Cuneiform tablet known as Letter ZTT 22. (Credit: Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project)

Archaeologists Uncovered an Archive that Narrates Ancient Assyria’s Fall

(Read the article on one page)

A group of archaeologists digging at the site of Ziyaret Tepe in southeastern Turkey, has uncovered a unique cuneiform tablet that narrates a tale of exasperation and disappointment reported by an ancient Assyrian official.

Microscopic Cuneiform Tablet Provides a Glimpse of the Assyrian Empire

Recovered within the remains of what researchers have distinguished as a governmental complex, the clay tablet provides a glimpse of conditions in the Assyrian Empire just before its collapse in the 7th century BC as Popular Archaeology reports. Microscopic enough to be held in the palm of an average person’s hand, the rare artifact features – in cuneiform script – a letter written by Mannu-ki-libbali, who was a senior official of the Assyrian provincial capital of Tushan.

Tushan was a 7th-century city that ruled a vast area, including the outlying districts of the Assyrian Empire. According to previous archaeological finds in the area, the city was occupied as early as the Early Bronze Age. Most of the urban development uncovered to date is from the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. During the Assyrian times it became known as Tushhan, until 612 to 605 BC, when that empire fell.

Overview map of the Ancient Near East in the 15th century BC (Middle Assyrian period), showing the core territory of Assyria with its two major cities

Overview map of the Ancient Near East in the 15th century BC (Middle Assyrian period), showing the core territory of Assyria with its two major cities (Public Domain )

Letter of Angst and Desperation

In the letter, Mannu-ki-libbali appears to respond to an order to gather a unit of chariots, but he explains the most-skilled charioteers have already fled the city. He expresses his disappointment and desperation best with the following statements as Popular Archaeology reports ,

"How can I command? ..... Death will come out of it. No one will escape. I am done!”

“This letter is unparalleled,” writes the excavation leadership in an article recently published in Popular Archaeology Magazine . “It can only have been written as the front line drew close to Tushan and the infrastructure of the empire collapsed. As a first-hand account of Assyria in its death-throes, it is unique,” it continues.

Lots of Information Revealed from the Tablets 

The tablet was discovered in an administrative complex, which has already provided an impressive library of cuneiform tablets. Archaeologists claim to have discovered more than twenty-seven tablets, mostly in fragments on the floors of the rooms of the complex. “The contents of the tablets include movements of grain, the loan of a slave, lists of personnel, the resettlement of people and a census enumerating military officers and their agricultural holdings. But the majority of the tablets deal with transactions of barley - deliveries from outlying farmsteads, loans and payments for rations,” wrote the excavation leadership about the finds according to Popular Archaeology .

An earlier excavation at Ziyaret Tepe

An earlier excavation at Ziyaret Tepe. (Image: UAkron)

Additionally, experts are convinced that the tablets cover the period from 614 to 611 BC, thus the time of the fall of Nineveh . “This is the first time that Assyrian administrative texts from this period have ever been found,” said excavation leaders Timothy Matney and John MacGinnis, and also added that the archive offers the opportunity to take an imaginary look at the Assyrian world as the Babylonian king Nabopolassar was carried on war campaigns against a collapsing Assyrian Empire.

Excavations at the Site Lasted for Over a Decade

The organized excavations at Ziyaret Tepe launched back in 2000 and lasted for an impressive total of 12 seasons. Positioned on the upper Tigris river, almost 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, the site consists of a central mountain 30 meters (100 feet) high and the remains of a surrounding lower town about 30 hectares in area.

Ziyaret Tepe consists of a central mountain and a lower town.

Ziyaret Tepe consists of a central mountain and a lower town. (Image: Mainz University )

As Popular Archaeology reports , the ambitious project, led by Dr. Timothy Matney from the University of Akron, Ohio, began with geophysical prospection and ceramic surface collection, and work at the site eventually provided structural and artifact remains that pinpointed a vast provincial capital that flourished for almost three centuries. Archaeologists unearthed during the 12 seasons - a palace, an administrative complex, elite residences, and a military barracks at the site. A detailed article about the excavations at Ziyaret Tepe will be published in the Winter 2018 issue of Popular Archaeology Magazine .

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The first ever Roman boxing gloves found in Britain are now on display at Vindolanda.
Still molded to the form of their former owner’s knuckles, boxing gloves found at the Roman site of Vindolanda in Northumberland, England hint at tales of soldiers increasing their battle skills, keeping up their fitness, and passing the time gambling on fights while stationed in the far northern lands of the empire.

Myths & Legends

Human Origins

Silhouettes (Public Domain) in front of blood cells (Public Domain) and a gene.
Most people who have the Rh blood type are Rh-positive. There are also instances, however, where people are Rh-Negative. Health problems may occur for the unborn child of a mother with Rh-Negative blood when the baby is Rh-Positive.

Ancient Technology

The Lycurgus Cup.
A strange chalice made its way into the British Museum’s collection in the 1950s. It is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman artifact called the Lycurgus Cup. The image on the chalice is an iconic scene with King Lycurgus of Thrace...

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article