What is the Tower of Babel?
According to the famed parable in Genesis, the Tower of Babel was a structure designed to be tall enough to reach the heavens. This was much to God’s dismay, so as a consequence, he thwarted their plans by confusing their language and scattering the people around the world.
While there are similar stories from other cultures, the Genesis tale is perhaps the most well-known version. Is it merely a Bible parable, or is there some truth behind the story of the famed tower?
Location of the Tower of Babel
According to this particular story, the tower was built in a place called Shinar. While no one can be sure of its exact location, it’s generally believed Shinar was Babylonia, somewhere in Mesopotamia.
Evidence of the Tower of Babel
Aside from depictions in the Bible and similar stories, there had never been any evidence for the Tower of Babel’s existence until the discovery of a clay tablet in Iraq.
The tablet dates back to around 600 BCE and depicts the seven tiers of a ziggurat, along with a portrait of King Nebuchadnezzar II. The text is the most notable aspect of the tablet, which reads:
“NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON AM I – IN ORDER TO COMPLETE E-TEMEN-ANKI AND E-UR-ME-IMIN-ANKI I MOBILIZED ALL COUNTRIES EVERYWHERE, EACH AND EVERY RULER WHO HAD BEEN RAISED TO PROMINENCE OVER ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD – LOVED BY MARDUK, FROM THE UPPER SEA TO THE LOWER SEA, THE DISTANT NATIONS, THE TEEMING PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, KINGS OF REMOTE MOUNTAINS AND FAR-FLUNG ISLANDS – THE BASE I FILLED IN TO MAKE A HIGH TERRACE. I BUILT THEIR STRUCTURES WITH BITUMEN AND BAKED BRICK THROUGHOUT. I COMPLETED IT RAISING ITS TOP TO THE HEAVEN, MAKING IT GLEAM BRIGHT AS THE SUN”
The text explicitly states that Nebuchadnezzar spearheaded the initiative to build the tower, assembling people from around the world to construct it. The tower is referred to as “E-Temen-Anki” (often stylized as “Etemenanki”).
Etemenanki is an ancient tower local inhabitants have long suspected to be the remains of the Tower of Babel, but there had been no evidence to support this theory until the discovery of the aforementioned clay tablet. The site was rediscovered in the 19th century by the local population and excavated in 1913 by Robert Koldewey.
Today, only some of the remains of Etemenanki are visible as much of the site is overgrown. However, it is believed to have been originally about 91 meters tall.
Tower of Babel: Fact or Fiction?
One can argue the story of the Tower of Babel isn’t entirely incredulous. People around the world built towering structures to honor their respective gods for centuries. The pyramids of Egypt, Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, and similar structures throughout the world are all notable examples, along with the slew of towering temples scattered worldwide.
With this in mind, the idea of people collaborating to build a tower with the goal of reaching the heavens doesn’t seem that far fetched. Combine this with the evidence of Etemenanki, and there is quite a strong case for the existence of the Tower of Babel; however there always room for exploration.
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Laser Scanning Reveals Mayan Complex Hidden for Centuries
Laser mapping reveals nearly 500 ancient ceremonial sites hiding just under the landscape of modern-day Mexico and leads scientists to revise their understandings of the origins of the Maya Civilization.
Eastern Mexico is home to the ancient Maya, renowned for their striking pyramids, written language, and complex calendar system. It is there that scientists first discovered Aquada Fénix, the largest and oldest-known Mayan construction.
Professor Takeshi Inomata is an archeologist at the University of Arizona who led the study. “We did LiDAR, which is an airborne laser marking technique. Using this technique we found Aguada Fénix, which is the oldest monumental construction in the Maya area,” Inomata said. “It has a huge artificial plateau which has a perfect, rectangular shape measuring 1.4 km long and 400m wide, which represents the largest construction in the entire Maya history. It dates to probably 1,100 – 700 BC, which makes it the oldest monumental construction in the Maya area. So the interesting part is that the largest building happened at the very beginning or oldest stage of Maya civilization.”
Having made this extraordinary find, the team recently expanded their search to a broader area using the same cutting-edge LiDAR technology. They were specifically hoping to find sites built by the Olmec people, an older civilization thought to have influenced the development of the Maya. What LiDAR revealed was groundbreaking.
“We found nearly 500 ceremonial complexes, which look like Aguada Fénix, although they are not as big. This distribution shows they shared similar concepts of space, ritual, and probably worldview. It tells us the people in the Olmec area and the Maya area really exchanged ideas and that kind of interaction was very important for the initial development of Mesoamerican civilizations,” Inomata said.
“This is the earliest evidence for the gathering of a really large number of people. Those people probably did not have too many hierarchical organizations, they most likely did not have kings. They didn’t have much marked social inequalities, so those people gathered and organized themselves, then made these huge constructions. This really makes us think about the development and possibility of human societies, not just about Mesoamerica, but about human societies in general.”