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Stephanie Dalley

Stephanie Mary Dalley (née Page) is a British scholar of the Ancient Near East. She retired as a Research Fellow from the Oriental Institute, Oxford. She is known for her investigation into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and her proposal that it was situated in Nineveh, and constructed during Sennacherib's rule.


In 1962, after finishing school, Stephanie Page was invited by David Oates, a family friend, to an archaeological dig he was directing in Nimrud, northern Iraq. Here she was responsible for cleaning and conserving the discovered ivories.

Between 1962–1966 she studied Assyriology at Cambridge University, and followed it up with a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

In the years 1966–67, Page was awarded a School Fellowship by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, and she worked at the excavation at Tell al-Rimah as an epigrapher and registrar. At the same digs was Christopher Dalley, a surveyor and photographer, whom she later married. In 1972, their twins were born.

Based on her works at various excavations in the Near East, Dalley published a series of cuneiform tablets found there. In 1984, her book for general readership about the discoveries, Mari and Karana: Two Old Babylonian Cities, was published.

From 1979 to 2007, Dalley taught Akkadian and Sumerian at Oxford University. In 1988, she received the title of Shillito Senior Research Fellow.

In 2014, Stephanie Dalley appeared in an episode of the television series Secrets of the Dead, titled The Lost Gardens of Babylon, on PBS, which discussed her theory of the location of the Hanging Gardens.

Contributions to Assyriology


Stephanie Dalley proposed that there was nuanced wordplay in the Standard version of the Epic of Gilgamesh which suggested an erotic or sexual relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Enkidu is twice referred to as zikru, which may allude both to zikaru (man) and sekru (analogous to sekretu, a high-ranking woman in a harem). Dalley theorised that Enkidu's creation as an equal to Gilgamesh (as commonly interpreted by scholars) could also be reinterpreted as someone for him to match the ardour of his energies! Her analysis suggests that the shading of meaning was deliberate, implying that Enkidu could be an object of Gilgamesh's desire.

Dalley has studied the transmission of the story of Gilgamesh across the cultures of the Near and Middle East. In particular, she has traced its persistence to the Tale of Buluqiya in the Arabian Nights, examining the evidence for Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the tale, as well as contrasting Akkadian and later Arabic stories. She has also noted the appearance of the name Gilgamesh in the Book of Enoch.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were not found despite extensive archaeological excavations. Dalley has suggested, based on eighteen years of textual study, that the Garden was built not at Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, but in Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrians, by Sennacherib, around 2700 years ago. She deciphered Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform, and reinterpreted later Greek and Roman texts, and determined that a crucial seventh century BC inscription had been mistranslated. While none of Nebuchadnezzar's inscriptions ever mentioned any gardens, Dalley found texts by Sennacherib about a palace he built and a garden alongside that he called a wonder for all people. The texts also described a water screw, pre-dating Archimedes, using a new bronze-casting methodology that pumped water all day, and related these to extensive aqueducts and canals that brought water from hills eighty kilometres away. A bas-relief from Nineveh and now in the British Museum depicts a palace and trees suspended on terraces, which Dalley used as further supporting evidence. Her research suggested, further, that the gardens were, in fact, terraces built up like an amphitheatre around a central pond. She compiled these conclusions into her book The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced, published in 2013.

Selected publications


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