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This fertile land, whose history dates back many thousands of years, has long lain desolate. Swamps and marshes and the floods of the Tigris and the Euphrates cover immense tracts that were once the granary of the middle East. The old canals and irrigation works constructed by Babylonians and Assyrians are now obliterated by sand. Where once large populations throve and cultivated literature and the arts, now roam only a few tribes of Arabs, degenerate descendants of the race that at one time led the world in the things of the mind. Mesopotamia is the “abomination of desolation.”
Here and there a mound—known to archæologists as a tell—marks the site of a buried city, and excavation has brought to light the remains of palaces and monumental tombs, and temples where “pale-eyed priests” chanted incantations to Assur and Ishtar and Merodach—the Baalim and Ashtoreth of the Bible. It was at one such tell that the story to be unfolded in the following pages had its beginning.
Early one morning in the autumn of 1916, any one who had chanced to be standing on this tell would have noticed, far in the eastern sky, a moving speck. It might have been a gigantic bird, but that, as it approached, its flight was swifter, more direct, more noisy. As it came nearer, it swept round in an immense circle, then descended in a spiral course, skimmed the surface of the tell, and finally alighted on a clear and level stretch of ground on the western side.
Through all its ages of solitude the tell had never known so strange a visitant. The shades of ancient priests and soothsayers might be imagined to shrink away from this intruder upon their haunts. What had remotest antiquity to do with this symbol of modernity, the last word in scientific invention in a world of scientific marvels?
Some such thoughts as these seemed to grip one of the two young men who disengaged themselves from the aeroplane.
“So this is your tell!” cried the elder of the two, in the loud tones that bespeak a cheerful soul. He looked with an air of mockery at the rugged contours of the mound.
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