Cuneiform clay tablets discovered in Kurdistan

The tablets are valuable and could reveal insights into Bronze age Iraq.

The tablets are valuable and could reveal insights into Bronze age Iraq.

Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen

University of Tübingen archaeologists unearthed 93 clay tablets adorned with cuneiform pictograms, an early Sumerian writing system, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The archive dates back to 1250 BCE.

The tablets were dug out of Bassetki, an ancient Bronze-age site which was only discovered in 2013, and whose location lay along busy trade routes from Mesopotamia to Anatolia and Syria.

“Bassetki was of key significance on important trade routes,” Peter Pfälzner, lead archaeologist, says of the discovery. “Our finds provide evidence that this early urban center in northern Mesopotamia was settled almost continuously from approximately 3000 to 600 BCE.”

A big chunk of tablets had been deposited in a ceramic pot, probably used for storage, in a room inside a destroyed Assyrian building.

“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,” says Pfälzner.

A fragment of the clay tablet contains mentions of a temple to the ancient goddess Gula. However, the scientists believe it might be too early to rule whether they’re looking at legal, or religious text.

The researchers will begin translating the text in Germany, which they say will be challenging, time-consuming and intense since many of the tablets are either unbaked or badly worn.

Cholera in Yemen: Death by numbers

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that the number of suspected cholera cases in war-battered Yemen this year hit the half a million mark.

According to the same report, released this week, around 2,000 people died since April’s outbreak. The international organisation says that the deadly waterborne disease infects an estimated 5,000 people per day, and is still spreading fast.

Yemen’s healthcare system was already acutely under-developed before the country was plunged into the current conflict, with barely enough doctors and hospital beds to meet national demand.

Now with the country’s ailing health infrastructure nearly destroyed, around 15 million people are unable to get basic healthcare, according to the new WHO report which deems Yemen’s cholera epidemic “the largest in the world”.

Compounding the problem is the country’s water shortages, which overall increased the risk of disease outbreak, especially in the countryside, and among children. Around 20 million Yemenis are struggling to get access to clean water. And diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malnutrition have become common as a result.

Yemen has already been water-stressed, with only 86 cubic metres of renewable water sources available per person per annum, according to the World Bank – far lower than the global average of 1,385 cubic metres per capita.

“Can you imagine a hospital without water? It is a desperate situation,” Marie Claire Feghali, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen, had told Nature Middle East.

“To save lives in Yemen today we must support the health system, especially the health workers,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, says. “The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer.”