Sir Austen Henry Layard GCB, PC (pronounced /ˈɔːstɪn ˈhɛnriː ˈlɛərd/) (5 March 1817 – 5 July 1894) was a British traveller, archaeologist, cuneiformist, art historian, draughtsman, collector, author, politician and diplomat, best known as the excavator of Nimrud.
Layard was born in Paris, France, to a family of Huguenot descent. His father, Henry PJ Layard, of the Ceylon Civil Service, was the son of Charles Peter Layard, dean of Bristol, and grandson of Daniel Peter Layard, the physician. Through his mother, a daughter of Nathaniel Austen, banker, of Ramsgate, he was partly Spanish descent. His uncle was Benjamin Austen, a London solicitor and close friend of Benjamin Disraeli in the 1820s and 1830s.
Much of Layard's boyhood was spent in Italy, where he received part of his schooling, and acquired a taste for the fine arts and a love of travel; but he was at school also in England, France and Switzerland. After spending nearly six years in the office of his uncle, Benjamin Layard, he was tempted to leave England for Sri Lanka (Ceylon) by the prospect of obtaining an appointment in the civil service, and he started in 1839 with the intention of making an overland journey across Asia.
After wandering for many months, chiefly in Persia, and having abandoned his intention of proceeding to Ceylon, he returned in 1842 to Constantinople, where he made the acquaintance of Sir Stratford Canning, the British Ambassador, who employed him in various unofficial diplomatic missions in European Turkey. In 1845, encouraged and assisted by Canning, Layard left Constantinople to make those explorations among the ruins of Assyria with which his name is chiefly associated. This expedition was in fulfilment of a design which he had formed, when, during his former travels in the East, his curiosity had been greatly excited by the ruins of Nimrud on the Tigris, and by the great mound of Kuyunjik, near Mosul, already partly excavated by Paul-Émile Botta.
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