The “So-called Tower of Babel”

[Image: The “so-called Tower of Babel,” photographed in 1932; courtesy Library of Congress.]

I posted these on social media the other day, but I thought I’d include them here simply because of how much I love the casually jaw-dropping caption used for these over at the Library of Congress. This eerie pile of bricks looming over the desert, photographed back in 1932?

It’s nothing other than “Possibly the Tower of Babel,” or the “So-called Tower of Babel.” No biggie.

[Images: “Possibly the Tower of Babel” photographed in 1932; courtesy Library of Congress.]

As novelist Paul M.M. Cooper responded on Twitter, the site is still extent today. Iraqi-Dutch filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, Cooper wrote, “used it as a backdrop for a memorable scene in his movie Son of Babylon.”

Here it is on Google Maps.

[Image: The “so-called Tower of Babel,” photographed in 1932; courtesy Library of Congress.]

The Library of Congress also refers to the site as an “extinct city,” which is a fabulous phrase, complete with its own “Watchman of the Ruins,” only adding to the mythic weight of the place.

[Image: “Possibly the Tower of Babel,” photographed in 1932; courtesy Library of Congress.]

Even better, I now have an excuse to post some paintings of the Tower of Babel, as seen through the lens of European art history…

[Image: “The Tower of Babel” (1595) by Abel Grimmer, via Wikimedia Commons.]

[Image: “The Tower of Babel” (1563) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, via Fine Art America.]

Check out several more photos—including a later, color version—over at the Library of Congress.

2 thoughts on “The “So-called Tower of Babel””

  1. Hypothesis: what if radio interference was one of the many crisis that caused the Bronze Age collapse?

    tldr: this is the boring corporate version of Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash virus

    What if the Tower of Babel, Ziggarats and the Pyramids were crystal radios that people were using to talk with each-other, but it caused a similar rupture in society as our communication technology has ours?

    If you had enough crystal you could trigger a signal via mechanical means. Like, say, a huge pile of quartz.

    What if generating this signal were extremely environmentally destructive? Basically, you might be generating an explosion big enough to make the entire pile shake and the quartz to rub up against itself. There would have to be lots of ceremony to get the mixture right. Especially without our understanding of science and communication. Chemical reactions have oscillation sometimes — you can hear them sometimes. Imagine a mixture like that bubbling through the pyramid.

    A global communications network would be just as valuable back then as it is now. Which would explain away the economic wonkiness of “why they built the pyramids”. Same reason we built the Amazon cluster up in Utah (a similarly massive economic outlay as a pyramid): global communications are valuable.

    But if all this communications network is built on high-secret-ceremony, when the ceremony breaks the communication might stop. It would be very easy to kill a communications network in less than a generation this way.

    You might have to change how you speak to get through interference in this system, and if a lot of voices were using it, and communicating across a society, it could be only a generation or two before all of society was separated out into its parts and incapable of communicating with itself. With no incentive or understanding to limit use of a public good like this, interference of too many people using this radio network might have made it worthless. A confusion of tongues.

    Imagine if whenever you wanted to switch careers you had to learn a brand new language and symbolic system. Imagine if all your politics were determined by your societal position and there was no all-inclusive politics outside of raw authority. Without a larger superstructure to reason with itself, society could fragment and not be able to comprehend itself very quickly.

    Anywho, it’s not like it’s happening now or anything!

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