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The Forgotten Ancient Kingdom of Ebla

Spectacular things were happening in Mesopotamia in the period we call the Early Bronze Age, particularly in the southern part of it, commonly called Babylonia. It was here that the wealthy, sophisticated Sumerian civilization developed, its growth and prosperity greatly spurred by the invention of writing. A magnificent assortment of beautifully wrought items, like those unearthed from the so-called royal tombs of Ur and now on display in the British Museum, testifies to the high level of craftsmanship of the Sumerian civilization at its zenith. In the wake of the Sumerian Early Dynastic period ( 2900–2334 BC), there arose in southern Mesopotamia the first great empire in Near Eastern history—the Akkadian empire ( 2334–2193 BC) founded by Sargon, which at its peak extended through the whole of Mesopotamia, and north-westwards into south-eastern Anatolia. Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia’s archaeological remains and prolific tablet-finds provided rich and exciting fields of investigation for archaeologists, historians, and linguists alike. But across the Euphrates in Syria, the picture was much bleaker, so it seemed, if you happened to be any of these. Up until the 1960s, third millennium Syria was generally thought of as no more than ‘an illiterate backwater of small communities far removed from the great developments of civilization occurring in Mesopotamia and Egypt’. But there must have been more to it than this! And indeed, it was quite possible that the numerous unexplored mounds (tells) throughout the region did include remains of settlements of various kinds contemporary with the first great civilizations of Mesopotamia.

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