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Bibby, T. Geoffrey, 1917-2001.

Discoverer of Gilgamesh's Island.
The pioneer of Arabian archaeology.

British archaeologist who, with Peter Vilhelm Glob, unearthed the 4,000-year-old kingdom of Dilmun in Bahrain. In Sumeria mythology, Dilmun was a secret island of everlasting life that was explored by the epic hero Gilgamesh.

An enthusiastic Viking, Bibby made his own chain-mail vests, which occasionally caused weight problems at airports
London Times   (see below)
New York Times (see below)


New York Times
February 20, 2001
T. Geoffrey Bibby, Discoverer of Gilgamesh's Island, Dies at 83

Geoffrey Bibby, an archaeologist who unearthed a 4,000-year-old kingdom on Bahrain, proving the arid island state in the Persian Gulf to be richer in history than in oil, died on Feb. 6 in a hospital near Aarhus, Denmark, where he had lived for 50 years. He was 83.

In the mythology of Sumeria, Dilmun was a secret island where the epic hero Gilgamesh went in search of eternal life. It was portrayed as a place without death or sickness and with an abundance of sweet waters. Using the text of the legend, written in verse on clay tablets, Mr. Bibby and his colleagues established a connection between Dilmun, presumed to be a mythical paradise, and Bahrain, the very real island off the coast of Saudi Arabia.

In 1953, Mr. Bibby and Prof. Peter Vilhelm Glob, a colleague at Aarhus University in Denmark, set off with a team to search for the mysterious realm. After several years of expeditions, Mr. Bibby and his colleagues verified the existence of Dilmun, a "considerable city," under the capital of Bahrain, Manama.

Mr. Bibby concentrated on one site under and around the ramparts of a 16th-century Portuguese fort and on another to the west at Barbar, the site of a temple built in the third millennium B.C.

He discovered enough artifacts to show that Dilmun was the rich capital of an independent kingdom and the center of trade between Sumeria, a region of Mesopotamia that is now Iraq, and a civilization in the Indus River Valley, now Pakistan and western India.

Mr. Bibby also found clues about the early civilization in ancient burial mounds, numbering in the thousands, that he called "the biggest known prehistoric cemetery." He visited them for the 35th and final time in 1997.

Many mounds had been plundered in the distant past. But they yielded further evidence of Dilmun's importance as a commercial hub, a status that, incidentally, Bahrain has been reclaiming now that its oil reserves are waning.

Mr. Bibby told of his digs in "Looking for Dilmun," a highly praised book that remains in print. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times wrote, "It's enough to turn us all into archaeologists."

But Mr. Bibby did not confine himself to Arabia. His "Four Thousand Years Ago," a panorama of life in much of the inhabited world from 2000 to 1000 B.C., is also in print.

Closer to home, he wrote "The Testimony of the Spade," a survey of European prehistory of the Stone and Bronze Ages, north of the Alps, from 15,000 B.C. to the Vikings. Its sweep reached from Russia to Ireland, from the cave dwellers of France and the Norse sagas to the "barbarian" tribes described by Caesar and Tacitus.

He also wrote about the "bog people" of northern Europe, particularly Grauballe Man, the well-preserved body of a hanged man circa 190 B.C. and excavated in Denmark in 1950.

Trained as a classical archaeologist and versed in Assyrian scripts, Mr. Bibby was a curator at the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus and an archaeological field director at Aarhus University. He retired in 1987.

Thomas Geoffrey Bibby was born on Oct. 14, 1917, in Heversham, England. He was educated at Cambridge and served with British intelligence in World War II. At one point, he was sent to join the Danish resistance, which Professor Glob had also joined.

Soon after the war and failing to find work in his field, he took a job with the Iraq Petroleum Company in Bahrain for three years. On a home visit, he met Vibeke Tscherning, a Danish au pair at a vicarage in Britain, and married her in 1949. Visiting her parents, he met Mr. Glob, who by then was a professor of prehistoric archaeology and director of the prehistoric collection of the Moesgaard Museum, at a dinner. They linked up to solve the controversy over the whereabouts of Dilmun, the paradise visited by Gilgamesh, a land given to Ziusudra, the Babylonian Noah, after the flood.

In addition to his wife, who often accompanied him on expeditions, he is survived by a daughter and two sons, all of Denmark.

Professor Glob died in 1985.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
The Times (London)

Geoffrey Bibby
Archaeologist who showed that Arabia had an ancient history, no less than Europe or the Levant, and wrote inspiring books for beginners
Geoffrey Bibby was the pioneer of Arabian archaeology. In search of the lost land of Dilmun, he set out from Denmark in 1953, carrying with him a royal gerfalcon for the ruler of Bahrain. As far as Beirut, the journey was fraught with delays, incorrect visas and discomforts. Once in Arab territory, however, there were first-class seats and VIP treatment, even a midnight opening of the airport restaurant — all for the falcon only.
Geoffrey Bibby could make himself at home in a desert camp, in a ruler’s palace or at a European dinner table, and was respected in England, his native country, in Denmark, the country he adopted, and in the Gulf, especially Bahrain, where he made his greatest contribution to archaeology.

He was born near Heversham, Westmorland, the second of four sons. He attended Lancaster Royal Grammar School, and then read Classics and oriental studies at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Practical experience in archaeology on Hadrian’s Wall was curtailed by the war.

He served with the Royal Artillery, and when MI6 discovered that his language abilities included a little Swedish, he found himself for two years on the Faeroe Isles, questioning Norwegian fishermen about German movements in the North Sea. Be- coming competent in Danish too, he was transferred to Special Operations Executive, and helped to plan the bombing of Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus where, ironically, he was to spend most of his life.

In Denmark with the Army after the liberation, Bibby met the resistance fighter and archaeologist P. V. Glob at a dinner party. From their subsequent partnership, the archaeology of Arabia was born.

In 1947 there were, as now, few paid opportunities for archaeologists, and Bibby spent three years working for the Iraq Petroleum Company, based in Bahrain. In 1949 he married Vibeke Tscherning, au pair to the vicar of Warton, in Lancashire. Visiting her parents in Aarhus, he again encountered Glob, who was by then Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology and Director of the Prehistoric Museum in Moesgaard. Together they planned an expedition to Bahrain to hunt for the mysterious land of Dilmun.

Mentioned in the world’s earliest writings, Dilmun was a trading entrepot supplying ancient Mesopotamia, and featured in the epic of Gilgamesh as the land given to Ziusudra (the Babylonian “Noah”) after the Flood. Its location was a major scholarly controversy, and there were clues which pointed to Bahrain.

The Danish Expeditions began in 1953 as a two-man survey. Six years later they were thirty-strong and spread over five Gulf countries. They established a base at the medieval fortress of Qala’at al-Bahrain, gradually investigating older levels beneath it while living in a palm-leaf encampment in the courtyard. This proved to conceal the capital of Dilmun, dating back into the 3rd millennium BC.

The nearby contemporary temple of Barbar was also excavated, along with many other areas. As the rest of the Gulf took in the surprising news that Arabia, no less than Europe or the Levant, had an ancient history, Bibby’s expertise was repeatedly called on to set up surveys and expeditions elsewhere.

Glob, Peder Mortensen and others on the Danish team continued and expanded the academic and technical aspects of the archaeology. While Bibby’s scholarship was excellent, he had a particular genius for public relations, for being able to articulate what was important and interesting about a discovery as easily to a sheikh or an amateur as to a specialist. This bore particular fruit in sponsorship and funding, especially from the Carlsberg Foundation.

Just as adept with the written as the spoken word, Bibby wrote books which have been directly responsible for enticing many young people into a career in archaeology. He acknowledged that he had left to his successors the grind of producing full academic reports, and wrote instead for the non-specialist in Testimony of the Spade (1956) and Four Thousand Years Ago (1961). He is best known for the absorbing Looking for Dilmun (1969), his engaging account of the Danish Expeditions in Arabia, which endures as an example of good scholarship and accomplished storytelling.

In between expeditions, Bibby held various posts at Moes- gaard Museum, Aarhus, and from about 1970 took charge of the information department, a job at which, with his superb communication skills, he excelled. One of his ideas was an annual Viking fair, an event that was copied over much of Europe, and frequented by enthusiasts dressed and equipped as Vikings. Bibby fashioned and wore his own chain- mail vests, their weight occasionally causing problems on international flights.

He officially retired in 1987 but maintained an active interest in the museum and in 1993 he was invited, with Vibeke, back to Bahrain, by the London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition, a new British initiative which gave fundraising and public relations a high profile, and with which he seemed to find an instant rapport. There he gave lectures, signed books, socialised tirelessly, and obliged the media, his customary good grace quite undiminished.

Other invitations followed, from the Bahrain Government, special interest groups, and tour operators, so that during his last active years he was able to enjoy renewed contact with many old friends, and to continue making new ones. He never lost the facility to take interest in others, nor his enthusiasm for new discoveries.

He is survived by his wife, who took part in several of his expeditions, and by their daughter and two sons.

Geoffrey Bibby, archaeologist, was born on October 14, 1917. He died on February 6 aged 83.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.