Archaeologists Uncovered an Archive that Narrates Ancient Assyria’s Fall
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.
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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 .
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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. (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 .
Top image: Cuneiform tablet known as Letter ZTT 22. (Credit: Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project)