Where Their Bodies Lay

It is every writer’s nightmare. Schulz was dead for eleven years before he was published. And when he was finally published, he was unreadable.

Schulz’s notes were published posthumously in the Journal asiatique (1840: 257-323).

Friedrich Schulz was gunshot in 1829 for a variety of reasons. Chief among them was his unbridled curiosity. Local Kurds eyed him with suspicion as he traveled ever deeper into the remote mountains of what would later become southeast Turkey. Schulz was too eager. He pulled out his notebook too often. He asked too many questions. And, oddly, he made no attempt to hide his scribbling habits. Only a spy could be interested in recording such details. So Schulz was shot.

Among Schulz’s more gentlemanly dispatchers were the members of the Société Asiatique of Paris. They themselves were shocked, not once, but twice. The first shock came when word of the tragic fate of the academic envoyé reached France. As sudden and as terrible as this news was, it was not entirely unexpected. Schulz’s journey had taken him into what one contemporary would call “the most remote and inaccessible parts of Asia.” He had been warned.  Repeatedly.

For this reason, the second shock for the Société may have been greater than the first. Eleven years after Schulz’s death, a packet arrived in Paris. Inside the packet were the dead man’s notes and drawings. Schulz had returned to Europe after all, vicariously. The notes were promptly published under his name in the Journal asiatique (1840). While it did Schulz no good, it was fortuitous for the sake of the discipline. Only three years previously, in 1837, the secrets of cuneiform writing began to reveal themselves at Behisitun. The decade between 1840 and 1850 would prove critical for the breakers of this ancient code. Unfortunately, much of what Schulz copied from Van went unrecognized. Somehow it was odd, different from the constellations of wedge-shapes known elsewhere. A unique term was even coined to describe it: “Vannic.”

Layard (left) and Rassam (right). Images from http://images.nypl.org/index.php?id=1553342&t=w and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ File:Hormuzd.Rassam.reclined.jpg.

In the late summer of 1850, two travelers entered Kurdistan by horse. One was the Englishman, Austen Henry Layard. The other was his friend Hormuzd Rassam, an Armenian. The pair had just completed a season of archaeological effort at Nineveh and were seeking some cool relief from the feverish heat of the Mesopotamia plain. Interestingly, their route took them through the last valley traveled by Schulz, some twenty years previously.

Map of Layard’s travels in 1850. Note Layard’s path, shown by the solid line. Note also the location of Van (Wan) in the upper left corner of the map and Bash-kalah (modern Başkale, on the Turkish-Iranian border).

In Layard’s description of the journey (published under the title, Discoveries among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon), he describes how the party followed the Zab River and eventually arrived in a small fertile valley near Bash-kalah (modern Başkale). Here, beside a stream, Layard was shown the place where “the unfortunate traveller Schulz was murdered by Nur Ullah Bey, the Kurdish chief of Hakkiari” (1853: 329). Elsewhere, Layard has little good to say about Nur Ullah Bey.

The Englishman goes on to note: “I subsequently met in the Nestorian district of Baz, a Christian, who was in the service of Nur Ullah Bey at the time of the murder (of Schulz), and was employed to bury the body” (1853: 329).

No further details are offered regarding the dispatch of Schulz.

Advancing from Bash-kalah to Van, Layard and Rassam investigated the citadel. In his description of the visit published in 1853, Layard describes the massif itself, the efforts to copy the inscriptions, and, most interestingly, a tomb known as the Khorkhor Mugaralari or the “Caves of Khorkhor.” The description of the installation is accompanied by two drawings.  The first shows the tomb interior. A series of rectangular rooms are carved in solid rock. These are separated by doors. The walls and floors are graced by shallow niches (purpose unknown).

The interior of the “Caves of Khorkhor (Layard 1853: 340).

The second drawing shows a top-plan (Layard 1853:341). It is a large and complex installation.

The top plan of the “Caves of Khorkhor” (Layard 1953:341).

The mystery of “Vannic” was slowly deciphered between 1880 and 1930, almost a century after Schulz’s initial trip. With this discovery, the inscriptions that grace the outer face of the tomb were connected to the name of a king, Argistis I (8th c. BC). While it cannot be demonstrated, it is possible that these “Caves of Khorkor” represent the burial site of (some of?) the Urartian royals, “the kings of Ararat.”

No human remains were noted by Schulz, Layard, Lynch, or other early explorers. Regardless, the context and execution of the site are powerful.

Our intrepid crew inside the “Caves of Khorkhor.”

Detail of the “Caves of Khorkhor” showing niches and door.