April 11, 1867. Yesterday, Tincy Lycklama arrived at Hillah, the modern town that lies near the ancient city of Babylon. Today, Tinco proceeds with excavations in the Omran section of Babylon’s ruins. He proudly adds many interesting artefacts to his collections. Some, it seems, have disappeared. Tinco also misses the opportunity of a lifetime. He could have made archaeological history – if only he had dug deep enough and found the Cyrus Cylinder.
When Tinco reaches the rubbles of Babylon, he concentrates on three major sections: the Omran mound (known today as Tell Amran-ibn-Ali ), the Kasr, and the Umdjelibeh fortress. For guidance, he brought along the books written by previous archaeological explorers such as Austin Layard and Henry Rawlinson, who did extensive surveys of the site in 1850 and 1853, respectively.
The Omran mound was identified as a place of burial. Tinco Lycklama made the sensible assumption that he could make some discoveries here. Early in the morning, his five hired hands started digging – including Youssouf, the teamleader who had worked for Rawlinson fourteen years earlier.
Let’s be fair. The Omran mound is huge. But, it is here that Hormuzd Rassam would discover the Cyrus Cylinder in 1879. This cylinder with cuneiform inscriptions provides us with considerable insights into the Achaemenid dynasty (c550-330 BCE). The great Cyrus started his empire from Pasargadae, before Darius built the new and magnificent capital of Persepolis. The cylinder is also considered as the first attempt to establish a universal declaration of human rights. To the Pahlevi in the 20th century, it was the embodiment of a Persian monarchic continuity that lasted since 2,500 years.
Tinco Lycklama was not equipped to undertake serious archaeological work. Nor did he plan to stay more than two days at Babylon. He was however, the only westerner to visit and examine the site between 1854 and 1879. His observations were valuable to others. Upon his return to Europe, and throughout the 1870s, he travelled several times to London, and it is quite possible that he met with officials at the British Museum, including Hormuzd Rassam. Finally, it was Rassam who found the Cyrus Cylinder and brought it to the British Museum (where it is still on display today).
Tinco didn’t leave Babylon empty-handed. Quite the contrary! The first inventory of his ‘Oriental Museum‘ (in his native Beetsterzwaag) has no less than 206 entries from Babylon. It includes statues, coins, jewelry, tablets, and pieces of pottery. He also unearthed two rare terracotta bowls with Aramaic inscriptions, which are significant for understanding elements of the judaic belief system. However, besides a few exceptions, the vast majority of Tinco’s artefacts from Babylon have never been analysed by scientists. The true value of Tinco’s finds remains unknown.
The most puzzling story about Tinco’s excavations at Babylon concerns two stone coffins. Following his instructions, his team dug deep and uncovered two untouched tombs. The coffins held human remains and a variety of funeral objects. One of the skulls carried a headband in goldleaf, which broke into fragments when Tinco examined it. He kept the fragments in a paper envelope, but also decided to take both coffins and their content with him. It took two mules to carry both coffins back to Hillah.
There is no trace of these coffins at the Musée de la Castre – the municipal museum in Cannes (F) that houses the Lycklama collections. Actually, there is mention of them either in the afore-mentioned inventory of 1871.
We know that Tinco entrusted his agents – the Swiss merchants Weber, Jaeger & Wartman in Baghdad – with the warehousing of the heavier objects, before shipping them to the Syrian city of Aleppo, where Tinco was heading later in 1867. From there, he would then organise transportation to Europe through the Messageries Impériales, via Beirut.
It is quite possible that the coffins never made it to Europe. However, Tinco’s secretary Ernest Massenot travelled to Beirut in December 1873 to recover a number of unidentified objects that had been stuck there because of the Franco-Prussian war. Also, Tinco talks openly about the coffins in the third volume of his books, published in 1874 – and nothing indicates that they might have been lost.
These lost coffins could have been significant treasures in the Lycklama collection. Their story adds to the many other mysteries surrounding Tinco’s life.