After acquiring a taste for travel and art in his youth, Austen Henry Layard quickly found his calling as a traveler and archaeologist. His wanderlust drew him from London toward Asia, and he spent a great deal of time exploring Jerusalem, Persia, and Mesopotamia. His curiosity was piqued by the ruins of Nimrud on the Tigris and the great mound of Kuyunjik near Mosul, and he began his own excavations shortly after seeing those monuments. His groundbreaking work uncovered sites in Nineveh, Babylon, and Assyria, greatly increasing our knowledge of Mesopotamian civilizations through the recovery of cuneiform tablets that detailed Assyrian and Babylonian culture and history. Layard’s extraordinary contributions to biblical archaeology changed the face of biblical research and scholarship.
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Austen Henry Layard (1817–1894) was born in Paris, but he traveled often in his youth. He was educated in Italy, England, Switzerland, and France. After spending six years working for his uncle’s law firm, he left to travel and explore the Middle East. After his first successful excavations at Kuyunjik and Nimrud, Layard continued his archeological explorations at the ruins of Babylon and the mounds of southern Mesopotamia. (Many of the specimens that he found make up a large part of the British Museum’s collection of Assyrian antiquities.) Layard then returned to England, where he took up a life of politics, serving as under-secretary for foreign affairs and ambassador at Constantinople. Layard retired in Italy, where he continued to write about Italian art and penned the popular account of his earliest travels, Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia.