Irving Finkel in The Telegraph:
In the year 1872 one George Smith, a banknote engraver turned assistant in the British Museum, astounded the world by discovering the story of the Flood – much the same as that in the Book of Genesis – inscribed on a cuneiform tablet made of clay that had recently been excavated at far-distant Nineveh (in present-day Iraq). Human behaviour, according to this new discovery, prompted the gods of Babylon to wipe out mankind through death by water, and, as in the Bible, the survival of all living things was effected at the last minute by a single man.
…Smith announced his discoveries at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London, on December 3, 1872. August dignitaries were present, including the Archbishop of Canterbury – since Smith’s findings had serious implications for church authority – and the classically-disposed prime minister, WE Gladstone. For Smith’s audience, as it had been for the man himself, the news was electrifying. In 1872 everyone knew their Bible backwards, and the announcement that the iconic story of the Ark and the Flood existed on a barbaric-looking document of clay in the British Museum that pre-dated the Bible and had been dug up somewhere in the East was indigestible. A hundred and thirteen years after Smith’s breakthrough, a similar episode of British-Museum-curator-meets-amazing-cuneiform-flood-story befell me.