Almost 100 Cuneiform Clay Tablets Unearthed and Archaeologists Cannot Wait to Decipher Them
The discovery of ancient writing is always exciting for researchers. Documented events, letters, lists, literature – it is all helpful in reconstructing the story of our predecessors. Thus, the unearthing of almost 100 cuneiform clay tablets created in 1250 BC in the current Kurdistan region of Iraq can provide a fascinating peek into life at the time of the Middle Assyrian Empire. Two tablets detailing the importance of the site during the little-known Mittani Kingdom were also found.
The tablets were found during excavations in September and October at a Bronze Age settlement called Bassetki. 60 of the 93 Middle Assyrian clay tablets had been placed inside a clay vessel in a now destroyed building. Two other pots were in the same room; however, it has not been said if they contained anything. Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen told Sci News, “The vessels may have been hidden this way shortly after the surrounding building was destroyed. Perhaps the information inside it was meant to be protected and preserved for posterity.”
Bassetki (Iraqi Kurdistan) 2017: Unearthing the vessel containing the clay tablets. (Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen)
Bassetki was a forgotten Bronze Age settlement until Professor Pfälzner re-discovered it with colleagues in 2013. Their work at the site shows it was an important location for trade routes from Mesopotamia to Anatolia and Syria. Moreover, excavations at Bassetki suggest it was an urban center that was almost continuously inhabited from 3000 to 600 BC.
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As Ancient Origins has reported, cuneiform is a writing system that scholars say was invented by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. It first appeared sometime between 3500 and 3000 BC, and is regarded as the earliest known form of writing.
Science Daily reports two of the cuneiform tablets have been identified as artifacts from the Mittani Kingdom (approximately 1550 – 1300 BC). The writing on these two tablets supports the idea that Bassetki flourished during a period of intense trade at that time.
Bassetki (Iraqi Kurdistan) 2017: The excavation site including the ruined Middle Assyrian Kingdom building on the eastern slope of the Bassetki mound during the 2017 excavation campaign. (Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen)
But time has not been kind to most of the clay tablets at Bassetki and much of the writing has been badly worn. This makes it difficult for the researchers to read the text contained on the tablets. Nonetheless, Professor Pfälzner has a few ideas. He said:
“It is not yet known if the tablets contain business, legal, or religious records. Our philologist, Dr. Betina Faist, deciphered one small fragment of a clay tablet. It mentions a temple to the goddess Gula, suggesting that we may be looking at a religious context.”
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However, the professor hopes there will be some variety to the content on the tablets so more information can come to light on “the history, society, and culture of this little-researched area of northern Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC.”
Bassetki (Iraqi Kurdistan) 2017: A clay tablet is carefully unearthed on the floor of the ruined building. (Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen)
The process of deciphering almost 100 worn clay tablets will be a long and difficult one, but at least the researchers have lost no time in beginning. According to a release by the University of Tübingen:
“the researchers made images of the clay tablets based on a computational photographic method (rti), which enables interactive re-lighting of the objects from any direction. The intense work of reading and translating the 93 cuneiform tablets will begin in Germany, now that the team has returned home.”
Top Image: 60 of the almost 100 cuneiform clay tablets were found at the archaeological site of Bassetki in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Source: Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen