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Scholarly activity had not ceased, however, although it was no longer concentrated in the field. By the end of the 1850s the successful decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform meant that inscriptions and texts recovered from Nineveh and elsewhere could now yield a vast amount of information on the ancient Mesopotamian world. One of the most surprising discoveries was the great time depth of the civilization. , and this had been confirmed by the excavations at Nineveh and adjacent cities. , shedding light on the period of the Old Babylonian Empire and the early history of the Assyrians, the time of the biblical patriarch 30 ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA Abraham, native of the Mesopotamian city of Ur.

It skirts the low ranges that jut out from the Zagros; of these the most formidable is the Jebel Hamrin, a steep and rugged range rising to 200–300 meters that presents a major barrier dividing the lands of the north from the plains of Babylonia. The Diyala River cuts a pass through Jebel Hamrin, and from here the route follows the Diyala to its confluence with the Tigris some 180 kilometers to the southwest. South of the Diyala, marshes divide the Babylonian plain from Susiana (Khuzestan). Although Susiana is geologically part of the southern plain, it was culturally and economically quite distinct from Babylonia.

A proportion of the remains excavated in Mesopotamian sites was now to become part of the new Historical and Chronological Setting 37 national collections in the Iraq Museum, although foreign expeditions were still allowed to export many of their finds. Neighboring countries made similar provisions. The outline history of Mesopotamian civilization as far back as the Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III–ca. ) was by now well known, and attention could be focused on acquiring a more detailed knowledge of individual parts of it.

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