Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

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.

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