Hulton Deutsch Collection Limited

Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817–1894) excavated ancient Assyrian sites from 1845 to 1851, when he returned to England and took up a diplomatic career, never to excavate again. Among his finds were the palace of King Sennacherib (704–681 B.C.E.) and the library of King Assurbanipal (668–627 B.C.E.), both in Nineveh. In Assurbanipal’s library, Layard and his assistant Hormuzd Rassam discovered numerous cuneiform tablets inscribed with what turned out to be a long-forgotten but then-unreadable tale (cuneiform was not deciphered until the mid-1850s)—the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the most cherished Near Eastern literary works of the second and first millennia B.C.E.