I started to excavate the temple in 2016 it has been an obsession to try to understand what it meant and how it could relate to the plan with the statue in the Louvre,” Dr Rey said. He opened his folder and the two studied. “There was whisky, a good one,” he added.
Previous analysis of the measuring rod, according to Dr Rey, had always assumed it was a “standard metric system 0,1,2,3”. As the night wore on the two archaeologists came to the conclusion that the mistake of previous generations had been to “think in terms of metrics, to measure things like we measure with a tape measure”.
“It was quite a moment; the idea was that it was not metric and it was a question of fractions. A complex and unique metrological system using a sacred unit divided into fractions,” he said. The “sacred unit” was repeated on the measuring ruler and every time was divided into an increasing number of fractions, he said.

So they began testing the theory on the architectural plan on the statue.
Sure enough, Dr Rey said, they discovered that the size of the wall was one half of the sacred unit, a buttress corresponded to one sixth, and a gate to one third.
“And then it was crazy,” he added. “We were getting quite tipsy at the time, it was maybe four or five in the morning and we were really panicking that we would completely forget everything the next day so we took our phones out and recorded ourselves, recorded the principles.”
In October last year Dr Rey returned to Tello and, using the principles of the “sacred unit” pinpointed where a gate of the hidden temple should be and opened a trench. “After three weeks of excavation we found the foundation of the gate and proved the theory,” he said.
He said it was a “discovery of great significance” indicating how “for the ancient Sumerians metrology, the science of measurement, was considered the mother of all languages — ie the language of the gods”. “It allows us to understand how they would plan out a temple on that scale. According to the ancient inscriptions, the temple plan was indeed based on a divine image, epitomised by its sacred geometry sent to Gudea by the gods as a dream omen.”
And it may never have reached us without the dreamy inspiration produced by another spirit.

Sources of inspiration

• The origin of the so-called Eureka moment is the discovery by Archimedes in about 250BC that the buoyant force on a submerged object is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced. His discovery, while in the bath, led him — according to a report written a long time afterwards — to run naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting “eureka” (I have found it).

• Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony was proving tricky. In 1905 he “tortured” himself in the Dolomites for two weeks before giving up. He had just stepped into a boat on Lake Worthersee to return from his summer home when “at the first stroke of the oars, I hit upon the theme”.

• Richard James was a US naval engineer in the 1940s trying to develop a way of keeping sensitive instruments stable in rough seas. He accidentally dropped a tension spring and watched it keep moving as it hit the ground. His wife Betty found the word slinky in the dictionary. They began production of a toy that has sold millions.

• Percy Shaw, a Yorkshire inventor, noticed how the reflection of his car headlights on tramlines helped show the line of the road. One night he saw two pinpoints of light from a cat’s eyes by the roadside. In the mid 1930s he sought patent protection and Catseye road studs were born.