George Smith (Chelsea, London, England, March 26, 1840 - Aleppo, August 19, 1876), was an English Assyriologist.
His father was a labourer, and at fourteen the boy was apprenticed to Messrs Bradbury and Evans to learn bank-note engraving. He had already shown a keen interest in the explorations of Layard and Sir Henry Rawlinson, and during the next few years he devoted all his spare time to studying the cuneiform inscriptions at the British Museum.
His earnestness attracted the attention of Rawlinson, who permitted him the use of his room at the museum and placed the many casts and squeezes of the inscriptions at his disposal. Smith was thus enabled to make his first discovery (the date of the payment of the tribute by Jehu to Shalmanezer) and Sir Henry suggested to the trustees of the Museum that he should be associated with himself in the preparation of the third volume of Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia.
Accordingly, in 1867, Smith was appointed assistant in the Assyriology department, and the earliest of his successes was the discovery of two inscriptions, one fixing the date of the total eclipse of the sun in the month Sivan in May 763 BC, and the other the date of an invasion of Babylonia by the Elamites in 2280 BC.
In 1871 he published Annals of Assur-bani-pal transliterated and translated, and communicated to the newly-founded Society of Biblical Archaeology a paper on "The Early History of Babylonia," and an account of his decipherment of the Cypriote inscriptions.
In 1872 Smith achieved world-wide fame by his translation of the Chaldaean account of the Deluge, which was read before the Society of Biblical Archaeology on December 3. In the following January Edwin Arnold, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, arranged with Smith that he should go to Nineveh at the expense of that journal, and carry out excavations with a view to finding the missing fragments of the Deluge story. This journey resulted not only in the discovery of the missing tablets, but of fragments which recorded the succession and duration of the Babylonian dynasties.
In 1874 Smith again left England for Nineveh, this time at the expense of the Museum, and continued his excavations at Kouyunjik. An account of his work is given in Assyrian Discoveries, published early in 1875. The rest of the year was spent in fixing together and translating the fragments relating to the Creation, the results of which work were embodied in The Chaldaean Account of Genesis.
In March 1876 the trustees of the British Museum despatched Smith once more to excavate the rest of Assur-bani-pal's library. At Ikisji, a small village about 60 miles northeast of Aleppo, he fell ill with a fever, and finally died in Aleppo on August 19.
He left a wife and children, on whose behalf a public subscription was made.
George Smith, The Chaldean Account of Genesis (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1876).
Smith's story narrated in C. W. Ceram [Kurt W. Marek], Gods, Graves and Scholars: The Story of Archeology, trans. E. B. Garside and Sophie Wilkins, 2nd ed., (New York: Knopf, 1967), ch. 22.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.