Unearthed (2016–…): Season 6, Episode 5 - Tower of Babel: The New Evidence - full transcript

The Tower of Babel is one of the most famous stories of the Bible. To find out if it really existed, archaeologists use cutting-edge tech and the latest science to investigate how ancient ...

Mysterious ruins
in the heart of iraq,

Could clues here reveal evidence
of the lost city of babylon

And its legendary
tower of babel?

There is no doubt
that we are standing

In one of the most
important places on earth.

The bible says that
the tower of babel is tall enough

To reach the heavens,
a plan so audacious,

It enrages god.

It's such a statement.
It's such a legacy.

But did the tower
actually exist?

Could the ancient babylonians
really construct a skyscraper?

Today, investigators

Use pioneering
drone-scanning technology

To investigate
the biblical story.

This is what we're looking for,

The foundations for something
that looks like this.

With unprecedented
access to a country

Which still bears the scars
of war, we'll unearth the truth.

We'll blow apart
the fabled city of babylon.

We'll reconstruct the lost
tower of babel

And reveal
ancient engineering genius

To discover the secrets
of this mysterious lost world.

EP - 5 - Tower of Babel: The New Evidence


For decades, this country
has been torn apart by war.

But in ancient times,
this land is once home

To a thriving civilization
we call mesopotamia.

It's the place where
humankind first begins to write,

Read, and live in cities.

Its most famous city is babylon,
home to spectacular monuments,

Including the legendary
hanging gardens.

Today, the surviving fragments
of this lost world

Fascinate archaeologists,
but years of conflict

Means the area
has barely been investigated.

Now our cameras have been
granted unique access

To follow archaeologists
as they venture into this

Rarely seen country.

In this dusty desert landscape

Is said to lie
the fabled tower of babel.

Its mighty terraces make it
a monument so immense,

It marks the center
of the world.

The bible describes how
the tower rises so high,

It touches the heavens...

...An example of human pride
that enrages god.

But could a tower
so tall truly exist,

And if so, where does it stand?

Jeff allen investigates
ancient sites

In the world's
most war-torn regions.

In times of turmoil, what seems
often most important

Is the present.

It's my job to take care
of the past

And make sure
that it is protected.

Today, jeff is on a mission

To find one of iraq's
most famous monuments.

We know that babel
is a real place.

It's the hebrew word
for babylon.

Babel means babylon,
the largest city in the ancient world,

Fabled for its
awe-inspiring beauty.

The tower of babel has been
imagined by artists

For centuries.

Here is a classical depiction
of tower.

It's actually kind of like
a giant wedding cake,

A large circular tower that
reaches up through the heavens.

This is what we're looking for,

The foundations for something
that looks like this.

The remains
of ancient babylon lie

On the banks of the river

Near iraq's capital, baghdad.

The former dictator
saddam hussein

Inaccurately reconstructs
much of babylon

Directly on top
of its ancient ruins.

He even builds this modern
palace for himself,

Making the task of unearthing
the real babylon even harder.

Babylon has a long and well
attested description

Of its wonders through history.

Today, after neglect and periods
of turmoil,

It's difficult to see
that quite often,

But if the tower really existed,
it would've been here.

Over 2,000 years ago,

A stunning spectacle rises
out of this landscape.

The main entrance to babylon
is through the magnificent

Ishtar gate
clad in dazzling blue

And decorated with ornate
animals marching into the city.

And inside the gate
is the most glorious city

In the ancient world...

...Home to the fabled
hanging gardens,

Legend says,
created for a queen.

And in the center of it all
stands a stairway to the sky,

But did this tower
really exist here,

And if so, in what form?

Jeff works with an iraqi
antiquities team

To investigate this mystery.

It makes perfect sense
that something here inspired

The biblical story
of the great tower.

When the tower is built,

Babylon is home
to thousands of enslaved jews.

They are held in captivity

The babylonian conquest
of ancient israel,

And it's here in babylon

That the jews write
the first books of the bible.

They write about the tower
in the book of genesis.

What they were doing
was describing what they saw,

And what they saw
must have been right here.

The city covers over
2,000 acres...

...Yet decades of war
mean only a tiny fraction

Of its original buildings
have been excavated.

There is no doubt
that we are standing

In one of the most
important places on earth.

Babylon at the peak of its fame

Is the work of a great
warrior king, nebuchadnezzar.

Iraqi archaeologist
ammar mohsin aboud finds evidence

That nebuchadnezzar built the

So, jeff, as you know,
there is...

the bricks of the ancient city

Are still stamped with its
builder's name, nebuchadnezzar.

The city of babylon is founded
around 2200 b.C.

It grows to become the capital
of the mighty babylonian empire.

It attracts a string
of conquerors

Who destroy and rebuild the city
over the centuries.

But it's in nebuchadnezzar's
reign in the 6th century b.C.

That babylon reaches its peak.

He builds the hanging gardens
and the ishtar gate.

It's now the largest city
in the world.

But does he build
the tower of babel?

This is a sensitive
military zone,

But to search for the tower,

Jeff has been granted
special permission

To take to the air.

The team uses a high-resolution

To capture an extraordinary view
of ancient babylon.

Processional way.


Bit of landmark.

Yes, yes, yes.

Perfect. - Perfect.

From the air, the vast
scale of the city starts to become clear.

The drone takes over 200
high-resolution photos

As it soars over
the sprawling site.

From high above the
modern-day reconstruction of babylon,

The drone reveals the remains
of the legendary city,

Mysterious shapes now
covered in millennia

Of desert sand and vegetation.

- That's our team right there.
- Yes.

I see. I see.

Jeff looks for
the remains of the tower,

Hunting for signs
of giant circular foundations,

But the images reveal
something unexpected.

Babylonian's built
straight walls.

We don't find many curved walls,

So it's highly unlikely
that the tower of babylon

Was round in form.

It may not
look like the old paintings,

But the drone detects
something unusual here.

A huge square mound rises up
from the undergrowth

Beyond the walled city.

Could this be the remains
of the tower of babel?

Babylon, iraq...

After years of restricted access

To this former war zone,

Investigators searching
for the tower of babel

Find a mysterious mound
enormous in size.

Could this be evidence
of the tower?

Right here stood something
so immense

And probably one
of the largest structures

Of its kind in its day.

It measures exactly 300 feet,

Which is the size
of a football field.

It must have been an
immense building.

The size of these foundations
clearly say

That this could be
the tower of babylon.

At the edge of the site,

Archaeologists unearth
a cylindrical tablet

Inscribed in an ancient language
that tells of a great tower

Called etemenanki
that's so tall,

It reaches the heavens,

And hidden deeper
in the foundations

Are hundreds of ancient bricks,
each exactly 12 inches square...

...And stamped with the name
king nebuchadnezzar.

Is etemenanki really
the tower of babel?

Jeff needs proof.

The inscription on the tablet
says the tower that once

Stands here is so colossal,
it reaches the heavens.

This matches the description
of the tower

In the bible's book of genesis.

But if the tower stands so tall,
where's the rest of it?

Jeff works with archaeologist
ammar mohsin aboud

To search for clues.

We've heard rumors

That something
really interesting exists

In a nearby town of al-hillah.

The bustling city of al-hillah

Is once a battleground
in the iraq war

And more recently the site
of isis insurgency.

Ammar has been granted
special access

To this old, abandoned
synagogue in al-hillah.

He believes the site may provide

Further evidence
for the tower's existence.

They do not have
nebuchadnezzar's name on them,

But their unique size
is the same as found at babylon.

These distinctive bricks
are embedded in buildings

All over the old town.

Established in
the 11th century a.D.,

Al-hillah is a thriving city
on the banks of the euphrates,

Just miles from ancient babylon.

People from al-hillah

Take bricks
from the ruins of babylon,

Then use them
to build their own city.

Over many centuries,
people travel from far and wide

To gather the bricks,

Repurposing them into homes
and even a huge dam.

The potential to be used
and reused again

And again obviously
was important to people,

And that's why today we see very
little left of a standing tower,

A mound of broken
bricks and rubble.

The bricks that once
make the tower have long gone,

But nearly 3,000 years ago,

Could the ancient babylonians
really construct a skyscraper?

believe they have identified the site

Of the legendary tower of babel
here in babylon, iraq.

The bible tells us we once
all speak the same language,

But our arrogance in building
a huge tower angers god.

He punishes us by making us
all speak different languages.

But can the ancient babylonians
really build so high

That it enrages god?

The ancient bricks that survive
provide clues

To the tower's structure?

In the center of the foundations
are bricks made

Of compacted mud and straw.

Millions of them
form the tower's core.

All around them are rows and
rows of another layer of bricks.

Together, they create a base
the size of 30 tennis courts.

On top, more bricks stack up
to create a hollow tower.

But are mud bricks strong enough
to build a tower so high,

The ancients believe
it touches the sky?

Much of ancient babylon is built
using bricks made of mud

Taken from the euphrates river.

It's pressed into molds,
strengthened by adding straw,

Then dried in the sun.

This traditional method
is still widely used.

Dr. Ezzeldin yazeed
is a professor of construction

Engineering at the american
university in cairo.

Ez wants to find out how tall
you can build using the same

Sort of bricks available
to nebuchadnezzar.


Ez wants to find out
the exact strength

Of this
mud-and-straw-reinforced brick.

So how high can
the ancient babylonians build

With these bricks?

That's only 65 feet.

So what is the babylonian

This mud brick is
shaped and then placed into a kiln.

It's fired at over 350 degrees
fahrenheit for 3 days.

The remains of ancient kilns
like this

Are found across the region.

But does this fired mud
brick allow

The king
to build a taller tower?

Ez conducts the stress test
on the brick fired in the kiln,

Gradually increasing
the pressure.

Ez now calculates
how high nebuchadnezzar

Can build with his fired bricks.

That's nearly the
height of three lincoln memorials.

With bricks fired in the kiln,
the ancient babylonians

Can build over four times higher
than with mud-and-straw bricks.

But there is a way of building
even higher.

Ez believes a very large clue

Lies close to the university
in cairo.

The egyptians
start building pyramids

In the third millennium b.C.
As tombs for royalty.

The babylonians have their own
version stepped into tiers

Called a ziggurat,

Not a tomb but a statement
of power built by a king.

Ez believes the tower of babel
is a ziggurat.

This shape allows the
ancient babylonians

To build taller
than ever before.

Now ez wants to know,
"how tall is that?"

Ez uses the data from the stress
test to create a computer model.

It simulates a ziggurat

Built with
king nebuchadnezzar's bricks.

No, no, no, same thing,
so remove that.

Ninety meters.

It's almost 300 feet high,

Nearly the same height
as the statue of liberty.

It's an
astonishing demonstration

Of babylonian know-how.

But bricks alone do
not guarantee

This megastructure will last.

Ancient jewish texts say

That a great wind sent
by god destroys the tower.

Can the real tower weather
this region's many storms?

The tower of babel,

A stepped pyramid that soars
300 feet into the skies,

How does this magnificent
ancient wonder survive

In a region of extreme heat,
floods, and earthquakes?

The tower of babel is
an incredible feat

Of ancient engineering.

Millions of hard baked mud

Bricks make up
the terraces' exterior walls,

And in between the bricks,

Builders use a type of mortar
described in the bible

As slime... a thick black glue,
to cement them together.

So what exactly is this
mysterious slime,

And how does it help
the babylonians build structures

That last?

Today, archaeologists are
returning to babylon

In a region long scarred by war.

Jeff allen thinks a clue
explaining the mysterious

Slime lies
in the remains of ancient

Babylon's walled city.

The bible describes
babel's construction.

It says the builders
use a slime and mortar,

And if you look at this,
you can see a black substance

That's similar to as described
in the bible

Used as a mortar between
the bricks at ishtar gate.

In egypt, dr. Ezzeldin yazeed

Believes he knows
what the black slime is...

A sticky,
semisolid oil called bitumen.

It seeps naturally from
the ground in oil-rich iraq.

But does bitumen do
more than hold the bricks in place?

To find out, ez and his team
build a model ziggurat.

The inner core is made
from bricks dried in the sun.

The outside is made from bricks
fired in the kiln

Just like the tower of babel.

They coat the exterior
with a layer of bitumen.

Then they build a
second ziggurat without bitumen.

This rig is designed to
simulate the heavy spring rainfall

In iraq.

Both ziggurats get a soaking.

The water soon
permeates the uncoated ziggurat.

It soaks the structure's
dried mud core,

But the bitumen-coated ziggurat
seems to be fine.

As the mud inside the
bare-brick model erodes away,

Its walls lose their support.

The uncoated ziggurat
is no match for the forces of nature.

It's another story for
the ziggurat coated in bitumen.

The biblical account seems true.

The so-called slime really does
hold the tower together

And allow the babylonians
to build a skyscraper.

But what does this ancient
wonder look like when complete,

And why did the ancient
babylonians build it?

Ancient babylon...

Home to the tower of babel,

Constructed from mud
and bitumen,

One of the largest buildings
in the ancient world,

But what does it look like
when complete?

The book of genesis says,

"it's so tall,
it reaches the heavens."

Ancient tablets in babylon

The tower's magnificent summit.

It gleams a brilliant blue
and molded into the brickwork

Intricate depictions
of a strange animal,

A mythical hybrid,
part snake, part dragon.

Shimmering spectacularly
in the hot sun,

This celestial skyscraper towers
above babylon.

How do the babylonians create

Such a spectacular masterpiece
clad in a brilliant blue?

King nebuchadnezzar plans

To build the most
magnificent tower ever seen.

He wants its blue summit
to dominate the horizon,

But that gives
the king a problem.

Looking around at the landscape,

Lots of greens, lots of browns
but no blue, so question is,

How did the ancient babylonians
get such brilliant blue glazes?

Archaeologist zahed taj-eddin

Investigates what
makes the tower so blue.

Zahed specializes in the glazes
on ancient artifacts and tiles.

He begins by examining

Own description of the tower
found on a tablet in babylon.

"I built etemenanki,
the ziggurat of babylon,

And brought it to completion
and raised high its top

With a pure tile
glazed with lapis lazuli."

So lapis lazuli, here it is.

Lapis lazuli is
a semiprecious stone.

Its intense blue color makes it
prized across the ancient world.

It's mentioned several times
in the bible.

Zahed investigates how the king
can possibly cover

The top of the tower
with a semiprecious stone.

He makes a glaze by mixing
lapis lazuli

With a natural glue
called gum arabic.

Now the lapis lazuli
powder is fixed with gum arabic,

And it's kind of,
like, semipermanent,

So they would use it
on decorating

Maybe frescos or later
in decorating manuscripts.

But this glaze also
needs to be weatherproof.

They might
thought if they put it in the kiln,

They might have, like,
a permanent result,

And then they can use it
on the bricks.

To fix the glaze,
zahed bakes the tile in his kiln.

Here it is after firing.

It's no longer beautiful
and blue and dazzling,

So, yeah, it's failure.

The vivid blue glaze
has disappeared,

Yet nebuchadnezzar says
he uses tiles of lapis lazuli

On his tower.

Zahed thinks he knows
how he does it.

It starts with the art
of glassmaking.

They already were
experiencing with the glass,

Which is silica pebbles.

If you grind it and heat it,

You need about 1,700 degrees
for it to melt.

Craftsmen make glass
by heating silica,

Which comes from sand
or rocks, until it melts.

Liquid glass can also be used
to produce shiny glazes

For pottery.

Nebuchadnezzar now has a new
challenge for his workmen.

He wanted lapis lazuli color.

'to create
different-colored glazes,

They add minerals to
the ground-up silica pebbles.

Zahed paints on a glaze
containing two minerals

Readily available
to the ancient babylonians...

Copper oxide, which looks
dark green, and blue cobalt.

So here we are,
the moment of truth.

Lapis lazuli blue.

So that addition transformed
the glaze

Into this kind of deep blue,

And now we know why
in ancient mesopotamia

They would refer to this bricks
as lapis lazuli.

The tower of babel's
builders create an ingenious way

To cheaply mimic
the blue color of lapis lazuli.

And that was great alchemy,
great secret.

All of the sudden
have this glass

That substitute semiprecious
stones right at hand.

It's such a statement.

It's such a legacy.

It's there to stay
and still impress us today.

And the striking color
it creates gives a clue

To the purpose of the tower.

The babylonians worshipped
the god marduk.

He wears an elaborate horned
crown of gold and lapis lazuli.

Marduk's shrines
and temples throughout babylon

Are decorated lavishly
with the rich blue color,

And the city's processional way
is clad in lapis blue

Ready for the annual
new-year parade

They hold in marduk's honor.

The tower was a shrine
dedicated to the god marduk.

The sides most likely
were decorated with dragons.

This was marduk's sacred animal.

The immense tower is
built to honor the babylonians' god.

But why does the bible claim
the tower is so tall,

It reaches the heavens?

The legendary tower of babel,

Its story is recorded
in the bible.

With unique access to babylon,

Archaeologists believe
they've found the site of this

Fabled ancient wonder.

The tower is an ancient
300-foot-high ziggurat

Known to the babylonians
as etemenanki.

The bible says it's so tall,
it touches the heavens.

Medieval paintings show
the summit of the tower

Shrouded in clouds.

This is a typical depiction
of the tower of babel.

The one thing they all have
in common

Is a structure
that reached into the clouds.

But does the tower
really stretch that high,

Or is this an exaggeration made
by the enslaved jews of babylon

Who write the bible story?

Jeff once again turns
to his eye in the sky.

Up it goes!

They take the drone up
to an altitude of 300 feet...

...The same height
as the top of the tower.

It allows jeff to imagine
what babylonians standing

On its summit could once see.

The spectacular city
stretches out beneath,

But the tower is a long way
from reaching the clouds.

Jeff thinks he has a more
likely explanation

For the tower's
fabled mist-covered pinnacle.

Excavations when
they were done here previously,

They could not go lower
than a few meters

Because of the high water table.

Babylon of course
is next to the river.

Over time,
the euphrates has changed course,

And 2,500 years ago, the river
runs close to the tower.

Historically it was much closer,

So the tower would've stood
there right next to the river.

A few hundred
miles from babylon,

There are vast mountain ranges
with snowcapped peaks

Which help to feed
the nearby rivers.

In the spring,
the mountain snow melts,

Swelling the euphrates
and tigris rivers

And flooding babylon
and the plains below.

It meant that, in the spring,

The ground
surrounding the ziggurat

Was more waterlogged
than it is today,

And after a cold desert night,

The morning sun
would heat the ground,

Creating this kind of mist.

The babylon ziggurat
right next to the river

Is engulfed in this mist
as if it's touching the clouds.

We know that the same effect
exists at other places,

For example, the taj mahal,

But at babylon,
imagine a 300-foot tower

Surrounded by a sea of clouds,
a mist,

And resting on top of it
this brilliant blue shrine,

It must have been amazing.

This atmospheric
phenomenon may explain why the tower

Is believed
to touch the heavens.

But according to ancient
jewish text,

God is so angered
by this ambitious project

That he sends a great wind
and destroys it.

Today, investigators
piece together

The true fate of the tower.

Babylon is conquered
by the persians

After nebuchadnezzar's death.

They prohibit the worship
of the god marduk

And smash a hole in the tower.

The greek king,
alexander the great,

Captures babylon
from the persians

And tears down the damaged tower
with plans to rebuild it.

But in 323 b.C., alexander dies,
leaving the tower of babel

As a pile of bricks ripe
for looting

Over the coming millennia.

of war keep babylon in ruins

Until saddam hussein
builds a palace on the site.

Today, jeff and
the world monuments fund

Work with local conservationists
to safeguard

The once-magnificent city
of babylon

For future generations.

It is of immense
significance and important to us

That we've been asked
to participate

With our iraqi friends
in preserving their history

Not just for the people of iraq

To only see
but for the whole world

To experience
their great accomplishments.

The tower of babel is
an extraordinary triumph

Of engineering.

Using just mud,
straw, and bitumen,

The babylonians build a tower
more magnificent

Than any seen before.

Shining a brilliant blue,
it soars into the skies

A spectacular monument
to human ingenuity.