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The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: a Biography of L. A. Waddell

By Christine Preston
Sussex Academic Press, 2009.

Catalogue entry

Photo of Waddell enlarged from "Lhasa and its Mysteries", 1905.

At the turn of the 20th century the media referred to Lieut.-Col. Laurence Austine Waddell, MB, M.Ch, LL.D, C.B., C.I.E., FRAS, FLS,1 (1854-1938) as an 'authority on Buddhism' and the 'first scholar to have penetrated the mysteries of LamaÏsm.' He was known as an explorer of the Himalayas and the first European to have penetrated the esoteric Buddhism of Tibet after the publication of The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism (1895).2 This work was the result of research by direct contact with lamas while he was posted on the borders of Tibet, and of activities that were made possible because he had joined the Medical Service of the Indian Army in 1880. His career in the East as a British Army Officer culminated with a commission to acquire Tibetan manuscripts during the famous British expedition to Tibet of 1903-04. As he was successful, this contributed largely to his being put in the limelight in addition to the publication of Lhasa and its Mysteries in 1905. Apart from being an Orientalist, Waddell was also a philologist and linguist. He studied Sanskrit, Hindustani, Tibetan, and Sumerian, in addition to editing the Indian Medical Gazette's for a period of four years3 in India. He had extended his activity to Archaeology, Philology, and Ethnology,4 in his spare time. A report of the archaeological survey that Waddell carried out at Patna, India, in 1882, and that was published by the government of Bengal, had also caused great excitement among European Orientalists because he had discovered the lost Pataliputra, the capital of the kings of the Maurya Dynasty, and Asoka's palace at Pataliputra.5 Waddell had supervised excavations in between his military expeditions and his duties in Darjeeling after funding was provided.6 By that time, he was not a beginner in Archaeology as he had already carried out excavations at several Indian hermitages, and had been credited with the discovery of evidence for Gautama Buddha's historicity. He had been able to study Tibetan and the rituals of the lamas during the period of his assignment as Deputy Sanitary Commissioner for the Darjeeling District (1885-86 and 1888-95). He had also compiled data of a secular, political and topographical character, in the process of dangerous spying activities for the government referred to as the 'Great Game.' This 'gathering of intelligence' was carried out from the borders of Tibet before sanction permitted Europeans to cross its frontier.7 A British newspaper reported that he was acquainted with secret service agents and had made many attempts to reach Lhasa in disguise from Darjeeling. 8

In 1905, Waddell was again in the limelight due to an autobiography recounting the details of the famous 1903-04 military expedition to Lhasa, Tibet. He was assigned to accompany this expedition as Superintendent, head of Sanitary Services, and Chief Medical Officer, as well as commissioned to acquire a collection of ancient Tibetan manuscripts and curios, because his reputation as an authority on Tibetan Art was already well established after 1895. This position gave him the opportunity of entering Lhasa, which was a forbidden city at the time, with the British expedition. As he had permission to make official enquiries to acquire manuscripts for the government, he was able to search some lamaseries for ancient records for the purpose of his own research or what might be termed his own 'Aryan quest.' In other words, he was able to devote himself to these activities at the same time as he carried out his military duties. Waddell had indeed aspired to gain entry to Lhasa at the time he was posted in Darjeeling because of the hope that Lamaism was a repository of Indian or Brahmanist historical records relating to the Aryans and the diffusion of civilization. He had expected that in Tibet scriptures had not been destroyed as they were in India at the hand of Mohamedan invaders. Presumably there also was a chance some records had been left undisturbed in Lhasa due to the isolation of the latter from Western civilization.

Waddell had also aspired to go to Lhasa at the time it was forbidden to Europeans, to gather intelligence due to his involvement in the 'Great Game,' a fancy term for secret spying activities. The story that he received a large sum of government money to purchase Tibetan manuscripts was reported in the British press at the time of his departure, and again in 1904, to announce that many works had been donated to the British Museum and British Universities. This was in addition to reviews for his Lhasa and its Mysteries in 1905.

After conducting investigations with his assistant, David Macdonald (the author of Twenty Years in Tibet and a different person from the General Macdonald that he also referred to in his books), Waddell resigned himself to the fact that the Tibetan manuscripts he was able to study did not contain any record of ancient civilization. He came to such a conclusion after discussing the question with a public figure by the name of Regent Ti Rimpoché who told him he was not aware of the existence of historical secrets preserved in lamaseries. 9 This was how his personal quest ended. He mentioned the fact it would be a disappointment for people who hoped some proof that 'Atlanta was more than a myth' would be discovered in Tibet. After his return to Britain, Waddell was at last able to devote full-time to his research, 10 but he gained no recognition for it. In contrast with the fame he experienced during his career in the East (he lived in India and Tibet for 25 years), Waddell gained no recognition after his return to Britain, and his works said to be 'in a new field' on the Sumerian and Phoenician makers of civilization, and with an Aryan theme, were received as controversial. They were published in the 1920s when the term 'Aryan' was used for 'Indo-European.'

The year 1917 has been noted as a time of transition when Waddell 'began to display interest in a new field' 'dealing with Aryan or Sumerian origin,' and his works in this new field as having an 'Aryan theme.'11 However, this was a date of publication, not the year he started studying Sumerian (1908). The works published after 1917 incorporated the view that the Sumerians were Aryan or that the Aryans reached Mesopotamia under an unknown name. As far as scholars are concerned, the Sumerians remain nameless. Yes, they never found out what the Sumerians called themselves. In contrast with his achievements as a British Officer, his established reputation in the Oriental Field, and in spite of the fact he was professor of Tibetan at the University College of London from 1906-08, Waddell did not gain any recognition for the works published after 1917 in the category of the history of civilization. F. W. Thomas (1867-1956), an Orientalist and Philologist devoted to the history of British education in India, who pioneered a New School of Asian Philosophy and wrote about Tibetan mythology,12 observed that Waddell exploited the subject for the first time in an article published in the Asiatic Review in 1917.13 It was followed with the publication of Phoenician Origin of the Britons in 1924. Waddell explained that the fact that India was an ideal location to study the Aryan question was relevant to his decision to join the Indian Medical Service. His interest in the Aryans can therefore be traced back to 1880.

Researchers have sometime been unable to obtain scholarly assessments about Waddell's model of the history of civilizations, his theories, or his comparative studies. In one instance, a linguist who was approached replied he had never heard of him and 'dismissed his position on the basis of little information', using an argument that appeared as an 'evasion to the question'.14 Waddell is certainly little known in academic circles. This status may be due to the fact that scholarly assessments of his theories have so far been limited to short biographical references, i.e. in the Who Was Who, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The main sources used in the latter were an obituary published in The Glasgow Herald on the 20th September 1938, and an article by F. W. Thomas entitled 'Colonel L. A. Waddell' in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1939).15 There is a repeat of the material in the Dictionary of Indian Biography (1906).16 In the University of Glasgow Library can be found a number of letters that famous scholars wrote to Waddell in reply to his own correspondence, as well as letters or articles that were published in academic Journals, but acquaintance with archaeologists, their discoveries, and theories, is necessary to appreciate their significance, hence the need for a companion volume such as the biography I have written. This material, in addition to press cuttings and copies of reviews, is part of the 'Special Collections' and of 711 works from Waddell's personal library (including his own works). This collection was bequeathed to the University in 1939 following his death, at the age of 84, on the 19th September 1938. 17 A description for each book and document is maintained on an online catalogue.18

One of the reasons that Waddell's works on the history of civilization are little known today seems to be that they were controversial. In 1925 a reviewer stated that Waddell's views were so unorthodox that he would have to expect strong criticism because 'he had an enormous amount of prejudice to overcome.'19 Waddell admitted being 'at variance' with what seemed to be the 'established doctrine,' but argued he was an unbiased independent student of the history of civilization working by recognized scientific methods in what was the vast new-found field of Sumerology. 20 The year in which he started studying Sumerian, on a full time basis, was 1908.21 From about this date, he also became a follower of the pioneering group led by Henry Rawlinson, the scholar who first established the existence of the Sumerians, thereby creating a controversy over the fact that the Sumerian language was not Semitic. Rawlinson professed that the first speakers of Sumerian were of Scythic origin (synonymous of 'Syrian'). In the 1920s the controversy was still alive but the non-Semitic nature of Sumerian is now an accepted fact in scholarship.

In Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria I reconstruct Waddell's life and career, as well as shed light on the ideologies of those works of Waddell that appear to be little known today because they were sidelined, or bypassed. Among the sources available to reconstruct his life were reviews and articles in academic Journals, most of which were published for the purpose of opposing his claim of decipherment of the seals excavated by John Marshall in the Indus Valley.


Drawing of seals: I-XII and XIII-XIX – from Indo-Sumerian Seals Deciphered. The first two signs below the head of the animal according to Waddell mean EDIN and the third LORD to indicate the owner of the seal was 'Lord of Edin.'

Officially, in academic circles, those seals have not yet been deciphered. Waddell, however, contended he was able to read their inscriptions thanks to his knowledge of Sumerian. He found the signs more cursive than the cuneiform that is well known, and similar in shape to some inscriptions excavated by the famous Archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Abydos, that were believed to be Egyptian. They were dated to the period of the rule of the Sumerian ruler Sargon I. These inscriptions do exist but archaeologists and academics are not normally aware of their existence. Waddell also claimed to have been able to decipher these inscriptions with his knowledge of Sumerian whereas Egyptologists could not. His explanation for this was that the Egyptian civilization started out as a Sumerian dependency. Waddell built up a unique perspective of ancient history and of the origin of the main civilizations of the world on the basis of his overall research and decipherments. An example of the scripts he studied, and that helped him to decipher the Indus Valley seals, is provided in the illustrations in the biography and with this article.


Example of Sumerian pictograms and Phoenicia Cadmean letters.

Column 1 from G. A. Barton's standard plates
Column 2 Akkad cuneiform
Column 3 Egyptian, from Petrie's Formation of the Alphabet
Column 4 Early form of Phoenician letters in non-reversed Cadmean.

Waddell, 1927, Aryan Origin of the Alphabet.

The words 'Rise of Man' alludes to the effects of the creation of civilization, as per Waddell's interpretation of the mythological lore contained in the Elder Edda. This is the Edda of Codex Regius, not that in prose of Snorri Sturluson. Scholars now recognize that the Elder Edda was compiled by Samund 'the Learned' on parchment leaves. Waddell contended the language of the manuscript was mistaken as Scandinavian due to the similarity of Old Norse and Old English. Furthermore, the codex had been traced to a family that had settled in Iceland in AD 795 but had come from the West of Scotland. It is the reason that Waddell gave his work on this subject the title The British Edda. In the 1970s the codex was returned to Iceland as it was where it had been discovered and scholars acknowledged the language used in the Elder Edda was not Scandinavian. According to Waddell, manuscripts with Eddic poems were quite common in the British Isles up to the 6th century but were destroyed by Christian missionaries by the 11th century because they were viewed as pagan. The stories that were recorded on these manuscripts were recited at festivals. Waddell identified a multitude of Cappadocian and Sumerian place-names in the text of Codex Regius that revealed the lost origin of the tradition that 'Samund the Learned' preserved, as well as a scenario sometime parallel to the account of Genesis.

The decoded Edda discloses ancient Aryan makers of civilization (Lords, Asirs, men of Asia, Guti, or ancient Goths) taking possession of Thrace 5000 years ago, then establishing headquarters (called 'Himin' or 'Heaven') at Vidara (Pteria), Boghazkoy, in present Turkey, the home of later Hittites. These newcomers then fight a great battle in Eden as mighty armies rally from as far as Armenia under the leadership of El, or Ilu, to halt their invasion. Waddell viewed El as a powerful matriarch that had been deified during her own lifetime. In his opinion this ruler of the Old Chaldean world controlled a dragon-serpent cult and demanded blood sacrifices.

Waddell seems to have had an understanding of what scholars have referred to as the 'formula of the Indo-European and Hittite Serpent-Dragon slaying myths.' They have admitted its hidden meaning is still a mystery. According to Waddell the slaying of a dragon was symbolic of the eradication of the Serpent-dragon cult that existed in Cappadocia before the arrival of the Aryan Goths. It would have been eradicated because of the Aryans' victory over the matriarchal regime of Eden in about 3000 BC. The reason for the formation of the myth is that the Aryans' eradication of the serpent-dragon cult had the effect of freeing ancient man from evil. There is a primordial struggle between Light and Darkness in most mythologies and religions. The killing of Tiamat by Marduk in the Mesopotamian tradition also is a 'slaying of the dragon' myth. It has implications for Genesis as Tiamat (Tehom) is associated with watery chaos before cosmic creation, but Waddell believed that it was the chaos preceding the creation of civilization, and that the latter put order in the ancient Near-East. The legend of Saint Michael slaying the Red Dragon in the Book of Revelation would, according to Waddell, be a more recent adaptation of the historical events told in the Elder Edda.


After annexing the new territories of Eden to their Cappadocian kingdom, the Aryan Lords civilize indigenous people, including dwarves and Edenites, and bring them the benefits of irrigation and agriculture. Waddell viewed these innovations as important enough to give rise to legends such as the one about the 'Garden of Eden' in Genesis. Eden has been identified as the plain where the Sumerian civilization was created. The idea of civilization and agriculture are encapsulated in the term 'garden' in the title Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria. The Aryans imposed laws and spread their Sun-cult. Their knowledge caused a spiritual 'Rise of Man' that was spiritual as well as material. Waddell's history of the creation of civilization may offer some clues for the elucidation of questions that have remained unsolved in Archaeology. With Waddell the message is that in a period of decline the original sense of 'the rise of man' was lost and the golden age of civilization was remembered as a lost paradise.

Waddell was a pioneer as he asserted before Thorkild Jacobsen (one of the few scholars who studied the Sumerian King-lists) that the antediluvian dynasties of the Babylonian Isin Lists were the result of a duplication of material by the Isin priests. There were no dynasties before a Flood, he says. They were only postdiluvian dynasties because civilization started after the Flood. Waddell's comparative studies of the Indian and Babylonian king-lists permitted him to recover the fact that the dynasty that Ur-Nina founded was the very first dynasty of the Sumerians. Ur-Nina, according to Waddell, was known under other names such as Ur-Sagaga and King Dar, or Tur, and this king's achievements were told in the Elder Edda as Thor's. The dissimilarity was dependent upon the decipherer. In the Louvres Museum there are statues for Ur-Nina under the name of Ur-Nanshe. According to Waddell this ruler was deifed as Zakh, Sakh, or Lord Sakh Ugu; Zeus and Jehovah, who were gods of thunder like Thor, derived from Zakh, as the Greeks and Israelites inherited legacies from older nations, i.e. the Egyptians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, and Sumerians or ancient Aryan Goths who civilized Cappadocia.


Seal from Telloh

A seal discovered at Telloh, that Waddell deciphered, revealed the fact that the Aryan Sumerian Ur-Nina ruled over a 'second Edin' situated in the Indus Valley, his first 'garden' (of agriculture) being in Mesopotamia. Waddell contended Ur-Nina did not rule solely over a city state, as scholars seem to believe. He discovered the existence of a second 'Edin' in the Indus Valley and theorized that it was a Sumerian dependency. This 'Edin' also was a 'garden of Sumeria.' I have tried to reflect this in my title Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria – in which 'gardens' is in the plural as the rise of man is to do with the garden situated in Mesopotamia as well as an agricultural development in the Indus Valley.

Further evidence of this vast Sumerian empire is on the basis of Waddell's discovery that the Egyptian Menes was Manis-tusu, the son of the Sumerian Sargon I. The inscriptions excavated by Flinders Petrie at Abydos (that Egyptologists could not decipher) were Sumerian and of Sargon's time. That is why Waddell was able to read them with his knowledge of Sumerian. It was his opinion that Menes' first Egyptian dynasty started out as a Sumerian dependency, and that he was also known to the Minoans as King Minos. Manis, Menes, and Minos, would have been spelled in those inscriptions as M-N-S and the divergence would have been due to the decipherers.

Following the excavation of seals in the Indus Valley by the Archaeologist John Marshall, Waddell wrote Indo-Sumerian Seals Deciphered (1925) to announce that he had been able to read their inscriptions with his knowledge of Sumerian, but his claim was opposed, as I was able to assess from some articles published in an academic journal in the 1920s. The starting point of Waddell's theories was supported by prevalent views in Archaeology in the 1920s, but a prominent American scholar who wanted civilization to have been the creation of Semitic people, just as per the Bible, did his best to crush Waddell's suggestion that the first Sumerian dynasty was a product of Aryan invaders particularly in Sumeria. Furthermore, in the 1940s, when Sir Mortimer Wheeler was in charge of the Archaeological Survey of India, his conclusions about the indigenous origin of the Indus Valley civilization by opposition to an external one, made Waddell's decipherment appear impossible. Yet Waddell had developed his theories on the basis of prevalent academic theories in Britain in the 1920s. The underlying language of the Indus Script has not yet been identified because the idea that it could be Sumerian is still being met with great opposition in academic circles. I have reproduced Waddell's decipherment of the seals of the Indus Valley in the last chapter of the biography, but not in this article.

I have suggested in the biography that one of the reasons for the literary oblivion of those of Waddell's works with an Aryan theme was in relation to the fact that he did not give up the quest for the Aryans (in terms of racial origins) when other scholars did in the 1870s. His desire to solve all mysteries in relation to the makers of civilization was very influential in his choice of career, and when he was a young man, as I have discussed it in the biography, the belief that civilization had been created by Aryans was prevalent. We need to be aware that the term 'Aryan,' which stands for 'Indo-European,' was discarded after it had become associated with the rise of Nazism in the post Second World War period. The works authored by Waddell, that are now little known, may also have fallen into oblivion because of his use of this term. Yet they predated the embarrassing episode which scholars experienced in the 1930s and 40s, due to the Nazis' theories of superiority (they tried to show themselves as descendants of the Aryans of the Icelandic legends). Waddell's notion that the Sumerians were Aryan was supported by V. G. Childe, the historian who was regarded as having put order in the history of the Indo-Europeans, as well as G. Kossinna. Unfortunately, it was the latter's conclusions about the German peoples' homeland and racial superiority, on the basis of archaeological finds, that the Nazis adopted for their propaganda. The biography shows that Waddell's apparent obsession for the Aryans was not unique for his time.


Fragments of the bowl of Utu(k) unearthed below the foundations of a temple at Nippur by the Pennsylvania Museum Expedition, dated c.3,247 BC. The fragments were in Waddell's possession but were donated to the British Museum in 1939. AN0050446001 Reg no. 1939 0612. 2, reproduced with kind permission from the Trustees of the British Museum (Sept 15, 2008).


Waddell stumbled across a lost secret. His vast knowledge of history permitted him to appreciate the value of the original Sumerian bowl of Utu(k). He therefore purchased two of its fragments from the excavators. The archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, who was associated with the expedition that discovered those fragments, established the historicity of the Sumerian ruler Ur-Nina. Waddell believed this Sumerian king ruled over a second 'Edin,' an agricultural Garden in the Indus Valley, in addition to the Eden of Sumeria. The Indus Valley civilization could have been created by a colony of Aryans very different from the depiction mainstream has given of the Sumerians. They would have descended from Cappadocia where the most mysterious 'Gobekli Tepe' circular temples are still being excavated. These are alleged to be 12000 years old. It is interesting that Cappadocia is both where Waddell places the cradle of civilization and where some megalithic structures are of the greatest antiquity.

Waddell professed that Ur-Nina had been deified under the name of Sagaga, or Sakh, and that the bowl had been dedicated to this legendary ruler by a 4th generation descendant (Utu). A genealogy inscribed on one of these fragments appears to confirm Waddell's identification of the first Sumerian Dynasty. This vessel was believed to have been consecrated into the Sun-cult of the Sumerians before being buried under the foundations of a temple at Nippur. The story that it had been lost to the followers of the serpent-dragon cult as a result of being captured by the Aryan Lords was present in the Elder Edda, at least in Waddell's own version of it, as he deciphered Codex Regius and made sense of it, whereas it remained enigmatic to other scholars. In the Edda it seemed to be a magical cauldron and to belong to El, the occult matriarchal leader of the Edenites. Waddell made an association between this story, the excavated bowl, and the one spoken of in Sumerian literature as a lost one. He reasoned that since he had identified in the Elder Edda some parallel details to those of the Arthurian legends, he had uncovered the inspiration for those Arthurian tales that are known to have circulated in the medieval ages about the Grail, the one that the knights were searching for. Waddell was writing before the more spiritual interpretations for the Grail mystery became known.

With regard to how the Arthurian legends or stories about the genesis of civilization could have been transplanted from Cappadocia to the British Isles, they could have been exported along the routes of migration to Western Europe, and those identified for the origin of the Indo-European languages. Waddell believed that a wave of Syrio-Phoenician megalithic builders, who re-built Stonehenge, settled in the British Isles in 2400 BC. He claimed he had discovered evidence for a Phoenician presence in Britain on the basis of the Cadmean inscriptions of the Newton Stone discovered in Scotland. He also was the only scholar to have been able to decipher them.

Please refer to the bibliography in the Biography

1: MB: Batchelor of Medicine (University of Glasgow – 1879); M.Ch: Master in Surgery; FRAS: Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society; CIE: Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire; CB: Companion of the Bath; FLS: Fellow of the Linnean Society; LL.D.: Doctoral level degree: Doctor of Laws; source: Who Was Who, Vol. IV: ix-xiv. Waddell was also a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 1891.
2: Waddell, 1925, Section 'Works by the same author'.
3: Who Was Who, Vol. III: 1395; he appears to have taken an extra job as editor in Calcutta from 1881-85.
4: The Englishman, 20th April, 1905.
5: dWaddell, 1892.
6: Waddell, 1903: 15-16.
7: Waddell, 1905: vi.
8: The Australasian, June 1905, in Waddell, 1905, press reviews page.
9: The Army and Navy Gazette, 1905, 1st April.
10: Waddell, 1924: vi.
11: Jones, 2004: 640.
12: Katz, 2004: 319.
13: Thomas, 1939: 503.
14: Bonaccorsi, email 23rd March 2006.
15: Jones, 2004: 640.
16: Buckland, 1906.
17: Who Was Who, Vol.III: 1395.
18: The email address for enquiries about the Special Collections is special@lib.gla.ac.uk on http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/collection/waddell.html
19: P. (Anonymous), 1925: 446.
20: Waddell, letter dated 12th August, 1922.
21: Waddell, 1922.